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STATE AND LOCAL POLITICS
All that has been said above about the position of the political party as the controlling power in the American national government' applies with equal force to state, local, and municipal governments. It is through the party that the citizens ordinarily bring their influence to bear upon the operation of these governments and it is likewise through the party that the anti-social forces of our states and cities have been able to carry out their various designs. The ballot at the primary and regular election is the point of contact between the citizen and his government; and the ballot at the primary is in many instances far more important than the ballot at the regular election, for it is at the primaries that the citizens may determine party policies and the selection of party candidates and leaders. It needs no extended argument, therefore, to demonstrate that from the point of view of the citizen seeking to maintain his rights and do his duty, a study of political parties, their structures, and actual operations can take no secondary place in a survey of American government.
It is well to bear in mind at the outset that the state is a unit in the national party organization and forms the basis of that structure. The state regulates the suffrage, nominations, primaries, and elections, - in short, practically all of the operations of parties. It is in the state and city organization that the party has reached its most complete development and has secured the most rigid discipline over the rank and file of the voters. The state organization also merges into the larger national organization through the federal patronage and the functions of United States Senators and members of Congress as party leaders in their respective states. Nevertheless, the overshadowing interest in national politics should no longer be allowed to obscure the fact that the foundations of party government are laid in state and local organization.
Above, p. 166.
State Party Organization and Operations An examination of party government very readily falls under three heads: party organization, party methods, and legal control of parties. The formal structure of a political party consists of the state and local chairmen, committees, and conventions. At the head of the state organization is the chairman of the state committee who may or may not be a dominant leader in the party. Sometimes, as was the case of Mr. Quay in Pennsylvania and Mr. Platt in New York, the leader is a United States Senator; sometimes, but not very frequently, the office of state chairman is combined with some high office in the state government, as was the case of Mr. Odell of New York, who was the chairman of the Republican committee and at the same time governor of the commonwealth. Again, the chairman of the committee is often merely a figurehead who obeys the orders of leaders, bosses, or powerful private persons who dictate party policies and use him as a screen.
The state chairman in New York is elected by the state committee in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Under the primary law of Wisconsin, the state chairman is selected by the party candidates for certain state offices nominated by the party at the preceding primary elections. In general, we may say that the state chairman is chosen by the state committee or the state convention or, under direct nomination laws, by some group representing the party. The term of the chairman of the Republican state committee in New York is usually two years, although changes may be made at the pleasure of the committee.
The state committee of the Republican party in New York is composed of one member from each congressional district chosen at the state convention by the delegates of the respective districts at that convention; and to the thirty-seven committeemen thus selected another is added to represent the colored vote throughout the state. The Democratic state committee in New York is composed of one member from each of the fifty-one senatorial districts, chosen at the state convention by the delegates of the respective districts. The Republican party uses the congressional district as a unit partially because it brings the state com
1 Certain party members in office are also included. See below, p. 690.
mitteeman in each locality in touch with the Republican member in Congress (if there is one) who is the dispenser of federal patronage in the region.
The power of a state committee, in the absence of legislative control, is impossible to define, because party rules usually contain no provision on the subject, and the work of the committee really depends upon the personal strength of its members and their capacity for leadership in the party. In a formal way, the committee holds periodical meetings, makes the preparation for state conventions, and other state party meetings, and takes charge of the preliminaries of such assemblies.
The work of the state central committee is chiefly done by the officers: the chairman, secretary, and treasurer and such members as may see fit to devote their time and attention to party matters. In most state committees there is an executive committee, composed of a small number of members who manage to gather into their hands, by constant attention to business, substantially all the powers. It is the business of the state committee to supervise the process of obtaining a full party registration and vote; to prevent or heal quarrels and dissensions within the ranks; to see that the local organization is in good working order; to raise funds; and to nominate candidates for state offices in case of vacancies or of minor offices which do not warrant the holding of a state convention. Finally it is the duty of the committee to direct the campaign throughout the state, coöperating on the one hand with the national committee when there is a national election and on the other hand with the local party committees, strengthening the weak places and devoting special attention to the districts in which it is believed the vote will be close.
