Thursday, August 16, 2018


Stanley - Thursday

Last week I provided a little help to an old friend who was running in a Democratic primary in southwest Michigan for the House of Representatives. The last time I was actively involved in a political campaign was fifty years ago in Johannesburg, where I worked hard for the only Progressive Party candidate who made it to the national parliament. Her name was Helen Suzman, and she was constantly a thorn in the side of the apartheid-supporting National Party.

Helen Suzman
Having been brought up in a parliamentary system, I have always been fascinated by how different the system is here in the States. A candidate like my friend in Michigan would not have to fight a primary in South Africa or in most (maybe all) parliamentary systems. In those, each political party’s central committee would nominate who would run in each election.

The benefit of that system, is that each candidate is sure to have the backing and support of the party. It also means that no money is spent before the final election. Of course, one downside is that it largely precludes anyone out of step with the party hierarchy from running.

In my friend’s case, there were four Democrats vying to be the candidate to run against the Republican incumbent in November. What has always shocked me about the system is how much money is spent. In this case, the four contestants raised over $1.5 million in total. And this was just to elect a candidate. How much more money will be spent when the Democrat goes up against the Republican in November?

As I went door to door, I found a lot of people saying they would vote in the primary for the Democrats. When I asked which of the four candidates they were inclined to support, many were surprised that there was more than one candidate. They were either ignorant or fobbing me off.

While the idea of a primary appeals to me, my enthusiasm is tempered by the typically low turnout. In Michigan, the turnout surged to 29% from previous insipid totals. To my eye, one problem with this is that an organised minority can win a primary even if the majority of the party’s supporters don’t agree - the Tea Party is an example.

There was a special election in Ohio on the same day, where a Republican was going against by a Democrat in a constituency that Trump won by 11 percentage points. This was for the House of Representatives. The person holding the seat had resigned so a new election had to be held. Because it was such a tightly contested race, the Republicans, desperate to hold onto the seat, poured in $5 million of support versus the Democrats’ mere $1 million. That is astonishing enough, but even more astonishing to me is the fact that the tenure of the winner of this race is only until the general election on November 8, where the two candidates will go head to head once again.  Who knows how much more will be spent then. At the time of writing, Wednesday 15th, the votes are still being counted. The election is too close to call, despite the minority president - Trump - hailing a victory. Balderson, the Republican, is leading Democrat O’Connor by a whisker. I hope they have them tallied before November 8.

To me the biggest weakness of the voting system in the USA is the role and influence of money – BIG money. For example, the total spending for all elections in 2016 approached $6.5 billion, with the presidential race costing nearly $2.5 billion. Yes, those numbers are billions. I always think how much good that money could do, in contrast to the generally abysmal quality of so many people who make it to Washington.

There are two encouraging aspects of this year’s election – I think the turnout will be high, fuelled by Trump’s divisiveness; and many more women are running for office than ever before. I only hope they are successful.

Knowing the stresses my friend and his family have felt over the past year or so of his campaign - the long hours, the fund raising, the constant need to be on - I can only admire the dedication it takes to run. What astonishes me, if my friend had won the primary, then won the election in November, he would have to start campaigning again almost immediately for the next election in two years. I couldn't do it.

For our democratic system to work, it requires as many people as possible to vote. To vote is just a matter of choice. But I fear the tsunami of money coming from special interests is going to overwhelm free elections. And we'll become irrelevant.

Please vote.


Some good news!

Poisoned Pen Press has bought our stand-alone thriller DEAD OF NIGHT, which will be published here in the States in mid-year 2019. It was published by Orenda Press a month ago in the UK.


  1. I agree, money in politics is THE big issue for the US, bigger than climate change, bigger than Trump and the whole GOP debacle, bigger than race issues... it distorts (and destroys) EVERYTHING. Solving the problem of big money in politics would then make it possible to work toward solving the other problems.

    Congratulations on DEAD OF NIGHT!

  2. You've nailed it. And as an American, now living in Greece, and looking back at our elections, the flaws in the system shine brightly. One can only shake one's head (as you've so aptly done with words) and say, "How did we get here?"

  3. Congratulations to Poisoned Pen on picking up DEAD OF NIGHT! And yes, Citizens United was like the final nail in the coffin of a non-monied participatory government.