TWO VIEWS • Should we amend our primary election system or leave it the way it is?

There are a lot of things in government that need reform, but the right of citizens to choose their own political party candidates for offices is not one of them.

Those who want to eliminate primary elections to select party candidates for the general election start off on the assumption that the parties belong to the government. That is why they think it is OK to impose a reform, which takes away the right of Democrats or Republicans to choose their standard-bearer for each office.

These folks just don't get it. The parties belong to the people who choose to affiliate with them. A reform to take away the right of parties to nominate their own candidates is antipopulist and disenfranchises those who wish to come together behind a particular candidate.

Political primaries arose out of the desire to allow all voters who identify with a major party to have a voice Ñ and a choice Ñ as to the party's candidates.

Turning the primary system into a free-for-all among all candidates, with the top two running off in November, actually limits options for voters. Right now, minor parties can qualify for the November ballot and select their candidate by convention. In the November general election, we often have a third or fourth candidate sharing the ballot with the major party candidates. Under Phil Keisling's approach, these other candidates would be drowned out in the primaries.

Our major political parties serve many functions. They are a forum for ideas; they are a vehicle for volunteer participation; they help focus on key issues; and they are a filter mechanism, filtering out weaker candidates.

There are real differences in philosophy between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Just take a look at the recent congressional votes on President Bush's tax-reduction plan.

Citizens deserve the right to choose an affiliation with one party or the other, and to join together within that party to select a champion who will take their cause before all the voters.

Finally, critics of the primary system seem to attack the major parties with an inconsistent approach: On the one hand, they say parties are too powerful and make their elected officials march in lockstep. On the other hand, they say parties are weak and irrelevant. The truth is somewhere in between: Parties are as powerful as the ideas they propose, and their strength is completely dependent on winning over enough voters Ñ including 'independents' Ñ every general election.

Former Gov. Vic Atiyeh is famous for reminding people: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Our current primary system may need some technical changes, but it certainly 'ain't broke.' It should remain the method for major parties to choose their candidates for the general election.

Kevin Mannix is chairman of the Oregon Republican Party and was the party's 2002 nominee for governor.

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