Wooten provides perspective
Don Wooten, long the wise man of local politics, writes an interesting opinion piece about the fractious process embroiling the 17th District.
The unfortunate timing of Evans' retirement has exposed some of the arcana of party politics, and it's not a pretty picture.
Unless they are unusually well-informed, citizens voting in a primary, often encounter names on the ballot they don’t recognize. The least familiar one is likely to be that of the precinct committeeman. The primary is his or her final election, but most voters are barely conscious of the office or its function, and often skip over it.
Frequently, no one is listed on the primary ballot for the office. But precinct committeemen elect the county chairman, so it is important to fill all those positions before that election takes place.
That's why the big push to get those precinct offices filled comes after the primary, rather than before. It is the rare county chairman of either party who isn't careful to get those posts flled by his supporters before his own election comes up.
No one knew that Lane would feel compelled to retire after the primary, so there was no sense of urgency in getting those precinct offices filled in the primary. Even so, it is unlikely that there would have been an argument against letting both appointed and elected committeemen vote, except for the rift which has developed in the local Democratic Party.
When Stu Winstein was State Central Committeman for the 17th Ddistrict, he and county chairmn John Gianulis worked as a team. But the man who replaced Stu, Don Johnston, has formed an alternate power center and the competition between him and Gianulis is real and can be ugly.
Johnston feared that Gianulis would appoint allies to those vacant posts and thus control the selection of Lane's replacement. That's why he obtained a legal opinion that only precinct committeeman actually elected in the primary be allowed to vote.
So, here we are, caught in a tussle between local party officials, and more subject to the outcome of that competition than to the will of the voters.
In truth, there is no way, save for calling another primary election, for this contest to be resolved in the interests of the voters. Even were that possible, the 17th Congressional District is such a grotesque creation -- a giant fishhook tying together Democrats with disparate interests and loyalties -- that it’s hard to imagine how one might manage to run an effective campaign in it.
The district was stitched together after Republicans despaired of ever beating Lane. They created solid Republican districts all around the 17th by slicing off pockets of traditional Democratic votes and lumping them together.
But will those "dependable" Democratic voters remain loyal after this fiasco? It's possible. But it's also possible that Republicans may have been given a gift; that Andrea Zinga may pull off the longest of long shots.
Primaries are always tough. Most party members shy away from naming their choice publicly or ahead of time, lest that person lose and they be out of favor with the winner.
With several people competing to replace Lane on the Democratic ticket, it’s especially hard. No one candidate is known from one end of this district to the other and none of us has had time to evaluate all of them.
I have believed for years that Lane's logical successor would be Mark Schwiebert. I have had no doubt that he would appeal to the majority of voters in the district, however it might be drawn.
But voters are out of the picture now. It’s up to the committeemen. Whom will they choose? And why?