February 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm EST | by Peter Rosenstein
Registering as ‘independent’ a copout
voting, District of Columbia, independent voters, gay news, Washington Blade

When my party chooses a candidate in its primary not to my liking I am still free to support another party’s candidate in the general election.

There has been debate recently about changing the primary system in the District of Columbia and nearly all of it from those outside the Democratic Party who feel disenfranchised. There is a simple solution and that is for them to register as Democrats. But clearly that doesn’t satisfy them.

I would make one change to the current closed primary system and that is to hold a run-off election when no candidate reaches a pre-determined percentage of the vote. But that actually ends up uniting the party around one candidate and some who want open primaries in D.C. may not like that as it will make it even more unlikely than now to elect anyone other than a Democrat. The District is a Democratic town because the majority of the people living here believe in the principles of the Democratic Party and are willing to stand up for them.

In today’s political world there seems to be some cache in telling people you are an independent. I haven’t quite figured out why not having your political views public and associating with the party that represents them makes you cool but some think it does. There are two main political parties in the nation, Republican and Democratic. When registering to vote in D.C. you have the option of registering in those two or the Green Party, Statehood Party, register no party (independent) or list some other party.

In D.C., which is overwhelmingly Democratic, provisions have been made in our home rule charter for two at-large Council seats to go to a candidate other than a Democrat. So over the years we have had members of the Statehood Party, Republican Party and independents holding those seats. Council member David Catania first got elected as a Republican. When he decided to leave the Republican Party he chose to become an independent so he could keep his seat. Nothing stopped him from registering as a Democrat other than either he didn’t believe in the principles of the party or it was politically expedient that he didn’t have to give up his seat (one allocated for someone other than a Democrat).

I am a proud Democrat and have been since first registering to vote in New York City. An activist in politics from a very young age, there is pride in the party I have chosen and an unwillingness to see all the work so many party activists have accomplished potentially be undone by those not in the party choosing its candidates. Democrats have fought for years for the principles of the party we support and have battled to ensure that our party supports and stands for the human and civil rights of all people and progressive policies. Today there is not much similarity between the two major parties. They represent very differing views of the world. So that makes me question this desire of some unwilling to stand up for one of them and rather declare themselves independent, which doesn’t indicate at all what they believe or what principles they are willing to fight for. It rather seems a copout.

An independent who wants to vote in a Democratic or Republican Party primary chooses to let others fight for the principles of the party and then after the debate is all over say, “Here I am and I now want to choose who will be the standard bearer for what you have fought for and believe”.

When my party chooses a candidate in its primary not to my liking I am still free to support another party’s candidate in the general election. It hasn’t happened often but in 1994 I supported and volunteered countless hours for Carol Schwartz, when she ran as the Republican candidate for mayor.

Recently we have seen a candidate in Ward 1 drop out of the Democratic primary and change his party affiliation to independent. He declared he wanted to give the people of the Ward more choice in the election. If he couldn’t connect with the voters in the Democratic primary, what makes him think he will connect with them later?

This debate will continue but I hope that for the foreseeable future we maintain a closed primary system in D.C.

  • I suppose one could admire Mr. Rosenstein for his decades long promotion of his local Democratic Party, no matter what they do. He may have served more terms than even our many Democratic incumbents, now in their late 60s and 70s, who have been in office since 1990, after nullifying the popular 1994 term limits initiative 66% of DC voters passed. Like Mr. Rosenstein, they too turned a blind eye to the systemic corruption and malfeasance throughout the DC government of their Democratic colleagues in our one party state, and only independent citizens – who weren’t Democrats – like Tim Day – brought it to light. In that context people choosing to register as No Party and be independents, as one fifth of DC voters do, is a healthier and more rational and more informed political choice than just registering Democrat so you can participate in the closed Democratic primary, the only reason many, including me in the past, deigned to do it. So as usual, Peter Rosenstein’s column is just a player piano grinding out decades old talking points.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    I appreciate Mr. Major’s comments but often wonder what he can site as his accomplishments for the citizens of the District over his years as either a Democrat in the past or a Libertarian now.

