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FROM THE ARENA
Column for the Anchorage Times for 21 October 1990
by Wayne Anthony Ross

The recent gubernatorial race activities here in Alaska seem to have caused a flurry of vituperative letters to the editors of the major Alaskan newspapers. In general, their theme seems to revolve around the issue of who really represents the Republican Party, and who represents Republican principles. Some writers maintain that Arliss is the real Republican candidate because she was the victor under the Republican banner in the primary election. Others believe that Wally is the real Republican, because only he supports the principles of the Republican Party Platform.

The real answer to the question is, of course, a difficult one, and depends on how well a person understands just how it is that a political party operates.

A political party, Republican or Democrat, is a group of citizens united for the common purposes of electing public officials and fostering legislation that best represent the values, principles, and beliefs of the majority of the members of that group. While there is room in a political party for persons of opposing viewpoints, generally, on most points, the party is a relatively homogeneous group, adhering to common principles and beliefs.

Political parties get their strength from the grass roots level. Parties rely on their members' willingness to get involved in the political process from the bottom up.

The process works something like this. Every two years the parties hold precinct caucuses. These precinct caucuses are announced in the newspapers. Anybody can come to them, but to have a vote, a participant must register as a member of that particular party. Often, provisions are made which allow party registration right at the caucus itself.

A caucus is merely a fancy name for a meeting. A precinct caucus is a meeting of people from a precinct, to organize the precinct along party lines. These precinct people, generally neighbors of one another, meet and elect precinct officers and discuss what they would like to see happen in state government. If they agree on certain beliefs, they write these beliefs down and agree to put forth these beliefs at future party meetings as proposed planks to a party platform. If they want certain action taken, they draft resolutions and agree to put forth these resolutions at future party meetings. The precinct also elects delegates to the party's district convention. These delegates will represent the precinct at the district convention, and are assigned the responsibility of pushing the beliefs and resolutions passed by the precinct caucus at that district convention. Usually a precinct caucus lasts only an hour or two.

Several weeks later, the party schedules its district conventions. At these conventions which, again, are announced in the newspaper, delegates from the precincts meet, elect district officers, elect delegates to the state party convention, and discuss and vote on the resolutions and proposed planks which were formulated at the precinct caucuses. Those resolutions and proposed planks which survive the district conventions then become the proposals of the district, and the delegates elected from the district have the responsibility of pushing those beliefs and proposed planks at the party's state convention.

Several months later, the party has its state convention. The delegates elected from the district conventions meet, elect state party officers, and discuss and vote on the resolutions and proposed planks sent up from the various district conventions. Resolutions passed at the state convention become the items that the party pushes for during the upcoming legislative sessions. Proposed planks passed by the convention become the platform of the party. The platform of the party is generally printed, and constitutes an outline of what the party stands for.

The convention process of a party is an involved process. It is stressful. It requires the input of a lot of concerned, interested people. It is usually a lot of work, and a lot of fun. But participants take it very seriously.

So, if you want to find out whether it is Arliss, or Wally, who really represents Republicans, their beliefs, and their principles, forget the labels and take a look at the Republican Party Platform, available at the Party's Headquarters on Fireweed Lane. Then take a look at each candidate's position on the same issues. The candidate that is most in tune with the Party's platform is the one that is the real Republican candidate.

But party labels are only important for party members. About 25 percent of Alaska's voters list themselves as Republicans and a slightly lesser amount call themselves Democrats. About half of all Alaskans do not designate their party affiliation preferring to "keep their options open". Rather than voting for a party and the principles it stands for, these voters often pick and choose their candidates, even if the candidates chosen reflect widely divergent political views. Thus, in Alaskan politics, it really doesn't matter what the candidate calls himself or herself. What matters is how he or she will perform in the elected position. Will he or she get the job done, the way we Alaskans want it done?

We haven't done very well in picking our governors during the last few elections. Often we have had to vote for the lesser of two evils, rather than for the candidate of our choice. Some people thought that after the primary dust had cleared we faced such an election again, a choice between Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. These people believe, that with Wally now in the race, Alaskans at last have a real choice between candidates, and political philosophies. An otherwise dull election now has the potential of becoming very interesting.

 

 


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