EDITORIAL: Will Alaska’s Democratic Party sell out?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 09:27

The Alaska Democratic Party might be a little less democratic if party delegates decide to adopt a rule change at their May meeting.

A spokesman told The Associated Press (last) week that the party will ask the state’s Division of Elections to implement a change that would allow independent candidates to run in the Democratic primary. The change would be in place for the 2016-17 election cycle, at which time party delegates would have to then renew it in 2018.

It’s too early to say if such a bold change is a stroke a genius or self-destructive; only time will say for sure.

Democratic Party leaders are no doubt hoping to capitalize on the fact that 54 percent of Alaska’s registered voters are not affiliated with any party. They also know how difficult it is for Democrats to win statewide races, and how it’s nearly impossible to win legislative races in some districts. (Only 15 of 40 House members are Democrats, as are five of the 20 Senate members. Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan is the only independent in the Legislature.)

Allowing independent candidates to run on the party ticket could give Democrats an advantage by becoming more appealing to Alaska’s 276,000 independent voters. Just 14 percent of the state’s 500,000 voters are registered as Democrats, while Republicans claim 26 percent of voters.

But what will the party’s 14 percent think of such a change, and how much is the party willing to compromise when candidates views aren’t completely aligned with that of the national party?

The Alaska Democratic Party is about to tread on new ground if delegates ratify the rule change during its May 2016 convention. While hoping for the best, party members should be prepared for the worst.

In a statement, Alaska Democratic Party chair Casey Steinau said the party wants to be more inclusive, and the change would give its members more choices of who to vote for. But what could happen is voters get fewer choices.

Democratic Party leaders are no doubt eyeing the 2018 gubernatorial race and hoping to land Gov. Bill Walker on their party’s ticket. Otherwise, a rule change of this scope would make far less sense. The change would give the party its best chance at claiming the governor’s office in years.

But if Walker were to run in the Democratic primary and win, the regular election could look much like the Republican primary when Walker faced then-Gov. Sean Parnell. Yes, Walker is an independent, but he’s still more aligned with traditional Republican values than Democratic ones.

The Democratic Party’s branding in Alaska ultimately is at stake, and if the party were to choose a pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage candidate who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or any combination thereof), the result could lead to voter apathy among current members at the risk of trying to attract new ones.

Regardless, the change is sure to create division among current members, some of which will feel their party is willing to sell out in order to gain seats that may align more with Republican principles than Democratic ones.

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