We all know that sending your congressional representative a letter is more effective than an email, and that a phone call is more effective than a letter. We all seem to get that. The Tea Party has shown that there is an even more effective approach – show up in person in large groups at town hall events or other public meetings with your representatives to voice your opinions vigorously and ask them some tough questions. If they fail to schedule public meetings, show up at their offices (but be kind to the staff people that you meet there, you want them on your side). We’re starting to do that, and that’s great.
But the Tea Party has shown that there is an even more effective tactic than this (and this is where things get radical) –threaten to “primary” a representative. Basically, promise to vote in large numbers in their party’s primary elections for an alternative candidate if your representative votes in ways you strongly disagree with. That means if you’re a progressive in district with a Republican representative, get out and vote in the Republican primary. In many states with an open primary system (such as Texas), people can chose to vote in the primary for any party they want when they show up at the voting booth. In some states you may need to register as a Republican first, but be willing to take a deep breath and do that if necessary. I said this was going to be a radical approach.
This effort directly addresses a fundamental problem with our current election process. In any heavily gerrymandered district, a small and often unrepresentative group of primary voters picks the candidate who will win. With threats of being primaried by a more extreme candidate, an even smaller and less representative group of people can control the voting behavior of a representative. The only way to correct this problem is to engage in the primary process and support more responsible behavior.
If you live in an area where one party will almost certainly win the election, I suggest we all consider voting in the primary for that party as a general rule. There’s an important principle to follow to make a democracy work well though, you must vote for the person you think will make the best representative for the district. Voting for the weakest candidate in order to help another party is something we should always avoid.
In my experience, many representatives who want to speak out with a moderate voice are currently worried about being primaried from the right if they do. A pledge from more moderate voters to vote in the primary may actually be seen as a big help by them instead of a threat.
So here’s the deal. Let’s make a public promise, a threat if needed, that we will vote in mass in the Republican primaries for the next election. If your current Republican representative does not do their constitutional duty to act as a check-and-balance on the President when he oversteps his bounds, we will do our best to see that our representative never makes it past their primary. If they are willing to speak out, we will support them in the primary. So let’s do this!