Laird: Logical solutions are being ignored

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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With all of the digital technology and cutting-edge creativity that guides Americans these days, it should be easy for us to enact nonpartisan solutions that would correct three flaws in the way we govern ourselves. Sadly, it won’t happen in my lifetime.

Here are three solutions that should appeal to Republicans and Democrats alike, but which will remain stashed in the closet because the two parties are too busy fighting to collaborate:

Reform the primaries

As presidential primaries are moved to earlier on the calendar, the process for choosing the world’s most powerful person is a national embarrassment. The National Association of Secretaries of State reports: “Candidates, voters and political party members are increasingly frustrated with and confused by our seemingly arbitrary and chaotic process. … They want a logical, orderly and neutral process that gives every state and voters a reasonable opportunity to play a role in the selection of the presidential nominees with results that are representative of all regions of the country.”

In 2008, NASS proposed a change that would allow the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary to continue as early events for reasons that aren’t especially compelling, but to get this discussion started, let’s accept them. To honor tradition, and “to allow under-funded and lesser-known candidates to compete through retail politics rather than the costly media-driven campaigns required in larger states,” Iowa and New Hampshire would go first.

Thereafter, though, states would be divided into four regions: East, South, Midwest and West. Regional primaries would be held in March, April, May and June (much later than the current system), with the order rotating every four years. Implementing the solution would require the national Democratic and Republican committees to adopt the plan, which, if violated by any state, would result in penalties “according to party standards.” The plan is stalled.

As this logical, nonpartisan solution continues to be ignored, is it any wonder that Americans’ distrust of political parties is increasing?

Change filibuster rules

Last year, Republican Mitch McConnell responded to efforts by Senate Democrats to change filibuster rules: “For two years, Democrats in Congress have hoped their large majorities would make it easy for them to pass extremely partisan legislation. Now that they’ve lost an election (2010), they’ve decided to change the rules rather than change their behavior.” My point in mentioning McConnell’s quote is simple: If you change “Democrats” in McConnell’s comment to “Republicans,” you’ll get a close approximation of comments many Democrats would make if the positions were reversed.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., last year tried to change filibuster rules. Her bill would require senators to speak on the Senate floor during filibusters, and would prohibit any senator from anonymously placing a hold on nominees seeking confirmation. Her website cites Walter Mondale’s successful effort three decades ago to lower the number of senators needed to break a filibuster from 67 to 60. Klobuchar and Mondale now want that number lowered to 55. Their recommendation is getting nowhere.

Again, as this logical, nonpartisan solution continues to be ignored, is it any wonder that Americans’ distrust of political parties is increasing?

Get the money out

The U.S. Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision of 2010, opened the floodgates for anonymous corporate spending in political campaigns. Last month, the Montana Supreme Court said otherwise. As the Billings Gazette reports, the court “overturned a lower court’s ruling and reinstated the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations for or against political candidates.” What a great idea. Keep an eye on how this issue winds its way through the courts.

Two-plus centuries into this magnificent march known as American democracy, and we still can’t enact three easy solutions. It’s time to ignore the loudest and the most extreme among us, and think for ourselves.