In Opening Doors, GOP May Swell (Grow, Too)

Most of us feel comfortable in our clans, whether we're people, ducks or Labrador retrievers. Our differences -- be they skin color, religion or political beliefs -- are the principal cause of turmoil around the globe.

We distrust someone because of how they look or think. We lash out with words or weapons. Then we hunker down with someone like us.

Take the Republican Party. It hasn't won a presidential election since the 1980s. In Maryland, twice in the last two elections the GOP frittered away opportunities to capture the governor's office by nominating a candidate out of touch with mainstream Marylanders.

These days, there's not a whole lot new for Republicans to hang their hats on in terms of fresh ideas or energy. Republicans remain divided over fundamental issues -- abortion and the spate of regulations needed to protect the environment and curb sprawl. Thoughtful Republicans in Southern Maryland tell us that new directions are needed.

That's why we applaud the GOP for its decision last weekend to open up their party primary to independent voters. The Republicans reached their decision after a rancorous debate and a 53-47 vote at the party's convention at a BWI airport hotel. It means that independents -- like the folks who supported Ross Perot in the 1990s -- can vote in the Republican presidential primary next March.

The open primary can bring in new people, perhaps to remain there for general elections. That can be important in close elections won at the margin.

Republicans and Democrats alike have been slow to appeal to independents and non-voters who are put off by the two-party system. Maryland is among the states where party leaders have teamed up in the General Assembly to block independent candidacies by requiring extraordinary numbers of signatures to get on the ballot.

Political leaders often seem clueless about the changes around them. Cable television and the Internet are the new precinct captains. Libertarians and the Green Party are making persuasive cases. Many people -- especially young people -- resent the notion that the two parties control the machinery that lets them exercise their constitutional right to vote.

At the GOP convention, opponents argued that an open primary would dilute what it means to be a Republican. That's losers talking on the road to irrelevance, where the Grand Old Party could become little more than a debating society for hidebound folks who enjoy giving one another litmus tests.

Besides attracting new voters, the Republicans' bold stroke may bring the party new perspectives. They're needed.

| Issue 21 |

Volume VII Number 21
May 27 - June 2, 1999
New Bay Times

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