A Genteel Rant on Party Unity

Having let this simmer on the back burner for a few weeks, I find it’s still apt, even with the election so close. Therefore, for your consideration:

Remember, I’m not a political action committee, nor do I plan to turn this blog into a mouthpiece for one. It’s election season, though, so forgive me the occasional rant. There’s a campaign phenomenon that drives me nuts: people who campaign for (insert party name here) candidates for the sole reason that they belong to (insert party name here), because “party unity” or some such thing.

I’ve been a campaign staffer on two statewide Republican campaigns, both of which hired me knowing I’m an independent. A generation ago, back when I was a registered Republican, I was involved in platform debates. There’s pressure to support the entire party slate of candidates, top to bottom. That’s true of every party. I get that.

But I don’t think it’s too much to expect for pro-lifers to be pro-life first and (insert party name here) second. When elected officials of a party with a pro-life platform are not united in supporting that plank, and when the right to life is fundamental, then it’s kind of silly to vote a straight (insert party here) ticket.

This rant is prompted by an unconfirmed report to me that a strong pro-life state representative in a large southern New Hampshire town is campaigning for one of his fellow incumbents. The fellow incumbent in question has cancelled out the pro-life rep’s votes on abortion statistics and the viability bill this year, which is to say the two reps voted on opposite sides. (They did manage to find common ground on fetal homicide last year.)

Two bills, you might say. Get a grip, lady.

Yes, only two bills. Still, we’re not talking about biomass subsidies or tax policy or whether five-year-olds should be in school all day. In the case of the viability bill, we’re talking about whether those five-year-olds had any right to protection and medical care five years and two months ago, when they were preborn but viable.

Vote for whomever you want. Just remember that the viability bill was tabled – that is, discussion was terminated- on a vote of 170-163.  That’s a small margin. How many of those 170 votes were cast by people who benefited from the campaign support of pro-lifers, and the support of a “pro-life” (insert party name here) party?

Ask questions of your candidates. They’re probably going to be standing right outside the polling place on Election Day. Abortion’s legal throughout pregnancy in New Hampshire; are you OK with that? Do you know where your nearest pro-life pregnancy care center is, and have you asked for a tour to learn about their work with women and families? For the sake of women’s safety, do you think abortion providers should have medical credentials? (In New Hampshire, anyone – with or without training – may provide abortions.) Do you think children who survive abortion should receive medical care? Do you think New Hampshire should join the forty-some-odd other states who provide the Centers for Disease Control with aggregate statistical public health data on abortion? Do you think abortion facilities ought to meet the same patient-safety standards as ambulatory surgical facilities? What do you think of efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide?

There are plenty of nice people running for office. There are plenty of people you know from the school parking lot and the neighborhood playground and the grocery store. The ballot might be filled with people you’ve known for years. Hooray for all that. But be careful. Plenty of the 170 people who voted to terminate consideration of the viability bill are nice neighbors. Being nice neighbors didn’t prevent them voting to keep abortion unregulated throughout pregnancy.

Does a G.O.P. majority in Concord mean pro-life progress?

With the decision by state senator Andrew Hosmer to drop his recount bid, the New Hampshire Senate is set for the upcoming term with fourteen Republicans and ten Democrats. The GOP has the edge in the House, 225-175, pending a couple of recounts.

So what? To the extent that the numbers advance pro-life policy, hooray for the GOP. I’m holding my applause for now.

With a Republican House, Senate, and Governor, will New Hampshire have a fetal homicide law and an abortion statistics law by the end of the 2017-18 legislative session? Will the buffer zone law be repealed? Or is there no difference between the parties on these measures?

None of those types of legislation attack or undermine Roe v. Wade. None of them affect a woman’s ability to choose abortion. None of them affect funding of abortion providers. Neither fetal homicide nor stats collection is revolutionary: the New Hampshire Supreme Court suggested to legislators seven years ago that they review our homicide statutes as they pertain to the death of a fetus, and the federal Centers for Disease Control has collected abortion stats for public health purposes for many years. Repealing the buffer zone law would be a sensible response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCullen decision.

The time is ripe for buffer zone repeal, fetal homicide, and abortion statistics.

I know that if the recent election had gone the other way, such legislation would have no chance. I’d like to be optimistic now, but I’m more inclined to watchful waiting. I’ve seen Republican majorities before.


An aside for some of my NH friends: there’s life outside the GOP

I address this to my New Hampshire friends, pro-life and politically active, who are seething over recent and not-so-recent NHGOP festivities, and are on the edge of leaving the party. Readers from other areas, stay with me here. Perhaps you’re in a similar spot.

Don’t threaten to leave the party. Just leave. Register “Undeclared.” The weather’s fine over here. Really. This is a recovering Republican talking. (See Biting the Hand that Fed Me and What I Saw at the Party.) And you know what? In this state, with its open primary, you can pick up a Republican ballot anytime. Political activism and “undeclared” status go together just fine.

