Letter: The case for primaries

By Dani Nichols /

Published Mar 13, 2014 at 12:01AM

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about why engaging in a primary against a fellow party member is bad. After all, it seems logical — even if you don’t agree with every part of someone’s policy, it’s better to have a Republican than a Democrat in office, or vice versa, depending on how you feel about the whole thing.

However, I think that’s a flawed perspective, and here’s why:

• It’s defeatist. It assumes that we can’t do better, so we have to trudge along at “OK.” I think that’s wrong and un-American.

• It’s elitist. It assumes that Washington insiders can get more done than freshmen, or that chairmanships and long stays in D.C. actually get something done for the American people. Anyone paying any attention to our current political state knows this is false.

• It vilifies competition. Competition forces individuals to work harder — this is a good thing, particularly when taxpayers are funding their salaries.

• It creates complacency. Politicians in “safe districts” can easily get by with middle-of-the-road votes and less-than-stellar efforts because their constituents believe it’s the best they can do and it’s “OK.” Really? We’re “OK” with bad policy for our communities? It seems to me we should fight for the best.

• It gives heft to Washington insiders who are often wrong. Cable news, inside-the-beltway reporters and party strategists all think alike. They are often wrong, and they’re out of touch with the people they’re supposed to care about, those of us with kids and jobs and a meeting at the PTA and not enough time to tongue-wag about the intricacies of politics. We need to remind them who makes the decisions and who foots the bills.

• It creates a culture where everyday Americans are further and further removed from the people who are supposed to represent them. We find ourselves railing at a gray sky instead of inspired to take part in our own government. This is probably the biggest fatality of all.

I especially want to address the last point, because it seems to me that we are in a time of both political frustration and apathy in our country. This is a strange juxtaposition — why would people be simultaneously frustrated and unwilling to engage in politics?

I believe that this attitude is the result of too much entrenched leadership, of career politicians protecting their own interests and the un-American cult of incumbency, paid for by special interests. We feel that our politicians aren’t listening, but we forget that we hold the solution to this problem in our voting rights. George Washington stepped down from the presidency after eight years, but now we think nothing of elderly legislators retiring from office after lifetimes in D.C. Do we believe that 10 years or more of federal office is the way to be represented? Do we think that the blatant once-a-month pandering of our elected federal officials through the district means they are in touch with our culture and what we need?

I’ve heard countless times, “it’s a mess, but what can we do?” Good people feel they can only shake their heads at foolish bureaucracies; they feel silenced and marginalized. Friends, I urge you to vote this May, and vote out the federal incumbents. Let’s use our primary races for their intended purpose: to get people who haven’t been tainted by Washington in office to fight for us.

It’s time to elect a representative who understands local government and the needs of Central Oregon more than the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C. I’m proud of our primary election system, and I will be voting for Republican challenger Dennis Linthicum over incumbent Greg Walden in May. If you share my concerns — if you are frustrated or disenfranchised or feel shouted-down by the big-wigs, I encourage you to do the same.

— Dani Nichols lives in Bend.