Commentary: It's time to put political parties in their place

As Election Day nears and the rhetoric of the political class reaches its partisan crescendo, even as the state and federal governments descend into new depths of dysfunction, this might be a good time to consider that we don't have to do it this way.

Partisanship – the central role that parties play in our politics – isn't all that ails this country. But sometimes it's difficult to see how it really helps.

If you think about it, political parties are private organizations, or at least they should be. They are clubs of like-minded people who wish to join forces to influence their fellow citizens, do battle in elections and shape public policy.

That's fine. But we have elevated the parties to a special place in our political process and government that they don't deserve. We use public money to register people in one party or another and keep track of that information. We use taxpayer dollars to hold primary elections at which the parties choose their nominees for the Legislature, Congress, and state and federal executive offices. And we give the parties official roles in our legislatures and in Congress.

None of this is necessary, nor, as the founders warned, is it wise. It exaggerates our differences and locks our representatives into rigid ideological camps. It drives out the pragmatic and the practical, and debases our political discourse, which has become a series of black-and-white talking points and litmus tests.

What's the alternative? How about putting parties back where they belong, as private organizations with no official place in politics or government? The states of Louisiana and Washington have done this. Oregon has a measure on next week's ballot that would do the same. And now some independent-minded folks in California are circulating proposals to make state government nonpartisan, just as California's local government has always been.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.