Archives for January 10, 2013

Wayne Woodman Knows How to Run a Political Party

It’s always a treat when Chris Casey takes to the blog to stoke the rumor mill, and this new post is full of goodies. No Ryan Conrad or Scott Ott campaign for GOP Lehigh County Executive? Lisa Scheller didn’t really want the leadership spot?

As horrible as the Lehigh Tea People are, and they are so horrible, you really have to admire how skillful Wayne Woodman is at running a County political party.

Strong party discipline is an ugly thing to watch, but this is the stuff competitive politics is made of. Arguably most of the politician behaviors people like to complain about most stem from insufficiently competitive party politics. Competitive politics requires clear contrasts – we want to do this, they want to do that – and creating clear contrasts requires parties to hold all their members together on key votes.

But members don’t always want to vote as a bloc, and drive the clear message to the voters, so a party needs to apply pressure to hold everybody together. In municipal-level politics, there’s one rudimentary tool for doing that – primaries. You replace people who disagree with the party’s core issues with people who will help drive the clear message.

There are two versions to the story of what’s gone wrong in Lehigh County.

In one version, Wayne Woodman is a mean ideologue who’s purging people from the party who don’t agree with him, and the lesson is that there’s something wrong with party discipline and having strong political beliefs.

In the other version, Wayne Woodman is a guy whose policy views are mistaken, in particular his nutty views on tax and budget politics, but he happens to be very skilled at the mechanics of winning elections – candidate selection, fundraising, policy formation and coalition management. The lesson is that you should try to elect people who are more right about the issues.

There’d be nothing wrong with running a very competitive party organization if your policy views would actually make people better off.What’s wrong with Wayne Woodman and the Lehigh County Republicans is that they truly believe their preferred policies will make most people better off and they won’t.