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Scrap political parties?

Cook would like to disband them but doubts it will happen

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WASHINGTON — Lame duck Rep. Merrill Cook, who hopes to run next year for chairmanship of the Utah Republican Party, called Monday for the eventual elimination of all political parties.

"It's not inconsistent," Cook, R-Utah, told the Deseret News. "It goes to the heart of why I'm thinking about running: to make the party focus more on the needs of the people and less on special interests. . . . Over time, parties would become less important."

Cook called for the elimination of parties in an essay he wrote for Roll Call, a biweekly newspaper that covers Congress. The newspaper asked him to write about any one thing he would change about Congress.

"The best way to improve the institution of Congress would be to eliminate political parties altogether," Cook wrote.

He argued that the Constitution did not contemplate political parties and that even George Washington warned that the greatest threat to the federal government was the emergence of parties and "factions" during his second term.

Cook said true reform of taxes, health care, trade and campaign financing are now "hopelessly held hostage in an endless partisan battle" in Congress as parties aim more at hurting each other than at attempting to solve problems.

He told the Deseret News, "Every time we get near to a conclusion on one of those issues, lobbyists come in and take over" by wielding the money they donate to parties and their candidates to gain control over them.

Cook wrote, "What dreams and hopes the average American may have for meaningful action on issues . . . are thrust back at them through the media as spin, rhetoric and finger-pointing — Democrats blaming Republicans and Republicans blaming Democrats for the failures of both."

Cook told the Deseret News that his dream of eliminating parties is far off and is not practical now.

"Just because I think the very best is better . . . doesn't mean I don't accept the reality of the two-party system as it exists today."

But he says he would like to chair the Utah Republican Party so he could begin to reform it. "I'm not interested if I would be selected by elected officials to do their bidding. I want to reform it to make it more inclusive, focus on issues and what people care about."

Cook said that with any luck, parties would disappear by the end of the 21st century and be replaced with nonpartisan officials who could look at the needs of constituents before those of special interests.

Cook's call to end parties is the latest twist in his history of intermittently espousing the Republican Party and being a political independent.

After he was beaten in the Republican primary by Derek Smith, Cook said for a time that he was considering running as an independent. Later, he said he is considering running next year to head the Utah Republican Party instead.

Before Cook won two terms in Congress as a Republican, he had run as an independent — once for Congress and twice for Utah governor. Before that, he had run unsuccessfully as a Republican for a Salt Lake County Commission seat. Even earlier, he ran for the Salt Lake mayoral post and for a school board seat, both technically non-partisan positions. He lost in each of these attempts as well.

Cook wrote in his Roll Call essay, "Keep in mind, all this (call for the demise of political parties) is just the wishful thinking of a Republican-gone-Independent-gone-Republican and, well, just gone — for now."

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com