The parties find the timing of the primaries hugely inconvenient. A good many voters apparently do, too, given the number who stay home. So are primaries worthwhile?
Here are some reasons they are:
- Sometimes they provide an opportunity for regular folks to genuinely decide who the candidates should be. Three men got the inclination to run for Chittenden County state's attorney as a Democrat. Apparently, as near as we can tell, there were no backroom meetings, no busted knees, no telling glares intended to keep any of them from giving it a shot. Instead, the three of them spanned out across the county, shook hands, called voters and sought to distinguish themselves. Voters made their choice known Tuesday.
In Washington County, the power of the people was even more evident. The governor appointed Craig Nolan as state's attorney after Terry Trono died. Republican voters Tuesday had a choice whether they wanted Nolan to be their candidate or former deputy state's attorney Tom Kelly, who'd been fired by Nolan. The race was close, but voters apparently chose Kelly.
- Primaries generate debate. The Vermont Republican Party made it clear that Martha Rainville was the chosen candidate for the U.S. House. If everybody in the party had heeded the call not to question that selection, voters today would not have known as much as about Rainville. Mark Shepard, a quiet, little known, two-term state senator from Bennington, wasn't happy that his views were going unrepresented. His existence in the race forced several public debates that showed a very distinct choice for Republicans. Shepard, speaking after his loss on his 46th birthday Tuesday, said he believes he made Rainville a better candidate, that the primary served as a warm-up for the general election. "They're practice sessions and they're good for the party," he said. Like vegetables for a kid. Good for you whether you think so or not.
- Primaries let voters speak their minds. Outside the Williston Central School polling place Tuesday afternoon, one voter said he was there primarily to vote against Bernie Sanders, even though Sanders had little competition for a Democratic nomination he declined a day later. In South Burlington, another voter said he took pleasure in showing his support for Sanders. They made their statements at the ballot box.
Political parties complain about primaries (too close to the general election, they say). Now it will be interesting to see whether anyone does anything to move the date up. As they say, if you don't act, you have no right to complain.
- Terri Hallenbeck