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Welcome to the jungle

Our legislators have fun and games … December 6, 2018 at 2:49 a.m.

Just in time for the ending of the political season, it's the political season. My, my, how time flies. Didn't we just have an election a few weeks ago? And now the calendar tells us that the Ledge is going to meet next month. They're already filing bills! What's a state to do? Besides beware.

As we get closer to mid-January, the intentions of Arkansas' political class will likely become clearer. But count on one proposal coming up again: Doing away with Arkansas' two-party primary system.

Some people just won't be turned off of it. The two-party system has been working smoothly in this country for 200-some-odd years, with a glitch during the Late Unpleasantness of 1861-65. But still, some would "improve" on it, a word that needs those scare quotes most of the time.

Dan Douglas, a state representative from Bentonville, seems a solid legislator. He's got more common sense than he knows what to do with. He's an expert on highway funding, and the flaws with it. There are a lot of endearing qualities to him, and we can testify to that. But we're not a fan of his jungle primary.

Yes, Mr. Douglas is the latest pol pushing the jungle primary in Arkansas. Such a primary would toss all candidates into one primary, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would go to the general election. The proposal, Rep. Douglas said, would boost voter turnout during the primaries.

But as a justice of some note, one Oliver Wendell Holmes, once noted: A page of history is worth a volume of logic. So let's look at what the jungle primary has wrought:

It's used in California. This past election, a senior California Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, went to the general election against another Democrat. One to the left of her.

Let that sink in. California had a choice between Dianne Feinstein and somebody to her political left. We didn't know there was anyone to her political left. What kind of a choice was that for California voters? The two pols, incumbent and challenger, spent the general campaign debating who hated gasoline more, who would protect illegal immigrants more, and who hated guns more. Some choice.

Yes, California's jungle primary was implemented to "moderate" the state's politics and give centrists a chance. But you can see how well that's worked out, Gentle Reader. Last we heard, the California legislature pushed through a goal of 100-percent renewable energy by 2045 and a plastic straw ban--and we're pretty sure single-payer is still lurking in the minds of some West Coast lawmakers. If this is moderation, what does completely batty look like?

Lest we forget, Louisiana also uses the jungle primary. In 1991, two extremes--Edwin Edwards and David Duke, both of whom would become guests of the state at some point--squeezed out Buddy Roemer for spots in the general election for governor. Is Louisiana now an example for Arkansas, or any state?

Traditional party primaries are not without flaws. They often have a nasty habit of forcing candidates to swing left or right to keep up with opponents in their own parties. Rep. Douglas himself is no stranger to having a far-right opponent target him and nearly win. But a jungle primary is not the answer.

Instead of rushing to change Arkansas' primaries, let's not just do something, but sit there. Our elections in Arkansas haven't given us an Edwards-Duke runoff yet. What needs fixing is our voter registration process. Bring electronic voter registration to Arkansas, and move it into the digital age.

A jungle primary? Nah. Not in this state.

This is hill and Delta country. Not a jungle in sight.

Editorial on 12/06/2018

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