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Lemon pledge: Cook County Dems shouldn’t demand candidates support slate

The pledge will undercut any reformer who wants to challenge an unqualified candidate backed by the party.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Americans recoil at the idea of a loyalty oath. They remember the McCarthy era and other times when refusing to sign a loyalty oath written by someone else could cost you your job. In the land of the free, people are supposed to be able to voice their opinions without fear of retribution.

The Cook County Democratic Party is now requiring candidates to sign a loyalty pledge if they want the party’s endorsement when 50 ward and 30 township committee members meet on Monday and Tuesday to decide which candidates they will back in races next year.

By signing the pledge, candidates agree not to oppose any of the party’s choices for the 2022 ballot.

We might feel better about the pledge if the Democrats ran stellar candidates up and down the ticket in every election. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The loyalty pledge will undercut any reformer who wants to challenge an unqualified candidate backed by the party. Other candidates, having signed the pledge, would not be able to support the upstart.

That’s not a path toward improving county government across the board.

Some in the party point out that if you don’t have some kind of cohesion — if candidates feel free to run against those endorsed by the party — you don’t have much of a party. They point to the national scene, where Democrats, as they splinter into competing factions, are losing ground to more unified Republicans, even those who back policies opposed by most Americans.

47th Ward Committeeperson Paul Rosenfeld likens the loyalty pledge to trying out for a sports team. By doing that, you agree to support the entire team.

In Cook County, though, there is only one team for all practical purposes in countywide races. The Republican Party typically does not mount a credible challenge in the general election.

Of course, the loyalty pledge, which was pushed by county Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle, is a one-way street. The candidates have to agree to support the choices by the party’s committee members, but the members aren’t bound by any such pledge. As has often happened in past elections, they are free to support anyone they choose, including opponents of those who signed the loyalty pledge.

Instead of pushing the loyalty pledge, how about party leaders sign one saying they will back only highly qualified candidates in all future elections?

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