Partisanship and participation: A reply to Matt Kokkonen
February 10, 2016
OPINION by MICHAEL LATNER
On Jan. 30, candidate for the 24th Congressional District Matt Kokkonen published an editorial in CalCoastNews, in response to his not being initially invited to a Congressional debate held at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. He accused me of being “ignorant of the elemental mechanics of filing for Congress” and of engaging in “bigotry” against Republicans.
These are very serious charges, and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that I provide a response.
Regarding ignorance, Mr. Kokkonen claimed that candidates for Congress file with the FEC and “not with the local county” and that Cal Poly was wrong to use information from the Clerk-Recorder to identify additional viable candidates. However, whether candidates submit a filing fee or petition for signatures in lieu of filing fee, those forms are submitted “with the county elections official of the county in which the signers reside” according to California law. This is not a contestable fact.
Regarding bigotry, Mr. Kokkonen knew that several Republicans had already been invited, and that his claim had no foundation in reality. Moreover, after Mr. Tyler Gross dropped out of the debate, Cal Poly took the unnecessary but principled position that the two remaining active candidates, Mr. Kokkonen and John Uebersax, should both be included, even though it limited time for in-depth discussion.
To repeat, nobody was ever excluded, or included, on the basis of partisanship. So why would Mr. Kokkonen make such an unfounded, disingenuous claim?
Mr. Kokkonen’s claims feed the narrative that “the system is rigged” and his perception of victim hood is probably genuine. Indeed, Mr. Kokkonen has been repeatedly violated at the hands of a judgmental electorate: Not only did voters hand him a crushing 36 point defeat in a previous run for Congress, his own party has turned him down in previous primaries.
Mr. Kokkonen is a victim of sorts, a victim of democracy.
Most analyses would blame his unpopularity on the misguided policies he advocates, including, according to his own testimony at the debate, an across the board 10 percent cut in the federal budget (i.e., $60 billion cut in defense spending), which equates to about a 2 percent retraction in overall GDP.
Mr. Kokkonen also advocates returning to our “Judeo-Christian” values from which he feels we have strayed, which I can only presume means that we are too tolerant of gays and Muslims, and especially gay Muslims.
As a staunch defender of freedom of expression and diversity of thought, I believe that even Mr. Kokkonen’s ill-conceived, morally repugnant views deserve more than just a place at the debate table.
The system is partially rigged, and I strongly support electoral reform that would give he and his supporters greater voice in government. Mr. Kokkonen will never win a seat under California’s single-member districts, where a candidate/party needs 50 percent plus one votes and receives 100 percent of the representation.
But under a scheme of proportional representation, where we combine five or more existing seats into a single district (the Central California District), and allow voters to rank order their choices, Kokkonen’s Christian nationalists, Greens, and Libertarians would all have a much greater chance of winning one of five seats with, say, 20 percent of the vote.
The major parties would still dominate the process, but multi-party competition would give greater voice to minor parties, including the Pirate Party, which is a real thing. See for yourself. Everyone, even pirates, deserve a voice in our democracy.
When he is not brewing award winning beer with his neighbors in Atascadero, Michael Latner teaches political science at Cal Poly and is the author of “Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, The Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty.”
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