We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.And yet in Louisiana, which has operated with open primaries (with the exception of an experiment during the 2008 federal election cycle) since the mid 70s, conventional pundits like Clancy Dubos in this 2004 column frequently argue that the system actually encourages more "extreme" candidates.
In addition to breaking down the significance of political parties, the law tends to reward "extremist" candidates -- from the far right as well as the far left -- at the expense of moderates and mainstreamers in both parties. Examples are easy to find, but none is more glaring than the "runoff from hell" in the governor's race of 1991.Actually, they're both wrong.
In that year's gubernatorial primary, Edwin Edwards and David Duke edged out incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer to give voters the unenviable task of choosing between a known crook and a known Nazi (who later turned out to be a crook as well). That race should have given us all the prodding we needed to change the law, except that the folks in a position to make such a change -- Edwards and state lawmakers -- all got their jobs as a result of the law.
I'm not here to tell you that Democrats and Republicans are "exactly the same" party. They're not. But on the questions that matter most, the consensus that emerges from both parties is clearly more attuned to the whims of industrial and financial elites than to any grass roots driven impetus to "ideological purity."
Of course the story is the same in Louisiana. We're gearing up for a Governor's election next year. Here is a NOLA.com article laying out some fundamental ways in which the top three candidates resemble one another despite personal and superficial differences. Ultimately the candidates will compete for the favor the oil industry and the Louisiana Family Forum in varying proportions.
In either case, you're dealing with more or less the same ruling class represented by the voters' choice among a few different personalities. Probably a choice between two parties with meaningfully differentiated policy positions would be more useful. But under the circumstances, the open primary has the advantage of being at least slightly more honest.