Party and principle

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The brutal contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District has sparked criticism from some Green Party loyalists, who take their party colleagues to task for supporting DFL endorsee Keith Ellison in the September 12 primary election.

These critics overlook the fact that previously endorsed Green St. Paul mayoral candidate, Elizabeth Dickinson, has for months been on the staff of state Sen. Becky Lourey’s DFL campaign for governor and remains there, despite Green Ken Pentel’s jumping into the same race. This is principle and practicality walking hand in hand.

Party loyalty has its place in the political spectrum, but responsible and practical politics may conflict with party loyalty when the future of the republic is at stake. Loyalty to principles, not party, is far more important. Advancing such principles if they don’t conflict with one’s personal commitment to them, may be more successful by abandoning loyalty to party and embracing the champion more able and likely to carry them into the arenas of power.

Politics is about leveraging power to advance the chances that one’s principles will be implemented. Party loyalty can be as entrapping as deep-seated resentments to an opposing organization is corrosive to multipartisan solutions.

The local Green Party, for all of its noble purpose, a purpose I almost invariably support, remains more a movement than a political force for change. I support movements, but movements must often coalesce with others to accomplish missions, goals and objectives. The struggle within the Green Party has always matched movement folks, some very valuable purists, against the practical politics of others who recognize the futility of a movement in the absence of power.

Thee 2006 election will be about recovering at least a slice of that power in one of our Congressional houses. In Minnesota House districts like the 5th, where the sure winner will be a DFLer and not a Green, assuring that the most progressive DFLer in a rancorous and revealing primary election actually wins is paramount to advancing our progressive principles in the halls of power, perhaps with a new majority. Other DFL candidates in the 5th District primary would go on to win the General Election were they to win the primary but they would not carry our critical perspective to Washington as would Keith Ellison.

Supporting Ellison is no smear against Green-endorsed Jay Pond, whose candidacy may serve well as a conscience-builder, but who cannot win the election.

Moreover, this is a party primary. Pond will advance to the General Election, no matter the outcome of the DFL primary. If party loyalists wish to return to the fold after the primary, so be it, but practicality merges with principle here in nominating Keith Ellison as the likely winner in November.

Progressives must unite when they can, regardless of party.

This is one of those times.

Andy Driscoll is a St. Paul political analyst and writer.

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