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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Voters, not parties, first

BOTH parties are doing everything they can to make the May 4 primary election count for as little as possible. Their mutual desire to minimize rather than encourage internal competition enhances the power of party bosses. But it serves voters — and the small-d democratic process — poorly.

The Ohio Republican Party is slotting its candidates for statewide row offices, such as attorney general and state auditor, in a way that avoids competitive primaries. For local Democrats, there is the game of political chairs that has followed the appointment of state Rep. Peter Ujvagi as Lucas County administrator.

Mr. Ujvagi's job switch next month not only will leave his House seat open, but also is likely to create other vacancies in the state House and Senate and on Toledo City Council, as incumbents seek new positions. The party already is moving to anoint candidates for these jobs before they would have to go before voters.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits, wants to be appointed to Mr. Ujvagi's House seat. If — more likely when — she gets it, state Rep. Edna Brown is staking a claim to Ms. Fedor's Senate seat.

Ms. Brown wants the Senate Democratic caucus to appoint her to the seat before the primary. That would give her the advantages of incumbency — without having been elected in the Senate district — over her chief primary opponent, Toledo City Council member Joe McNamara.

It would be better for Democratic voters in the district, which includes all or part of Toledo and five other communities, if the caucus did not intervene. Ms. Brown and Mr. McNamara should have an equal opportunity to make their case to voters during a primary campaign on a level playing field.

Representative Brown argues that the Senate district should not have to go without representation until after the primary. That's a legitimate concern.

But on balance, a brief vacancy is a tolerable price to pay to ensure fair competition in the primary, which will select the Democratic nominee for a full term. Voters, not party leaders, should make the choice.

It can't be repeated often enough: The people, not the parties, own the political process. Parties exist to promote, not weaken, the ability of voters to decide whom they want to represent them in public office at all levels of government. Or so the civics textbooks say.

Both competition-averse parties might stop cutting deals long enough to remember that. If they don't, discontented voters can be expected to remind them, emphatically.



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