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Republicans - protect your vote

| August 22, 2007 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

As a committed Republican for more years than I want to confess, I was distressed to read the recent state-wide announcement by the Montana Republican State Central Committee of their intent to pursue establishment of a Republican caucus as a means to select Montana's Republican candidate for President.

This idea is well intentioned, but wrong-headed as it unacceptably nibbles away at the democratic foundation of our Republic—the right to vote.

In the plan, conceived by the party rules committee on Aug. 3, 2007, Montana's Presidential choice for the national ticket would be decided by a caucus vote of local party officials from each county as well as sitting Republican office holders (legislators, County Commissioners, etc.).

Using this formula, our candidate would be selected by a cabal of a scant 3,000 Montanans as opposed to the approximate 105,000 Republicans who exercised their right to vote in our last Presidential primary.

Curiously, the party's announcement of their intent to pursue this initiative states, "This proposal will be a great way to help build up our grassroots and include more Republicans in the Presidential primary process."

Nonsense, or perhaps a less flattering barnyard term would be more appropriate. Disenfranchising upward of 102,000 state-wide Republicans from the right to express their preference at the ballot box for this most important position in our nation is not the way to revitalize the party.

The proposal does contain the modest improvement that would bind delegates elected under the state convention process to vote for the caucus winner on at least the first ballot of the national convention.

Under our current system, Montana's Republican convention delegates are not required to vote for the Presidential primary winner, though I have yet to meet anyone who can cite an example of when a delegate has failed to do so, let alone an example of where a delegate has had an impact on an election based on such a lack of fidelity. Thus, the caucus proposal would close a minuscule loophole, but one which could be better addressed by changing state law on presidential primaries such that delegates would be bound by their party's primary election choice on at least the first national convention ballot.

Timing of the presidential nomination process is another area addressed by the caucus proposal. Whereby most other states hold their primary election or caucus process in February, or even earlier, there is considerable concern in a number of circles that our June primary occurs too late in the process to have any impact on the national race. Of the 50 states, only South Dakota and New Mexico select their party nominee for President as late as we do—scheduled for June 3, 2008. Thus, in those years that a presidential nomination is at stake, it is pretty much "game, set, match" in terms of the national parties' choice for their presidential candidates long before Montanans go to the polls.

Our legislature had a crack at resolving this issue during the 2007 session when Duane Ankney (Rep, Colstrip) introduced a bill to hold our presidential primary generally consistent with those in other states—February or March of a presidential election year. It was a good bill that would have timed Montana's presidential primary such that we actually got our oar in the political water before the party candidates were chosen—not after.

After passing the House, the bill was killed in committee by Senate Democrats ostensibly due to the one-million dollar price tag associated with conducting such an election. While I am tempted to applaud this solitary example of Democratic fiscal conservatism, some argue that it seems a small price to pay to give Montana a greater voice in selecting our President.

Frankly, though I think the bill was a good one, I feel this way more because it would make us feel better than any delusion that it would elevate us to major player status in the process of selecting a party Presidential candidate. Let's face it, with only .32 percent of the nation's population of 300 million people and only 3 of 538 electoral votes (.56 percent), we do not loom large on the radar screens of Presidential candidates.

Aside from the caucus idea, there are a number of other suggestions out there on how Montana could best leverage its influence in the presidential selection process. Perhaps the most reasonable has national primaries timed regionally on a rotating basis, thereby granting a grouping of western states the sequenced opportunity to go first and give greater emphasis to their regional issues. Yes, it would be an improvement, but let's face it, the sum of a jackalope, a potato and a mountain goat do not add up to much on the national political stage. Perhaps we should just be relatively content with the fact that for every $1 of federal tax Montanans pay, we receive $1.83 in return.

What should happen here is really less important than what should not happen. For a Republican, Democrat or an "also ran" for that matter, the right to vote is a sacred trust wisely granted us by our Founding Fathers. And yes, to those of you out there with nothing better to do than remind me we are not a Greek City/State of ancient times where everyone voted on everything, I do not believe our world, or our Republic, has gotten so complex that we need to sacrifice our right to vote for our party's choice to hold the nation's, indeed the world's, most powerful position. Where do they store the tea?

If you agree, contact the chairman of your county's Republican Central Committee and register your "vote" as the Montana Republican State Central Committee is slated to decide this issue on Aug. 25. Alternatively, register your view directly with the Montana Republican State Central Committee in Helena (406-442-6469).

Don Loranger

Bigfork