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Bissett: Plenty of reasons to vote Democrat in March

Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln

In his column Feb. 15, Northwest Herald Editor Jason Schaumburg said: “We’re about a month away from the March 18 primary election, and if you’re a Democratic voter in McHenry County, you have no real reason to pull a Democratic ballot.”

Mr. Schaumburg’s point seems to be that we should only care about the more widely publicized contests at the top of the ballot.

I disagree. The Republican choices for countywide office and governor are interesting, but Democrats and Independents have more important issues at stake in McHenry County.

Our goal is better local government, not preserving the broken system that lets the next set of Republican insiders slide into office. We must stop accepting primary elections with poor turnout as the ugly face of inevitability. If we are committed to the uniquely American idea of democracy, we must be equally committed to the hard work that makes it real. One-party rule is phony democracy. Let’s end it.

That’s why Democrats and Independents have every reason to pull a Democratic ballot. Give yourself a chance to vote for candidates you actually agree with, rather than the lesser of four evils. There’s a hotly contested Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District. Are you content to leave that choice up to the voters in Gurnee and Oswego? If you want to have a say, vote Democratic.

There are other fine Democratic candidates on the primary ballot for county and state offices, and they deserve to know you appreciate their commitment. The best way to show your support is to vote for them in the Democratic primary, even if they are running unopposed.

Why is that important? It’s because potential Democratic candidates often decide not to run because they think voters are apathetic. Potential donors and volunteers disappear when the primary turnout disappoints, while Democratic and Independent voters stay home because they think there are no choices on the ballot. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Local news organizations are also part of the problem. The “Election Central” coverage in this newspaper ignores the mostly Democratic candidates running uncontested in the primary. If I were a new voter looking for information on local elections, I’d be left with the impression that only Republicans run for office in McHenry County. That further depresses turnout among Democrats and Independents.

And yes, the Democratic Party is also part of the problem. State politics is a mess full of special interests, bullies and political cowards. Many citizens have stopped voting because they think nothing in Springfield will ever change, no matter who is in power. But we know we can fix McHenry County, so let’s focus on what we can do, not what we can’t.

If you are a Democrat who votes in Republican primaries, please try to break that bad habit March 18. If you are a Democrat who would like to hold public office, you owe it to yourself to get involved. If you see an office with no Democratic candidates on your primary ballot, you can be slated by the Democratic Party to run in the November general election.

There’s also an important referendum on the ballot that all voters should care about. We have a chance to decide whether the County Board chairman should be a new, independent position, directly elected by the citizens, or continues to be elected by the County Board’s 24 members.

Real change always starts from the grassroots, by people who care enough to make a difference. It’s not enough to believe. You must act.

“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them,” Paul Wellstone said.

Building a healthy democracy in McHenry County won’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start today. Vote to give McHenry County a choice. Vote in the Democratic primary March 18.

• Michael Bissett is chairman of the Democratic Party of McHenry County.

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