Afraid you’ll be dismissed as irrelevant? Tell me: aren’t you feeling that way already, as a pro-life voter? Just go. Some Republicans will genuinely be dismayed at your departure. Some won’t notice or care. Others will want to throw a party to celebrate, and I’m sure some Democrats would chip in. You won’t get invited to some dinners and briefings and meetings. Get over it.

Worried about the platform? If you want to be part of that process of party platform development, I say go for it. I had enough of that process myself twenty years ago. When you get to that point, throw your money and volunteer efforts to candidates who back your values – and to organizations that know how to collect voter data and use it appropriately.

You can always back any candidate without being a party member yourself. The candidates will welcome you.

“But…but…we won’t have a seat at the table!!!” Excuse me – what table are you talking about? The one where putting the right to life ahead of jobsandtheeconomy (it’s all one word; trust me on this) is considered bad form or counterproductive or antithetical to the Big Tent? Please.

If you want to build the Big Tent, build it. Some fine people are doing that. To other fine people, who are musing over whether the GOP is worth the effort: every minute you spend worrying about your party registration is a minute you’re not spending building a pro-life community.

You think I’m stating the obvious? I only wish it were obvious. Every time I hear someone agonizing over a party, the “obvious” is on vacation. Ask yourself this: is your involvement with the party – meetings and donations and so forth – advancing your pro-life work, hindering it, or not affecting it one way or the other? When I got to the point that I could no longer say “advancing,” going independent was – you’ll excuse the phrase – the obvious choice.

And remember, party affiliation can be situational and tactical, therefore temporary. I’ve never known a candidate or a party to turn away voters just because they’re registered as Undeclared. I’ve always disliked New Hampshire’s description of a voter’s status as “Undeclared.” Choosing not to affiliate with one of the major parties is certainly a declaration. “Independent” is more accurate, even if such a voter leans hard towards a party.

I know plenty of people who remain lifelong Republicans solely out of habit. If that’s what works for them, fine. It’s not my party, so I won’t snipe too much. Besides, it’s no crime to use a party label to get ahead. Elected officials know this. I can think of some House members who really like being addressed as “Honorable” and who run as R or D only because a majority of their town’s voters are emotionally attached to one label or the other. That’s shrewd. That also demonstrates the folly of depending on a party label to tell me what a candidate believes.

To my friends who are struggling with a party, I say be a pro-life indie or a pro-life Republican or even a pro-life Democrat (rare as albino moose, but there are still a few out there). Just don’t agonize over your party affiliation or how some inside-baseball political shenanigans left you reeling. Don’t even worry about some of your pro-life Republican friends calling you a quitter. It’s survivable. Those Republicans will come after you with open arms as soon as they need your vote on something. Pro-life first. If the party is driving you crazy, leave it in peace and get on with your work.

Watching my wallet in campaign season

Show of hands: who’s already sick of the political phone calls?

Yup. Me, too. And this is an “off-year.” And we’re still a month away from the primary. The telephone polls can be fun, but even they wear thin after awhile. The mail is starting to pile up, too, with all those reply envelopes and the donation slips that go with them.

What’s a pro-lifer of humble means to do? My choice, if I had cash to contribute to political campaigns, would be to keep contributions candidate-focused, not party-focused. Hand five bucks to a specific candidate for state rep or state senate whom you know to be pro-life. Put up a sign. Go door-to-door in your neighborhood. Write an endorsement.

Or, give to a party and take your chances.

While “undeclared” now, I’ve worked for a party, as I’ve written before. Among those I helped elect were three of the sponsors of the buffer zone bill, which is now an unenforced law due to a lawsuit that those sponsors knew perfectly well was inevitable. I’ve been asked, “Well, which party do you think is more likely to support your pro-life views?” I know the answer to that. Still, there’s that buffer zone law. That doesn’t make party jobs immoral. It just means that casting a wider net means bringing in a mixed haul. After sitting through every single hearing and vote on SB 319, an anti-speech law designed to keep pro-life witnesses out of sight, I can tell you what the mixed haul meant.

I wrote the following words in 2013, post-presidential-election and pre-buffer-zone. I stand by them.

Campaigns are expensive: staff, office, media, more media. I have been a paid staffer myself. I am grateful to the party donors who made that possible. I gave good measure in return, and was proud to be on the team. Here it comes, and this is where I’ll sound like an ingrate:  BUT … I heartily believe that cash and volunteer work going to an individual candidate instead of a party is fine, particularly if one is concerned over a particular policy issue that is getting short shrift by party officials.

I would add to that last sentence “…or if one is determined to unseat an incumbent.”

If you’re blessed with resources to spare for political purposes, I hope you give lavishly wherever you see fit.  I’m not in that position. I need to target my support. I’ll leave this year’s mixed haul to others.