A Primary Primer from a Bad Attitude Guy

Published the week of August 2-8, 2000

It has been suggested that primary elections in Missouri are about as exciting as watching paint dry.

This year, the paint industry should sue.

Campaign-finance records indicate that candidates across the state have raised $32,143.67 per interested voter. According to polling data, if "none of the above" could get his name on the ballot, he'd hold every office in this state (and, it's hoped, would declare martial law and cancel all future elections).

Ray Hartmann
Ray Hartmann

There are more candidates than issues, more issues than citizens who give a rat's ashcroft about the outcome. Any politician who can turn out his or her extended family has a decent chance, but only in the unlikely event that those individuals aren't so turned off to politics that they'd actually countenance the election of kinfolk.

I think I've become Bad Attitude Guy.

Ironically enough, it's not the politicians' fault that the times cry out for a Bolshevik Revolution. For the most part, these are decent men and women (at least at the start) who really want to do decent things (at least at the start) but who must complete a grueling heptathlon of shucking, jiving, dodging, hedging, begging, patronizing, retracting and fundraising (right to the finish).

The winners get to star in the remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Hell and Back. The losers return to the private sector, or perhaps the streets, where they should be duly authorized to slap anyone who utters the words "access" in their presence.

My friends, I am in possession of powerful search engines, and I'm here to tell you that no words have been published on this planet that can constructively assist you in choosing a candidate -- for any office in this good-not-great state of ours -- if that choice is to be based on a serious comparative analysis of same.

Indeed, I thought initially it might be great fun to contact, say, all the hundreds of congressional hopefuls in the St. Louis area and bushwhack them with something like, "How would you have voted on that measure to limit oil exploration on federal lands?" just to be able to report back on how many shrieked "prank!" and hung up.

Then I figured I must be hurting for fun, so I didn't.

There isn't a relationship in America that has fewer issues than this primary election. It may have something to do with the law enacted in the past legislative session forbidding Democrats and Republicans to discuss substance.

In fairness, Libertarians and Greens are intent about talking ideals and nothing but ideals, regardless of their practical application to our tortured state. To punish their idealism, they have been disqualified from "serious consideration" and the NCAA has declared them ineligible for intercollegiate athletics.

When in doubt, vote Libertarian, I say.

In truth, what I say shouldn't matter especially, although people ask me all the time if I'm going to do political endorsements, which I stopped doing four years ago. Look, I don't dredge up skeletons out of your closet. Leave me alone.

I did enjoy a quasi-hallucinatory flashback to those days when poring over pompous endorsement editorials from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star recently. What a charade. One minute before opening a pious editorial-board session with one of the dozens of politicians who stream into their offices like refugees across the border, no editorial writer (including me, of old) could recite two facts about the "performance" of the lieutenant governor or the state treasurer or the secretary of state, not if there were guns pointed to our heads.

But the next week, with all the aplomb of a weathercaster who doesn't take note of having predicted sunshine for yesterday's day of killer tornadoes, the editorial reads: "Smith has compiled an outstanding record as secretary of state, and he deserves to be returned by the voters."

Then there's the obligatory paper-of-record "endorsement" of candidates who violently oppose nearly every shred of opinion expressed by the paper but who are either (a) a local person running against a nonlocal person or (b) virtually unopposed. This year, my favorite came from the Post, which endorsed far-right-wing St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth for lieutenant governor over moderate Wendell Bailey.

Ortwerth is the fellow who claims the Lord called him to run for office, who is stridently anti-choice on abortion and who ordered county health clinics not to fill birth-control prescriptions for minors. Normally, the position known affectionately as "light governor" means nothing, but this year, if the parties split or nearly split the 34-member Senate, this person could be the tiebreaker on the most contentious issues in the state.

Now, Bailey is a social moderate (I believe he was actually considered pro-choice before Republicans voted to cut the tongues out of any candidate so self-described), and he clearly would be more attuned to what most of us would consider reason on key issues. He's also far more fun and colorful than Ortwerth or virtually any other politician in Missouri, and not just because of that time he got busted with a loaded pistol in his suitcase at Lambert International.

You gotta love Wendell. You can't love Joe. What is the Post thinking?

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