    I have not been in office which Mr. Majors seems not to know- and should he bother to do some research he would find that I was opposed to the Council overturning the term limit referendum. That wasn’t a Democratic Party issue rather a decision by individual members of the Council at the time. I am opposed to term limits but felt that after the referendum they should have gone into effect and was very public about that.

    Mr. Majors likes to lump all Democrats together but the reality is that is why there is a primary and in some cases Democrats will vote other than their Party which I indicated I did in the 1994 Mayoral race. I have also publicly supported and voted for Mr. Catania in a number of his races for Council when he ran as a Independent because I thought he was an effective Councilmember.

    Since Mr. Majors gets personal in his reply to my column I would be happy to put my record of public volunteer service up against his at anytime whether it is working for school reform, marriage-equality, community input into government, women’s rights and voting rights among other issues. Mr. Majors is running for office so he has a vested interest so I do understand his interest in this issue. But I think if he is too succeed in his race he needs a record of service to run on and I don’t think he has one.

  • That’s an amusing response. I’m sorry it was hard for you to understand my humor. My reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s “terms in office” was to his years if not decades writing essentially the same columns over and over uncritically flaking for Democrats. As to the Democrats and their opposition to term limits and their overlooking their own corrupt colleagues, I doubt you can find one, especially running for office this year, who has supported term limits (Jack Evans led the city council to nullify them back in the 90s after 66% of the voters voted for them) or who did anything to expose corruption before their fellows were indicted. Of course they are not alone, no journalist or columnists paid any attention to our city council members who were embezzling funds from charities etc etc. independent citizens like Tim Day did it. Finally, I am unaware of Peter Rosenstein’s contributions to the gay community or school reform as he is unaware of mine. Other than this column where he defends the one party DC power structure I must plead ignorance as to what he does. When I gave $20,000 to the Democrats in 2000, through their gay and lesbian interest section, and went to their nominating convention (after working 70 hours a week that year to make that money) I didn’t notice him there. When I gave $25,000 a year later, to the Human Rights Campaign, I didn’t see Mr. Rosenstein there. (As for “comparing” – I’d compare my donations to gay causes to Mr. Rosenstein or to those of any candidate running in DC this year,) When I attended GLAAD events or Gays and Lesbians Organizing Against Violence in the 80s and 90s when I had no money I didn’t see Mr. Rosenstein there. When I went to rallies defending school choice and education vouchers I saw Marion Barry and parents and students but not Peter Rosenstein. When I went to Gertrude Stein Democrat or Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund or Human Rights Campaign Federal Club events in the 2000s I didn’t see Mr. Rosenstein there. When I went to a rally for gay marriage last year at the Arlington, Virginia courthouse or to the march at the Supreme Court for marriage equality last spring, I didn’t see Mr. Rosenstein there. Now maybe he went to some of these things. Or maybe he went to other gay rights events, because we are blessed to have many. But Mr. Rosenstein’s lack of information about what other people do to support the gay community, and his parochial blinders that lead him to believe that he and Mayor Gray and a corrupt party and his incumbents are the people doing all the work furthering individual rights for gays, is just the same limited and uninformed perspective we find in his partisan and uninteresting columns.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    “Finally, I am unaware of Peter Rosenstein’s contributions to the gay community or school reform as he is unaware of mine. Other than this column where he defends the one party DC power structure I must plead ignorance as to what he does”.

    Well I must admit I was unaware of what Mr. Majors has contributed especially his money which is great and I hope he continues to contribute it. So I accept that he is unaware of what I do. But of course when Mr. Majors again starts to attack me about my having parochial blinders I question which Party he thinks has moved our country forward in the past years. Clearly it is the Democratic Party. I don’t think anyone in the LGBT community or for that matter any minority. woman or progressive would question that.

    I think if he has a differrent view it may be he who has the blinders on but then again I accept that as he is running for office he needs to make a case for his candidacy if he wants people to reject the incumbent he is running against. I don’t think it is productive to get into personal debates online so my part of this discussion strand will end here. However I again thank Mr. Majors for all the things he has done that I didn’t know about. Maybe he will have the courtesy to accept all that I have done.

