Anti-abortion DFLers likely to produce small change

In late August, a group of Minnesota DFL members joined a dissident national Democratic Party minority and formed Democrats for Life of Minnesota. Prominent DFL politicians such as U.S. Reps. Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson and state Sen. Dean Johnson hope to steer the DFL away from supporting abortion rights. While their efforts should be applauded as a break from restrictive partisan dogma, the move highlights the flaws within the U.S. two-party, majoritarian electoral system. 

Many areas in Minnesota lean toward the DFL on every issue but abortion, which has enabled the election of several anti-abortion DFLers. Additionally, the crossover vote of numerous such anti-abortion constituents – in elections with an abortion rights-supporting DFL member – has enabled the election of many anti-abortion Republicans.

The same could be said for opposite situations – for instance, the district of abortion rights supporter U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. Many Republicans threaten to not re-endorse Ramstad. They are ignorant, however, of the political system. It does not matter what Ramstad believes about abortion; his election scores another vote for a Republican majority that will have an anti-abortion leader.

The Democrats for Life of Minnesota might convince more like-minded citizens to vote for more anti-abortion DFL candidates. However, their final goal is unlikely. Even if 40 percent of all DFL state senators and representatives were anti-abortion, their majority or minority leaders would still be abortion rights supporters. So, if the DFL maintains their majority in the state senate, they will always have an abortion rights-supporting majority leader deciding what bills to bring up for votes.

Just look at last session. The “Women’s Right to Know” bill sailed through the Republican-controlled Minnesota House. In the Minnesota Senate it was stalled indefinitely. It did not matter that the majority of state senators (a combination of Republicans and several DFL members) co-sponsored the bill. Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, would not allow it up for a vote, knowing it would pass. In a difficult, tactical move, the House attached the bill to a circus deregulation bill in order to get it to the Senate floor. Although it would not have eventually passed without anti-abortion DFL votes, the political maneuvering opportunity for such a bill was rare.

When elections in a democracy orbit around territorial districts – such as in the United States -elections inevitably decline into bipartisan contests injurious to true democratic representation. Citizens are forced to vote for “the lesser of two evils” in the “winner take all” system. Thus, leftists with anti-abortion sentiments and rightists who support abortion rights are reduced to either single-issue voters or grumbling adherents to unrepresentative parties. 

In many other democracies – such as Germany and Israel – the slightly more complex voting process accurately represents the wildly variable beliefs held by the citizenry of a healthy democracy. In these nations, the proportion of seats in the legislature corresponds with the percentage of votes a party receives. Thus, third parties and specific ideologies enjoy a substantially lower barrier to entry in achieving political influence. Power dissociates from specific individuals and instead reflects specific political paradigms, which are more inclusively representative of varying factions.

Opponents to proportional electoral systems decry the lack of individual accountability within the system. But assuming any specific district contains one point of view that can be exemplified in a specific individual is a hard point to make – especially considering gerrymandering practices. Hence, people historically vote along party lines, and as Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson said, there will be little support for an anti-abortion movement in the Democratic Party, which has a longstanding abortion rights platform.

This new contingent of anti-abortion Democrats will likely be swept aside as dust in the wind of the powerful abortion rights lobby – much as the Log Cabin Republicans are thrashed into irrelevancy by the conservative Christian lobby. And the quality of our democracy will continue to suffer.