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Keep party chair out of House seat

Picking Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman Jason Saine to be the county’s voice in the North Carolina House of Representatives would be a monumental mistake for the party executive committee to make.
Saine is the wrong choice for several obvious reasons.
The party chair has said he will not seek re-election in 2012 if he is chosen. With continued Republican control of the Legislature likely after GOP-friendly redistricting, a new legislator who could run as an incumbent and be elected in his own right would have an important seniority advantage over someone who took office for the first time in 2013.
This isn’t about the party’s political advantage, but the county’s. Seniority within the majority party in Raleigh means clout. With that comes the ability to get things done for Lincoln County. Our representative is our voice in Raleigh and the more senior that voice, the louder it will be heard.
By the same token, Saine would essentially be serving as a lame duck during the remainder of retiring lawmaker Johnathan Rhyne’s term. A predetermined political nonentity, it’s doubtful that Saine could muster much influence during what’s likely to be an important session next year.
Saine also has baggage that makes it questionable whether he’d be a representative with whom most Lincoln County voters would feel comfortable. There may be more divisive and controversial figures in Lincoln County politics, but most of them are that way because of their stands on issues. Saine has accumulated personal animosity because of his hardball political tactics when helping direct strategy for others’ campaigns — tactics that are more memorable than effective in winning. Last year’s bumbling Mark Walker for sheriff campaign is the most recent example.
The circumstances in which word was leaked that Saine had the appointment nearly sewn up, only to have the party announce that things were not so tidy and predetermined, points to this discomfort with Saine’s methods.
Even his leadership as party chairman raises doubts about his effectiveness in the type of leadership role he’d be expected to take as a state representative. The party was blindsided in recent days when a Democratic veteran filed for Lincolnton mayor. Meanwhile the county party is bitterly divided over issues that party leadership ought to be trying to bridge, especially the recent county property re-valuation and its appeals process.
Saine is also the editor of the Lincoln Tribune, formerly a print newspaper but now available only as a Web site. While it’s appropriate for the news media to address political issues, it’s never wise for those involved in journalistic enterprises to allow their credibility and objectivity to be undermined by direct involvement in the political process.
The entire idea of appointing a party chair to such an important post speaks volumes about just how bizarrely undemocratic (or unrepublican, if you will) North Carolina’s statutes are in this and many other areas.
Political party insiders are unelected activists. They should not be determining who is going to hold this or any other office. It’s not hard to figure out that such laws are a hold-over from the days when a single party dominated state government and wanted to hear from as few of the voters as possible as rarely as possible.
Whomever is selected this time should work to change that by pushing for a new system, possibly special elections, to fill vacancies.
As party officials interview candidates, they need to ask serious questions about the qualifications, ambitions and legislative vision. We need substantive reform of the state’s property assessment laws, term limits for judges, ways to rein in state officials’ travel when it serves only political or personal purposes, among other things.
Then they need to choose the best person available, and one who plans to defend the seat during the next election.
by Frank Taylor

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