    I wish him luck in his election and that is something only the voters of the District can decide and it has nothing to do with the primary as he will be running against only one representative of the Democratic Party by the time his election is decided.

  • After reading the op-ed, I have determined that the person who wrote it doesn’t quite understand the reasons why people (especially young people) are choosing to be independents. It’s because we can think for ourselves. We don’t believe in sticking to just a political party, and we feel that those that are elected should answer to the people and not the party bosses.

    We don’t see things are red vs. blue (Democrat vs. Republican). We see good ideas from both parties, and we see horrible ideas from both parties. We also tend to see what politicians that adhere to political ideology miss… usually the common sense answers. We have come to see the two parties as the same side of a coin. We also see how the Democratic and Republican parties have worked together to keep their stranglehold on the system by making it harder for independent candidates and third party candidates off ballots.

    I am a proud registered independent voter in my state, and if I get the job I want, then I will be on in DC as well. Most independents (which includes myself) are smart enough to think for themselves without the party having to “tell” them what to think. I can even do my own research and am not afraid to call out any elected person on their BS regardless of their party.

    I have a saying. If I’m not good enough to vote for you in a primary, then you aren’t good enough to get my vote in a general election. I can find someone else to vote for… and so can every other independent voter.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    To James S. : I find the following statement you made very interesting ” I have determined that the person who wrote it doesn’t quite understand the reasons why people (especially young people) are choosing to be independents. It’s because we can think for ourselves. We don’t believe in sticking to just a political party, and we feel that those that are elected should answer to the people and not the party bosses.”

    I agree with you that people who are elected need to answer to the people. And in every election they do. And then no one says you aren’t good enough to vote for someone in a primary, you are perfectly free to if you are in the Party that is holding the primary. If you aren’t you then have the choice to vote for whatever candidate you like in the election from whatever Party they are from. That is why we have elections. But you seem to be saying if a Party doesn’t allow you to vote in their primary you automatically won’t vote for their candidate. I would rather hear you say that you won’t automatically vote for their candidate but will compare all the candidates on the ballot and pick the one that most closely matches the positions you have on issues. I think anyone who follows politics closely realizes that no one candidate will match all of what they stand for and often we are forced to choose among those who come closest.

    But letting you vote in a Party primary in which you aren’t registered doesn’t seem to make much difference to you if your chosen candidate in that primary doesn’t win what will you do then? Will you automatically vote against the winner who you didn’t choose. I would hope you would still match that person against the others in the general election and find the best one.

    Many young people I know still understand that Party does make a difference in many ways. In Congress at this time many Republican moderates are still voting to elect Boehner as the Speaker of the House and he is now doing things like preventing ENDA from coming to a vote. Where as even not perfect Democrats would vote or Pelosi and ENDA would be brought up to a vote. Just a small example of why Party does make a difference.

    I respect your right to register as an Independent. But when you do so in DC just be aware of the rules of the game and don’t then complain later. I also respect your right to think for yourself and not have a Party tell you how to think. I agree with that which is I why among other things I am an activist in the Democratic Party to tell them what I think they should stand for and who I want to support for office from the Party.

  • Kurt

    Contrary to James’ assertion, I am a Democrat and it has not stopped me an iota from thinking for myself. Further I’ve never met once in DC a “party boss” who elected officials think they need to answer. If anything, the party apparatus is rather weak to even do its positive duties.

    I don’t think DC ballot access law unfairly restrict any independent who wishes to run for office. As a general principle, I find those who register as independents in DC are not brave, free-thinking, creative types brimming with new ideas, but folks rather disengaged from civic life. On the other hand, I find many people who are far from even what little orthodoxy exists in the Democratic Party who take advantage of the fact that anyone is free to register as a Democrat without any ideological test or need to learn the secret handshake.

    I would suggest this change in law — that voters be allowed to change their party registration at the polling place on primary election day. This way an independent could decide to vote in the Democratic primary on the spur of the moment.

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