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Should Michigan get to vote?

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This just in: There is a threat to democracy on the home front that has nothing to do with usual suspects Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or even John Ashcroft.

No, Michigan’s major political parties are behind this one. Behind the scenes, they are both gearing up to deprive you of choice as to who the next candidates for the president of the United States should be.

Naturally, they will deny this indignantly. And they are lying.

Take the time machine back to the not-so-distant past: 1992. Back then, Michigan made its choice for presidential candidates in the only reasonable, fair and democratic way there is: two open primaries held the same day.

Not coincidentally, that was the last time Michigan played anything like a significant role in the selection process. Bill Clinton won a three-way race convincingly, with 51 percent, and George Bush I put Pat Buchanan away by nearly 3-to-1, burying for good his hopes of igniting a xenophobic right-wing revolution among the hard hats.

That primary worked very well. But if there is anything the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party hates, it is democracy, especially when it threatens to let voters pick candidates that haven’t been blessed by party and union hacks.

What they would much rather have is a confusing “caucus” system, one that they can carefully control, one which very few voters can find or figure out.

Four years ago, they had a system only Mark Brewer, then-Democratic state party chairman, and perhaps the Albanian Communist Party’s central committee, could love.

“Voters” could only choose between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, even if they wanted to write in somebody else, and could only “vote” if they figured out where to go — it wasn’t easy — and were able to caucus at a seldom-convenient time. Few did.

Republicans did the right thing, however, and held a primary in 2000 open to all. In it, John McCain badly beat Bush Minor. Afterward, John Engler whined that nasssty Democrats had voted in his pretty little election and spoiled things.

Well, now neither side wants a primary next year.

The Republicans are thinking of calling off their election, scheduled for February, because, they say, it could save the state money, and besides, nobody would want to take on our great wartime leader anyway — at least not if the siege of Baghdad is over by then.

Democrats are less honest. They say they’d love to have a primary, but are prevented from doing so by national party rules, which say you can’t have one unless you have statewide party registration. (In Michigan, everyone is officially an independent.) Have to keep out those nasssty gate-crashing Republicans who might try and spoil things.

For want of a better term, this is bullshit. And morally, it is just plain wrong.

Voters in America need to have as much opportunity as possible to express an opinion about the current president. Either you believe that he and Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, etc., are saving the world, or you believe that regime change ought to begin at home. Regardless, being able to register a vote in a primary is essential.

But Michigan Democrats say they aren’t allowed to let us do that. Wisconsin, however, has precisely that kind of primary. They were granted an exemption, and Michigan could, and should, ask for one too. Most voters are not, after all, dyed-in-the-polyester-to-the-death members of any political party.

The nation, and Michigan especially, is full of ticket-switching and ticket-splitting people who may feel Republican one year, Democrat the next. Why shouldn’t they be able to vote in the primary that matters most to them?

Well, the Democrats did take some heat for their dreadful caucus process last time. Now, they say they have learned their lesson. “We are very serious about increasing access and participation,” says Mark Brewer, who got promoted to executive chair after Gov. Jennifer Granholm tried and failed to fire him last year.

“More participation equals a stronger sense of community,” echoes Butch Hollowell, who became a sort of unpaid No. 2 party spokesman after the unions wouldn’t let the governor install him in Brewer’s job.

Does that mean a primary? Not on your life. They have yet another caucus system, and they say they will eagerly welcome public comments until the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee formally adopts it April 26.

You can even read all 35 pages of their plan (www.mi-democrats.com) if you have Adobe Acrobat on your computer. Much of it is gibberish, but it does appear they will mail you a ballot if you ask for one, and you can then record it via the Internet if you want to after you get it. You can also write in a candidate, though it isn’t clear if those votes will count. But otherwise it seems the same old caucus system.

How will you know where to caucus? You’ll have to work to find out. And the caucuses will only be open 1-9 p.m.

Interestingly, Michigan’s intrepid Democrats may be afraid to risk letting people vote in a primary, but they seem willing to defy their party in another way. They want to hold their caucus Jan. 27, the same day as New Hampshire’s sacred first-in-the-nation presidential primary. But the party has a stern rule against trying to steal the Granite State’s thunder, and Michigan could lose half of its delegates if it tries.

What you ought to do is let both parties know that it’s time for free and fair primary elections, right here. I gather, from the president’s mutterings, that we want democracy in Iraq. Might Michigan be ready for that too?

There’s still time for the leadership to do that peacefully. Though you must admit, it would be a riot if they had to send in the troops.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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