In all commonwealths of the Union, except those states which have adopted state-wide primaries, it is the practice for each political party to hold a general convention periodically for the purpose of nominating candidates for state offices and drafting the platform. The convention of the Republican party of New York is composed of delegates apportioned among the assembly districts roughly according to the vote cast for the Republican
1 This institution has been abolished in the Republican party in New York. candidate for President at the last preceding national election. Within recent years it has been the practice to apportion one delegate to each assembly district and one additional delegate for every thousand Republican votes or major fraction thereof cast in the district. This makes an unwieldy convention of about a thousand members. These members are chosen by assembly district conventions or by county conventions in those counties which are coterminous with assembly districts; and these county or assembly district conventions are in turn made up of delegates from the lower units chosen by the party voters in official primaries.
2 This can only be done in New York when the state committee has been expressly authorized to act in specific instances by the state convention at which it is elected.
Generally speaking the convention follows established parliamentary rules. It is called to order by the state chairman, who announces the name of the man selected by that committee to act as temporary chairman during the formal organization of the convention. Without exception in recent years the New York Republican state convention has ratified the choice of the committee. The position of the Republican temporary chairman in that state is important, for he appoints the committees on permanent organization, platform, rules, and credentials - each of which is composed of one member from each congressional district. Thus, through the temporary chairman, the state committee may wield a direct and powerful influence, for no doubt the committee, in selecting a temporary chairman, knows in advance what his general attitude will be toward the issues which will come before the convention. The committee on credentials examines the claims of contesting delegates; as a rule its report is adopted by the convention, and on the basis of it the permanent roll is made up and the regular business begins. Following the precedents set by long usage in the national party assembly, the state convention, after organization, proceeds to adopt a platform, nominate candidates, and transact whatever business may be specifically mentioned in the call.
So far as the management of state party affairs is concerned, the state convention is generally supreme. It is bound by nothing save its own will, the theory being that the delegates coming “ direct from the party voters' are the sovereign power within the party for the time being. Accordingly there is often no state constitution for the party, but each convention is regarded as an original and independent body, which may make its own rules of procedure; and for practical purposes it is governed only by the principles of parliamentary law and by precedents.
It is of course the leading function of the political party to nominate candidates for the various offices to be filled by popular election; and in this connection some of the gravest abuses of "machine" politics have arisen through the domination of conventions by sinister minorities and the enforced adoption of the "machine slate" by the delegates. Even the secure establishment of the popular election of party delegates has not succeeded, in many instances, in breaking down the undesirable centralized control within the party, and through the apathy or ineffectiveness of the rank and file, candidates are often selected who sadly misrepresent the party. A very careful student of contemporary politics, who has had an opportunity to secure first-hand knowledge of the current practices, describes the system as follows:
The programme of the convention, in practice, is almost always decided upon down to the minutest detail, before the convention meets. The party leader or “boss” and his lieutenants discuss the relative claims of the candidates and decide who shall be nominated. The officers of the convention are agreed upon and their speeches revised. All this is outside the law which ignores the existence of the party leader and assumes that the delegates are free to exercise their own judgment. The real interest in the convention is usually centered in the secret conferences of the leaders which precede it and in which the contests over the nominations are fought out, sometimes with much stubbornness. The “slate” is finally made up by agreement between the leaders who control a majority of the delegates in the convention. The leaders of the minority may either surrender or they may register their protest by presenting the names of other candidates in the convention with certainty of defeat, for it is rare in state conventions that there is so equal a division of strength as to leave the result in doubt. While the leaders are settling what the convention is to do, the delegates are left to their own devices, ignorant of what is going on in the “headquarters” where the leaders are assembled. They are not consulted and their advice is not asked. It often happens that they do not know whom they are to nominate until they hear for the first time in the convention hall the names of the candidates agreed upon by the leaders. Although the law gives them the right to bring forward the names of other candidates, they seldom exercise it and the delegate bold enough to disobey orders is regarded with disapproval. 1
1 Fuller, Government by the People, pp. 61-63.