By Tanner Weigel, Staff Writer
For the first time in 2010, I was old enough to vote in the U.S. midterm elections. A lifelong resident of Arizona, the choices before me were Republican John McCain, and Democrat Rodney Glassman. Glassman was a relatively unknown, having served briefly on the Tucson City Council prior to attempting the leap to national office. As I am from Tucson, I had heard of Glassman mostly in terms of his advocacy for water conservation efforts. And that would be natural, given that Glassman holds a Ph.D. in Arid Land Resource Sciences (among other graduate degrees). In the Republican wave of 2010, Glassman really had no chance of winning, and disappeared back into private life after his defeat.
Fast-forward to 2018, with far too many election signs littering Phoenix roads, you can imagine my surprise when I saw a sign announcing that Rodney Glassman was running for a place on the Arizona Corporation Commission. As a Republican.
Not really believing my eyes, I decided to figure out how this change had come about. When running back in 2010, Glassman seemed to avoid party labels and focused on local issues that transcend ideology. At one event, the folksy Chino Valley Corn Dinner, Glassman mingled with the “common people,” explaining that he was working to renew the economy and push back against the Washington establishment that John McCain embodied. Only 32 at the time, Glassman was betting on his youthful appeal, not unlike the man who had just become President of the United States in 2008.
Still, as quoted in the Huffington Post at the time, Glassman emphasized that he was “proud to be a Democrat” and renewed his support for “labor, the environment and reproductive rights.” Not to mention that Representative Raul Grijalva, arguably one of the most progressive Democrats in the U.S. House, was one of Glassman’s earliest supporters. So when Glassman reemerges several years later running for statewide office again, but as a Republican, does it not ring somewhat like opportunism?
Referencing Glassman’s past activity within Democratic Party politics, Ed Kwok writes that “those who know Glassman say ‘to peg him by those earlier days is a misreading’. For one thing, Tucson politics have always run left of center. And much of Glassman’s efforts, in and out of politics, were grounded in community service.” On his current campaign website, Glassman certainly highlights his community involvement, including his time as a Boy Scout. And one publication goes as far to call him a “renaissance man” who participates actively in his local Jewish community and even dedicates time as a reservist in the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps. It’s in this context that it makes perfect sense that Glassman would have run for public office in the first place, and running as a Democrat in Tucson would have been the only successful avenue.
If Rodney Glassman is guilty of opportunism, then, it may actually be based on his time as a Democrat, and not his current pursuits under the GOP. Indeed, in Glassman’s assessment, many of his “core interests — Israel, the military, taxes and free enterprise — align with the Republican Party.” To be fair, on his campaign website for Corporation Commission, Glassman is open about his work on water conservation while in Tucson (which could be interpreted by some on the right as evidence of a heavy-handed, regulatory government). He doesn’t run from his past so much as he has re-framed it as evidence of his ability to reach common ground and implement actual solutions to community problems. In the end, whether or not he’s an opportunist may not be the point: far more important may be the rigid, two-party system in the U.S. that ultimately has led him, and many others, to have to juggle party loyalties in the first place.
Recent Gallup polling shows that a sizeable 44% of Americans do not identify with either the Democratic or Republican parties (which come in at 27% and 26% respectively). And yet the vast majority of elected officials in state legislatures have an ‘R’ or ‘D’ attached to their names. In the U.S. Senate, Independents Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Angus King (Maine) still caucus with the Democratic party for the purpose of deciding who ultimately controls the leadership posts in the chamber. And in many states, it’s actually harder to get on the ballot in the first place when you are running as an Independent. In Arizona for example, calculations set forth in state statute determined that Republicans and Democrats needed around 6,000 valid signatures to appear on ballots this year, whereas Independents needed closer to 37,000! Perhaps the most blatant homage to party loyalty lies in the fact that some states in the U.S. provide a “straight-ticket” option on voting machines whereby an individual can click one box in order to cast a vote for every single candidate within one of the two major parties.
In the end, one of the major shortcomings of the two-party system is the ideological tribalism it engenders. The two parties compete aggressively and make every issue a binary choice (pro-life vs. pro-choice, gun rights vs. gun restrictions, high tax vs. low tax), and I would argue that this causes political discussion to lose variety and nuance. RealClearPolitics columnist A.B. Stoddard warns that “partisans won’t protect our increasingly fragile democracy — they will not, and they cannot. Because the parties no longer persuade, and only seek to mobilize their extremes on each side, their representatives are elected to fight, and not to fix problems. Once elected they must deliver the fights they promise in their campaigns. Republicans can’t vanquish half the country, and neither can Democrats. But both behave as if they intend to.” With the potential for slim majorities in either chamber of the U.S. Congress after election night, it remains to be seen whether solutions-minded legislators will find a voice. We shall start to see a hint of that next Tuesday.