Let’s run party leaders in unopposed races.

Looking over races in central Virginia, I sure see a lot of incumbents going unchallenged. If they were hit by a bus in the weeks or months before election day, the opposing party would have no chance of getting their own guy elected, because they decided to sit it out. My own representatives in the House of Delegates, Rob Bell, has no Democratic challenger. I’m as much to blame as anybody else for Bell going unchallenged—after all, you don’t see me running against him—but I do think there’s a potential solution. I think party chairs should be nominated to run when nobody else is available, as a matter of party rules.

For instance, I’d thought about putting my name in against Bell, not because I had any interest whatsoever in running, but because he could have been hit by a bus, and so somebody should have been carrying the flag for the opposing party. But I didn’t, for the same reason that you didn’t do it, either—because I’d look like an idiot. I’m running, but not really. I’m not even really half-assing it. I just thought it’d look nice to have my name printed up on a bunch of ballots. Please don’t give me any money.

If party leadership had to line up and put each their names as the standard-bearer for their party in otherwise uncontested races, then it’d be a routine thing, not requiring explanation beyond “I’m the vice-chair, so it’s really just automatic.” This would have the happy side-effect of providing an indication of how many people will vote for a Democrat/Republican no matter who is on the ballot, a sort of a baseline for the district. Under the extraordinary circumstance that this candidate-by-default wound up being elected, there’s at least some reason to think that the person isn’t totally unable to do the job, by virtue of having risen to the top of the party’s leadership.

So, yeah, that. Let’s get on it.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

15 replies on “Let’s run party leaders in unopposed races.”

  1. I’m torn on whether it would require an agreement from both parties in a given locality. It might be moot, though—if one party started doing it, the other party would basically have to do likewise.

  2. Two School Board districts have no candidates at all; that is to say neither party (in a non-partisan election) put someone up.

    Now we have the write in circus going on, including some really awful people.

  3. The risk is that someone could slide into office having convinced just a few people of their value/credibility. I mean, unfortunately in politics (D, R, I or other) a candidate is less likely to be hit by a car than to be a scoundrel. And maybe scoundrel is too much hyperbole but you get my point.

    As an alternative, in all organizations of long history their are often riddled with legacy positions, positions of little effort but strong influence that go to long-time members held in high esteem who wish to remain involved but not bear the burden of a more active administrative role. I’m thinking particularly of parliamentarians or historians in bodies abiding Robert’s Rules, but other similar positions exist in the party structure I’m sure.

  4. Speaking personally, I think knowing that somewhere, a Republican consultant was doing opposition research and drafting mail pieces to tell my neighbors what a horrible person I was — you know, just in case — would make me terribly unlikely to get involved in local political organizations.

  5. This very scenario played out in Rockingham County a couple of years ago. In the last weeks of the Commissioner of Revenue race, the incumbent, Republican Richard Connellee died. Per Virginia election rules the Republicans could not remove Connellee’s name from the ballot. The Democratic Party candidate, Esther Nizer, a well qualified accountant and adjunct business professor was poised to assume the Commissioner’s position. Instead, County Republican Party committee members begged the heavily Republican electorate to “Vote for Richard” so that a special election could be scheduled. The voters complied, elected a dead Republican and the Republican Party officials successfully lobbied a local judge to order the election be delayed and entire year. In the interim, an unelected deputy filled the space.

    Moral: Weasels will always find a way to steal a chicken. Chickens are predictable.

  6. Speaking personally, I think knowing that somewhere, a Republican consultant was doing opposition research and drafting mail pieces to tell my neighbors what a horrible person I was — you know, just in case — would make me terribly unlikely to get involved in local political organizations.

    It seems pretty unlikely that they’d bother. It would require that a candidate be willing to spend his campaign’s money in case of his own death. I submit that you’ll find very few candidates willing to plan their post-mortem campaign. :)

  7. I completely disagree. Party leaders are not the same as those who aspire to office. I am angry about no one running, and I guess I don’t understand. Has it grown so expensive that no one even tries anymore? How disappointing. I voted for myself.

  8. A candidate wouldn’t plan for his own post-mortem campaign, no. The people running the caucus or the state party? Sure, what’s a thousand bucks in independent expenditures for political insurance in case it turns out your incumbent is deceased or otherwise suddenly unelectable?

  9. I completely disagree. Party leaders are not the same as those who aspire to office. I am angry about no one running, and I guess I don’t understand. Has it grown so expensive that no one even tries anymore?

    It’s not just that it’s expensive—it’s that districts are either far-right or far-left, with few in the center, and the last round of redistricting made that worse than ever. The real election is the primary. I agree that it would be better to have proper candidates, but lacking that, I think this is a pretty good fall-back position.

    A candidate wouldn’t plan for his own post-mortem campaign, no. The people running the caucus or the state party? Sure, what’s a thousand bucks in independent expenditures for political insurance in case it turns out your incumbent is deceased or otherwise suddenly unelectable?

    Assuming that there was parity between party position and office, I think this would tend to work out, too. Presumably the party chair would file to run for the most prominent office that’s going unchallenged (say, state senate), and that would be somebody rather accustomed to being in the public eye, to a certain extent. But if we’re talking any of a half-dozen down-ticket races that aren’t challenged (board of supervisors, etc.), then the state party isn’t going to bother providing money for opposition research against them, and hardly any local party has the resources for opposition research, period. You’re right that the 2nd Vice Chair for Publicity probably shouldn’t be automatically made the candidate for state senate, but I think that by starting at the top and working your way down, that wouldn’t happen.

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