Thursday, July 06, 2017

Why "Vote for the Person" No Longer is Viable

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Lisa Murkowski is my favorite Republican in Congress.  We don't agree on everything (specifically when it comes to gun control and environmental policy), but I have an immense amount of respect for her.  She stands by her convictions even when they might not be prudent in politically-red Alaska, specifically when it comes to social issues like abortion and gay rights, and is someone that doesn't cast votes specifically to avoid Republican primaries.  In fact, she ended up losing a Republican primary in 2010, winning in a write-in campaign, and STILL stuck to her convictions when a lesser man (someone with the name, I don't know, Marco Rubio) would have retreated to the far right to avoid upsetting the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party ever again.

In 2016, Murkowski ran for reelection against a series of gadfly candidates.  The Democrats had nominated Ray Metcalfe, a political joke of a candidate who will register for any office he can find at the Secretary of State's office and regularly switches parties.  Two independents ran as well-Joe Miller, the biggest obvious threat to Murkowski as he beat her in the 2010 primary, and Margaret Stock, a very qualified individual with an impressive resume who had virtually no chance of winning the race.

Considering that Murkowksi's only real opponent was Miller, whom I had seen in 2010 come out of nowhere and nearly end her career, you could assume that I would be supporting Murkowski in this race.  After all, she's qualified and I like her.  Of the four candidates, she's probably the one I liked the best even if I didn't technically agree with her the most, and I enjoy that there are moderates from states that could elect someone like Jim Inhofe instead (see Don Young for an example of what sort of laughingstocks Alaska could send to the Senate).  I value her voice in the Senate.  Yet if I had cast a ballot in the Last Frontier in 2016, despite liking Murkowski as a candidate and respecting her, I almost certainly would have voted for Stock even if it meant potentially letting Miller into the Senate as a result.

Why is this?  Because Lisa Murkowski's first vote in January was not on gay rights or abortion, but instead for Mitch McConnell to get to set the agenda for the remainder of the Congress, and I find that unacceptable...and this shows the truly dangerous position hyper-partisanship has cast in modern politics.  I'd be able to hold my nose on voting for Murkowski for other reasons, and I don't need to agree with her on everything (I was represented by Collin Peterson for years-I can get around voting for a pro-gun, pro-life, anti-gay member of Congress even if I don't like having to do it).  But what I can't get around is that she will allow Mitch McConnell to run the agenda, and not take frequent stands against McConnell despite her personal beliefs.

Just look at the recent healthcare debate.  Murkowski clearly never liked the bill, and opposed it on a variety of grounds, but wasn't willing to say that straight away.  She wasn't willing to tell McConnell "either bring this to committee or you lost my vote," even though she clearly hated the process.  The same could be said for a Susan Collins-these women hold the power if they wanted to grab it, but too often they don't because they're afraid of McConnell's retribution or the lack of funding for their next election.  In earlier days of the Senate, you could find senators who would regularly go against their party on issues that they disagreed with, to the point where they would even throw the leadership under the bus.  Even as recently as a couple of decades ago individuals like Connie Morella or Zell Miller would go against their party without hesitation if it didn't line up with their personal beliefs.  We have gotten to the point where not only the term "moderate" gets thrown around with reckless abandon (I'd argue that only Murkowski and Collins would qualify for the title in the Republican Senate caucus at the moment, but yet you hear it about someone like John McCain or Bob Corker, who are lock-and-step conservatives), but in reality almost no one defies leadership or reaches across the aisle unless it's an election year and they need crossover voters.  As a result, Murkowski, someone I might vote for were it not for the party label, doesn't get my support.  And we continue to get hardliners or no one that's willing to make a deal because they can't win someone from the middle or (clutch-the-pearls) from the other party over to their side to win.  This is a massive flaw in an already fragile system, and one that will only be fixed if people like Murkowski both maintain moderate views AND are willing to fight for them regardless of the cost.

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