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Reforming Political Parties



Would-be candidates for political office need to pay their dues. The question is: to whom? What criteria should the people use to select their elected officials? If political parties are to help strengthen our democracy, they must rethink the traditional answers to these questions.

Despite the promise of Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform legislation, the process will remain flawed if the parties continue to use the wrong criteria for selecting candidates.

Democracy is not a fraternity, unless it is the brotherhood of all the people. Democracy is a concept better served by the voice of many than some select group. If dues are required, let us pay them to the people and not necessarily to the party. While political experience is important, even more important is experience serving the people's interest -- leadership among the people, service in the trenches.

Should we not value actual military service at least as much as someone's work on a Veteran Affairs committee? Shall we value a legislator's research in improving education over an educator's experience in dramatically raising student achievement?

Isn't a diplomat's experience in helping to make foreign policy worth more than a photo op in Kosovo? And who would you trust more with social policy -- someone who votes strictly in line with his party, or someone who has actually helped to make the community more civil and fair? If dues are required, let us pay them to the people.

What we really should demand of our candidates is demonstrated leadership, strength of character and service to the people. Certainly there are many ways to prove oneself as a leader and public servant, but the bar should be set fairly high for those who hope to represent the people.

I'm not sure if the type of leadership I'm talking about can be learned under a dome. I'm not sure whether strength of character shouldn't be forged before one becomes an elected official. With regard to our members of Congress, I prefer one whose core values were shaped by struggle and service over the person whose values reflect those of a divided house.

Political parties are in decline in Colorado because they fail to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this writing in a way that serves the people's interests and not just the party's interest.

Most Americans are growing tired of partisan politics. They tire of the lack of attention to the common good and the inordinate influence of special interests. Americans hate the dirty politics of campaigning and the control moneyed interests have over the process. Most Americans intuitively understand that the parties should be answerable for much of the status quo. That is why surveys consistently show that the average American finds political parties untrustworthy. The rise of independent voters and the apathy of longtime party people also suggest that the parties need to reform and should find a new paradigm for selecting candidates.

The political parties fail in part because they are using the wrong criteria for selecting candidates. Celebrity status or the ability to raise money should not outrank strength of character. Leadership and a longstanding commitment to serve the people should be the main criteria, the threshold criteria, for throwing one's hat in the ring.

If the parties began to look beyond the usual suspects and started supporting candidates who come from the ranks of the people, more people would get engaged. It's time to elect representatives for their service, not for a promise to serve. It is time to elect people for their leadership, not their connection to leaders. And it is time to elect people for the size of their heart and honor, not for the size of their wallets.

There are Democrats who are trying to shift the paradigm in this county and throughout the state. Instead of acquiescing to the ways things have always been, we should all be working to implement ideas that will truly affect change.

Middle school principal Mike Miles is a former Army Ranger, U.S. diplomat and teacher who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2004. His campaign Web site is

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