Thursday, May 8, 2014

'Tantamount to election' is still an operative phrase

"Tantamount to election." That used to be the phrase used to explain the importance of the Democratic primary in the old, one-party South, back in the day, not so long ago, when the Republican Party could not hope to win a general election in solidly Democratic southern states. So winning the Democratic primary was "tantamount to election." It's all over, folks; you can go home now.

The South has not been a one-party region since the 1960s, and there were many Democratic primaries, even into the early 1980s, that were "tantamount to election" because the Republicans either didn't have a candidate or didn't have the money and organization to put forth a competitive campaign in a particular jurisdiction.

Although the one-party South no longer exists, in Tuesday's primaries, there were a number of races in North Carolina where the outcome of the party primary was "tantamount to election." G.K. Butterfield Jr. has no serious Republican competition in the 1st Congressional District, where Democratic registration is in the 80 percent range. Likewise, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in the 2nd Congressional District need not worry about the final outcome of the Democratic primary there, which is still in limbo as Clay Aiken and Keith Crisco are fighting for the chance to lose to Republican Ellmers. That district is designed to elect a Republican, and you can almost bet it will — again.

Although former Wilson resident Taylor Griffin put up a good fight to take the Republican nomination away from Walter Jones Jr. in the 3rd Congressional District, he fell short, and Jones' primary victory is "tantamount to election" in the heavily Republican district.

Statewide general elections for governor or senator may still be competitive, but scores of smaller primary contests are still "tantamount to election" in North Carolina. So long as political parties determine how electoral districts are drawn, one party will get to pick the general election winner and the other party won't stand a chance.

The only way to correct this situation is to turn redistricting over to a nonpartisan, independent commission that will be forbidden to employ political calculus in drawing congressional or legislative boundaries. This is a nationwide problem, and it needs congressional leadership to require state legislatures to turn their redistricting machinery over to independent bodies.

The one problem with this solution is that a majority of members of the U.S. House were elected from non-competitive districts, districts where winning their party primary was "tantamount to election." They like it that way.

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