The retirement of US Senator Mel Martinez, and the subsequent drama that has unfolded around the Republican candidates vying to replace him—former House Speaker Marco Rubio and Governor Charlie Crist—has thrust the age-old debate about the benefits of the primary system into the limelight. To a lesser extent, the battle is also raging in the Governor’s race—where GOP leaders are trying to avoid a Bill McCollum vs. Charles Bronson fight—and in the race for Attorney General—where Democrats are trying to avoid a three way primary battle pitting Dave Aronberg against Dan Gelber and Rod Smith.
While not perfect, the primary system does exist for a reason. Voters within a party have the right to have their voice heard when it comes to choosing the candidate that will represent their party in the general election. (Of course, my personal preference would be a system that allows voters to choose from any candidate in the race, regardless of party where the top two vote getters advance to the general election. The removes the current possibility to discriminate against voters who do not choose to belong to one of the main parties.) Yet, although we are several hundred years into this unique American experience of democracy, leaders in both parties are attempting to deny voters the right to choose which candidate will represent their party.
The most visible battle has been the battle within the Republican Party over the Charlie Crist vs. Marco Rubio Senate race. Jim Greer, the GOP Party Chairman and a long-time ally of Charlie Crist, made his preference for Crist rather clear when he attempted to use his power as Chairman to endorse Crist’s campaign. While his efforts were thwarted by another member of the Executive Committee, he has continued to take shots at Marco Rubio. Likewise, the Republican Party made it abundantly clear to Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson that his presence in a Republican Gubernatorial primary was not desired, something that was amazingly insulting to a man who has served the party quite faithfully for years. Republicans are not alone, of course. The leadership of the Democratic Party has been working just as diligently to avoid a 3-way primary for Attorney General, with the anticipated campaigns of Dave Aronberg, Rod Smith and Dan Gelber.
Florida’s voters should be insulted by the arrogance of party leadership that seems to presume that they have the authority to make decisions on behalf of voters. If more than one candidate is interested in a race, party leadership should allow them the opportunity to make their case to the voters. The voters are capable of deciding which one will best represent their party in a general election.
While smoking may be banned in public spaces, the era of the “smoke-filled back room” appears to have returned to Florida politics. Despite the storied failures of “back room” candidates over the years (does the name Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome Scandal ring a bell for anyone?) Florida’s political elite have decided that they know what is best for the state.
The current arrogance of the leadership in our political parties makes you wonder how many potential “stars” they are bypassing as they push for what they see as the “most certain” path. It may be hard to realize this when one is secluded in Tallahassee, but the candidates that voters often take to are not always the first choice of the party elite. 1978 is an excellent example of that. One wonders if there would have ever been a Senator Bob Graham if the Democratic Party leadership had thrown their weight around in that seven-person Democratic primary…
Let the voters decide, Mr. Greer and Ms. Thurman. We are amazingly competent.