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Vote for a person and not the party? Don't brag about it.

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, May 24, 2004

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One of my friends is a proud "I vote for the person-not the party" man.

Our system of government allows voters to consider both party affiliation and the candidates' personal qualities and beliefs.

So, I was a little surprised the other day when I heard him talking about the upcoming U.S. Senate race. He likes one of the candidates very much, but he is not going to vote for him.

He explained, "I know what will happen when he gets up to Washington. He will fall in line with his party's leadership, and maybe be the key vote to determine which party would be in charge. I would vote for him as a person, but I am not going to vote for his party."

I will not argue too much with my friend's way of thinking, except to file all this away to bring up the next time he says, "I vote for the person-not the party."

I often hear people brag about their commitment to always "vote for the person-not the party." Sometimes, it comes across as if they are superior to other voters who do take political party into account. Their pride in being "above politics" is careless and unmerited.

Of course, examining the qualities and approaches of individual candidates ought to be an important part of a voter's decision-making process. More on that later in this column. But someone who says, "I always vote for the person," is either not telling the whole truth or is naively putting aside a very important consequence of electing particular candidates.

In Washington and Raleigh, the legislative bodies are almost evenly divided. The battle for control in both places is bitterly contested as two weekend news events demonstrated. The North Carolina Republican Party disciplined Republican state house co-speaker Richard Morgan for making a temporary
peace with Democrats and sharing power with them. Meanwhile, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist, broke a longstanding senate tradition by campaigning directly against the Democratic leader, Tom Daschle. Attaining and maintaining control is serious business and it leads to such extraordinary actions.

When a party's control of a legislative body is subject to ouster if one or two of its members are replaced with a member of another political party, ever race is critical. The results of an election in any district could determine which party will be in charge of the state or national agenda. Thus, every vote for an individual is also a vote for that individual candidate's political party's effort to take charge. It is a vote for party, whether the voter thinks it is or not.

Now, if you are one of those "always vote for the person" people, I hope you will forgive me for my criticism.

Even in my criticism, I agree that you have a point. While the candidate's political party is very important, so are his or her individual qualities. Having really good, talented people, regardless of party, in our legislative bodies makes our government stronger. Voters should take this into account.

In my work in the legislature (as the former "lobbyist" for the UNC-System) I found that neither party had a monopoly on good or bad legislators. What I saw very often was how much difference it made when the voters sent a hard-working, public spirited, open-minded, practical person to Raleigh-whatever his or her party.

In the midst of the critical and continuous partisan battles, it meant so much to have skillful people of good character who would work on the most important issues and, when necessary, rise above partisanship to get the job done.

Our system of government allows voters to consider both party affiliation and the candidates' personal qualities and beliefs.

The system works better when they take both factors into account.


D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries" a handbook of home cooking places near North Carolina's interstate highways-available through "Our State" magazine (800-948-1409).

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