On endorsements and superdelegates: let the people decide

I don’t need elected officials to tell me who to vote for

By Nathaniel Smith, Columnist, The Times

NSmithColLogoI try to be appreciative of elected officials and the work they do.  And I wouldn’t want their jobs, not for the money and perks, not for the fame and glory. But right now I’m annoyed.

Officials elected by vote of all the people of the state should, in my view, once elected, continue to represent all the people of the state. Those officials belong to one of the two major parties, of course, because with rare exceptions, Independents can’t hold public office (thus shutting 1 in 5 Americans out of the system; no wonder people are disgruntled). But I don’t think those statewide officials ought to engage in partisan campaign operations. It just doesn’t look good.

Therefore, I don’t think they should serve as unpledged “superdelegates” at political conventions and put themselves in potential conflict with the will of the voters in their own party. All that power is tempting, but they should resist it.  In the presidential convention, 10% of the Pennsylvania Democrats’ votes will be at the whim of the superdelegates. That’s less than the total convention with 15%, but still could make a big difference… against the will of the people.

And those superdelegates particularly should not try to play kingmaker by endorsing candidates for office. Candidates work hard and many are committed to the public welfare, possibly even more than those who hold office currently. People donate money to candidates and work hard for their favorites. Many voters are very concerned about particular issues. Americans should be encouraged to run for office, pay attention to issues, and vote-not to follow the desires of their current elected officials.

Here is the immediate cause of my annoyance. I now have received two missives from Senator Bob Casey endorsing Katie McGinty over Joe Sestak, whom I greatly prefer for many concrete reasons. So I went to Senator Casey’s web site, as our elected representatives always plead with us to do so they can “serve us better,” and I wrote a brief objection, saying:

“Part of clean government is respecting the voters. Your endorsement of Katie McGinty is not helpful. As an establishment politician, she cannot beat Toomey; Joe Sestak can. Given your own independence on issues like TPP and women’s choice, I expected you to resist the pressures in the race for your future Senate colleague from PA.”

I think that was an honest and appropriate thing for me to do.  I had voted twice in the past for Senator Casey; I still have on my study wall a 2006 poster that says “Give Rick the Kick.” But now the very man who defeated then-Senator Santorum ten years ago is using his office to tell me and other Democrats how to vote.  I think it should be the other way around.

And here is what our Democratic Senator wrote back:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing from all Pennsylvanians about the issues that matter most to them.

“I welcome your interest in the political future of our country, but Senate ethics rules prohibit me from using government resources to respond to your comments relating to political campaigns or political parties. You may wish to contact the candidates or parties directly.

“Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.

“For more information on this or other issues, I encourage you to visit my web site…. I hope you will find this online office a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work…, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.”

A few days later, the Senator wrote me again on the theme that “Katie” will fight to raise the minimum wage, secure equal pay for women, and help middle class families. The exact same thing is true of “Joe” and all other Democratic candidates I know anything about.

I do not “wish to contact the candidates or parties directly.” I wish to let Senator Casey know what I think and see what he has to say for himself. This time I wrote the Senator back at bob@bobcasey.com, thus not at his Senate address, but so far have received no answer.

So I am sharing my thoughts here and now on “what matters most to me” and I hope Senator Casey hears them, because it is clear that his lofty office allows him to affect other people’s campaigns and, as a superdelegate, to have a zillion times more influence on our party’s choice of future presidential nominee than any of the rest of us, but does not allow him to deal with the resulting comments from his own constituents.

I have never been a fan of individual office-holders endorsing candidates anyhow. The endorser is really saying: “We need more people like me in government” -meaning people who won’t challenge the power structure he or she is part of.  2016 is probably not a well-chosen year for candidates who plan to perpetuate the current order of things; we’ll see soon.

An individual office-holder’s endorsement is different from group endorsements from local party members, labor, business, or citizens concerned about a particular issue. Those are essentially saying: “We think candidate Z best represents principles and interests that are important to us, as a segment of the American people; here are our reasons and we will be happy to talk with you about it.”

Well, I think Joe Sestak best represents my principles and interests and I have my reasons. I hope you all do too.

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