06/08/2012 10:37 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2012

Adding an Equalizer to the Primary

No matter what your political persuasion, you'll likely agree that our current Congress is not working on creative solutions to our long-term problems. Part of the solution is to go after the root of the problem, and that points to those that govern. The problem is that they don't govern of, by, and for the people. The solution is to get rid of them.

Easy to say, but nearly impossible to do with our polarized general election system. Over 80% of incumbents are elected from what are basically one-party congressional districts. How do we hold them accountable? Especially the ones that are entrenched, compromised, or even corrupt. We have to defeat them in the primary. A conservative district is still going to elect a conservative, and a progressive district is still going to elect a progressive, but we can hope that the change of politician creates a change in how Congress works.

This isn't some pie-in-the-sky proposal. It's already happening, and it works. This cycle, Ohio Republican Jean Schmidt has been ousted in her primary, as have Texas Democrat Sylvestre Reyes and Pennsylvania Blue Dog Democrat Tim Holden. Except for the special interest groups, no one will miss them. Their lack of accountability to their constituents made them ripe for upset. How many more can we target that are like Schmidt and Reyes? With the 17% approval rating that Congress has lately, it's not unrealistic to believe that there are 100 vulnerable incumbents out there.

This is a bipartisan endeavor on the quest for more democracy and less cronyism. It's not ideological, but participatory. More voter participation means better accountability, and increased accountability leads to more transparency in government. We're going after the root of the problem in our government by replacing those that are supposed to be governing in the people's interest, but have been compromised with special interests that are monied, lobbied and entrenched.

The question is, then, will challengers step up? If they do, then the voters in that district will have a choice. Now, usually, they don't have a choice, and up to 95% of incumbents are re-elected in November; most without even a primary opponent. And if there is a primary challenger, that choice has been a lopsided affair, with the incumbent having most of the resources and the challenger having most of the obstacles. Even when the challenger has passed a threshold that shows their candidacy a credible threat, and research shows that the district voters are not satisfied with their current representative, it's still not an even contest. But its not that difficult to see how a super PAC, with donors from across the political spectrum, can come into such a situation and be the equalizer.

An equalizer can make the voting record of the incumbent transparent to the voters, and ask for accountability from the voters. The hope for a change can make for an increased turnout of voters in the primary. Now, more participation in political elections is laudable as a goal in and of itself. Add in an equalizer that includes an apparatus of political professional's running a campaign plan of radio, TV, online, direct mail and people on the ground with pamphlets and door to door grassroots organizing, and it gives the challenger a real shot at winning.

An honest and transparent government that governs of, by and for the people seems like a pipe dream at this point, but if over 80% of us are in agreement, that's a commonality we can work with in the primary. It's a commonality that we are all, whatever our ideology or political persuasion, unsatisfied with our unaccountable Congress and ready to throw the entrenched bums out. The system has been built to prevent accountability in the general election, but in the primary, by adding in an equalizer, it's doable.

Jerome Armstrong is a Senior Advisor for the Campaign for Primary Accountability. He is the author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the rise of People-Powered Politics.