He who pays the piper should call the tune

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By Jim Flynn

Two guys in an ice-fishing hut on a lake somewhere in South Dakota have been wondering which of them would cast the vote which one decides the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. Politics makes interesting small talk while waiting for a bite.

The South Dakota primary doesn’t happen until June. Historically, it’s usually too late to affect the candidate selection outcome. This year’s Florida and Michigan Democratic primaries may be just as meaningless, because the major political parties decided they were held too early.

Out of the riots and manipulations which accompanied the Democratic convention in 1968, the method of nominating presidential candidates underwent an overhaul which resulted in the current mix and mismatch of primaries and caucuses.

We won’t try to explain how Democratic party delegates are allocated among the states. It’s more complicated than predicting the weather.

How candidates win delegates is equally complicated. Rules vary. Refer to the fine print in the back of the convention manuals.

Presidential primaries come in various flavors – open, closed, semi-closed, binding, preference, and proportional. Some states, like Texas, offer caucuses and primaries in confounding combinations.

This year’s Texas caucuses began 15 minutes after the polls closed. Those who had just voted in the primary had barely enough time to wolf down a candy bar for dinner. Those who had voted earlier in the day had to suit up and saddle up, if they wanted to play in the second half.

The objective of the post-1968 nomination process overhaul was to give more power to the people and less to backroom politicians at the nominating conventions. Politicians make a career of blathering about democracy for the people, but in practice they don’t yield power that easily.

In the primary overhaul plan, a veto was reserved for the back-room regulars. The makers and shakers designated themselves super delegates. They’re willing to allow citizens to vote, but because politics is their special game, the professional politicians retained the final word.

Should the professionals be allowed to polish an apple for the friendliest candidate? Shouldn’t they be required to support the candidate selected by the voters? Voters merit some loyalty, at least through the first ballot at the conventions.

Florida taxpayers are getting slapped around this year. Every taxpayer, voters and non-voters, picked up part of the bill for the Jan. 29 primary. But the Democratic National Committee says the legislature had no right to move the state’s primary date forward from March.

Iowa and New Hampshire suffer severe ego deflation when other states presume to join them as early birds in the selection process.

Which raises the second pernicious aspect of the Florida non-primary. Where is it written that taxpayers should foot the bill for two political parties which won’t let 40 percent of registered voters play in their sandboxes? Primaries which aren’t open to unaffiliated voters aren’t democratic – maybe not even constitutional.

Finally, there’s the power reserved to the super delegates. This year’s close race for the Democratic nomination has put a spotlight on the super-dupers, who prefer to remain anonymous.

At the moment (March 5) there are two interesting puzzles. First, how many super delegates will commit to Senator Clinton or Senator Obama if they look to be in a photo finish come June? And will the Democratic National Committee request re-run primaries in Michigan and Florida – at public expense, of course?

In a year in which the State of Florida is facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall of revenue, Governor Crist is not inclined to recommend financing a second primary for the benefit of the Democratic Party. County commissioners will be equally unenthusiastic.

Seems like every presidential election uncovers new flies in the ointment, which cause voters to question the wisdom and honor of our politicians (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

Little wonder the founding fathers made no provision for political parties in the Constitution. In presidential years they can be a pestilence.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War, and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.