The outcome of round one of Michigan's Republican Party presidential nominating extravaganza indicates just what can happen when a state party organization -- Democratic or Republican -- tries to exploit our basically flawed system for nominating presidential candidates. Instead of giving a state an edge at the starting gate, it may help induce a distorted result at the finish.
Whatever the pluses or minuses of Pat Robertson's candidacy, his apparent strong showing does not necessarily indicate a broad base of support. At this point, few voters in Michigan, understandably, have much idea of his views. In rushing to get ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire and perhaps in anticipation of finding delegates for thousands of precincts that usually remain uninvolved, the Republican Party put into early operation a system vulnerable to a well-organized effort by a dedicated group.
In starting their delegate selection process more than two years before the presidential election, the Michigan Republican Party was simply doing what others have done, including southern states. Why should Michigan sit on the sidelines while other states race to shape events? However, the Michigan experience is another demonstration that the present presidential nominating system is running out of control.
The scramble represented by the efforts of Michigan and other states to "move up" in the primary schedule is a sign that people are trying to fight back against a bad system -- a helter-skelter process for nominating presidential candidates.
When the presidential nominating process did not actually involve the public but only a few political leaders, it made sense to leave the states and their parties to do it their own way at their own times. But we have passed the point of no return.
The public is into the presidential process to stay. Let's accept the fact and create a system that takes into account broad public participation and an effective role for political parties.
Such a system should:
*Offer a fair reflection of all parts of the nation, with no one state or region having a disproportionate advantage in determining the outcome;
*Provide the electorate time to watch a candidate's ideas develop in the crucible of daily campaigning and provide candidates time to develop their political message in a give and take with the electorate;
*Allow all candidates to make their names and positions known before the outcome has already been determined.
The current system fails test one. So do regional primaries. A national primary fails tests two and three.
I have proposed legislation to create an inter-regional primaries plan that would pass all three of these tests.
This plan would create, for the purpose of the presidential nominating process, a series of six inter-regional primaries and caucuses on six set dates between the second Tuesday in March and the second Thursday in June.
One state -- or in the case of states with smaller populations, paired states -- from each of six divisions of contiguous states would be selected by lot to hold its presidential nominating contests on one of the six specified dates.
1. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania;
2. Maryland, West Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee;
3. Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota;
4. Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, New Mexico;
5. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi;
6. California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Hawaii, Alaska.
Over a 24-year period, all states would be guaranteed to lead the presidential nomination process once -- only once. With each presidential election, the order changes. States that conduct the first primaries are last in the next election, and the remaining states advance in order.
With inter-regional primaries, no one state or region would dominate the presidential nominating process by virtue of always being first. Candidates would not be unfairly eliminated because they didn't appeal to one constituency, nor would any candidate be selected because he or she was able to take early advantage of a primary schedule skewed to the advantage of one particular outlook. Instead, all candidates from the very beginning would have to prove their mettle and wide appeal in every region of the country.
The contest to "go first" or to create a regional super primary may be in the best interest of individual states. It is not, however, in the best interest of the nation as a whole.
We all want a fair and equal share in the selection of our candidates for the nation's highest office. Under a scheduled inter-regional primary and caucus system, every state and every voter would share equally in the excitement and responsibility that comes with having a timely and critical part in a vital part of our democracy.