(Essay by former Johnson County Democratic Party Vice Chair, Tucker Poling)
The myth that it’s a good idea for Democrats to switch parties to vote in Republican primaries has done a lot of damage in Kansas. Here’s what you should know:
1) When you register as a Republican, you are financially supporting the Republican Party and harming the Democratic Party. When the primary ends, each national party and national organizations receive the number of registered Democrats and Republicans in each state. Allocation of resources is based in part on those numbers.
2) Electing moderate Republicans places committee seats into the hands of conservatives. The number of legislative committee seats awarded to each party is determined by the number of members of each party in the legislature. Committee seats are then assigned by each party’s leadership. Electing any Republican – moderate or not – places more committee seats into the control of the GOP leadership rather than the Democratic leadership. The Republican party leadership tends to award the most important committee seats to conservatives. They also remove moderates from their legislative committees as soon as they take too many strong actions outside the “party line.”
3) Democrats registering as Republicans harms our party’s ability to communicate, organize, and turn out the vote. If you’re registered as a Republican, you’re invisible to communication and turnout efforts directed at Democratic voters.
4) Democrats registering as Republicans hurts Democratic candidates and does not lead to fewer conservatives in the legislature. Democrats meddling in Republican primaries is not necessary to prevent conservatives from being elected. Generally, the districts in which moderate Republicans have a chance at beating a conservative in the Republican primary are progressive or moderate districts. In those districts, the Democratic candidate has an equal or better chance at beating the conservative in the general election. But if Democratic “party switching” voters cause the moderate to win the Republican primary, the Democrat’s chance of winning the general election is greatly reduced. The most obvious demonstration of this is that in most districts in which a “moderate” Republican now holds the seat, the Democratic candidates for both Governor and President received more votes than their Republican opponents in the most recent elections – this is because the Democratic candidates in the gubernatorial and Presidential races had the opportunity to run against a right-wing Republican rather than a moderate Republican in the general election. The result of switching parties to vote for a moderate in the Republican primary is that you end up represented by a Republican when you could have been represented by a Democrat.
5) No, a moderate Republican is not the same as a Democrat when it comes to advancing and advocating good public policy. The moderate Republican faction in Sedgwick County works hard to sell their candidates to progressive voters with rhetoric like “party doesn’t matter” or “party is just a label.” This spin is simply untrue. It relies on voters’ lack of information about the inner workings of the Kansas Legislature. The moderate Republican faction (and some “non-partisan” organizations that support them) publicize only a few high-visibility votes in which moderates vote in line with moderate values each session. Voters seldom hear about the numerous votes in which moderates vote their party’s line in destructive ways. This is especially true on procedural votes – such as votes that put rules in place to allow the Republican Party to ram through legislation with limited public transparency while quietly derailing Democratic legislation without allowing any debate. Voters also rarely hear about the many missed opportunities in which moderates choose not to advocate for good legislation offered by Democrats. Moderates often avoid actively supporting common sense Democratic legislation due to strong political pressure within the Republican party. When you elect a Democrat, your representative will actively fight for your values in Topeka 100% of the time.
6) Principles matter. Every time a candidate runs for election (including re-election), that candidate chooses whether to affiliate with a party. Parties are not merely labels. Parties are defined by written issue platforms. Here are just a few examples of what the platform of the Kansas Republican Party advocates: government sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Kansans; privatization of public education; zero regulation of assault weapons (including allowing anyone to carry assault weapons in schools, hospitals, and churches); and eliminating all income taxes for corporations. If a candidate chooses to affiliate with the Kansas Republican Party, that choice means that the candidate either agrees with the principles set forth in the Republican platform or the candidate is unwilling to make a principled affiliation choice that reflects their true values. We should expect our leaders to make principled choices that reflect their values.