On May 20, I passed the 150-mile mark of my 1,000-mile walking tour of Massachusetts. In these first few weeks, I have had over a hundred conversations and personally collected even more signatures for getting on the ballot. Just over a tenth of the way in, I can now say without any doubt that this is how representative democracy was meant to be.I know I will not raise as much money as major party candidates. Yet, I will be more than satisfied in raising just enough to keep my campaign going, because rebuilding this connection between representatives and citizens is all that truly matters in a republic.
Time and again I hear the same frustrations with the political establishment. Some people, like the 78-year-old farmer I spoke with in Sheffield, have given up and believe that it cannot be fixed. Others, like the former police officer in Tolland, believe we just need to make good on our constant threats to “throw the bums out.”
Most candidates that want to be a U.S. Senator only want to take their personal agenda and the agendas of their supporters and party to Washington. When they campaign, they speak in general platitudes, telling us what we would like to hear while spending the majority of their time raising huge amounts of money from a tiny group of funders and meeting with special interests.
This is not how representative democracy was meant to be.
Ultimately, this campaign is not about me. It is about us -- we the people. It is not about what I want; it is about what we want. I am running only as a public servant who happens to be a scientist and engineer capable of providing smart, bold leadership for solving the big challenges before us -- problems that are only getting harder to solve with each year that passes.
When I ask voters what their top priorities are, many do not even know where to begin. This feeling is the origin for why many feel helpless in changing the system.Where do we begin? A good problem solver understands that you cannot fix everything at once, even when many things are connected. The key is to start at the root and then work your way up.
I have written before on why the corruption in Washington is the first issue and it is a fact that I have found most voters intuitively understand. It is also most often the point where cynicism kicks in, because the very politicians that depend on the corrupt system are the only ones that can pass reform.
This truth is also the only answer though. To truly fix this problem, we have no other choice, but to elect a majority in Congress that are not dependent on the current system and are committed to fundamental reform. This is why Lawrence Lessig is succeeding in forming the Mayday PAC and why I am succeeding in my run for U.S. Senate.
After cutting through all the initial cynicism and frustration, the people I meet have very real concerns and ask great questions. Here are a few of the most common questions and my responses:
What will you do differently?I am out here walking so that I can represent everyone equally, regardless of party, wealth, or any other station that has been used to divide us. I am also dedicated to creating a better, more modern way to listen to voters so that I can be responsive to their priorities going forward. Finally, as a scientist with over a decade of experience in taking on big problems, I will bring the kind of perspective that is so desperately needed in Congress.
Have you ever held a public office?
What makes you qualified to be a U.S. Senator?
The incumbent Ed Markey has been in Congress for 38 years. If that was the best way for the system to work then we should not have the worst Congress in living memory. There are more than enough lawyers in Washington; it is time that we had representatives like me that have an intimate understanding of how to solve extremely difficult problems. As an independent, I do not have a party agenda to push, only a desire to serve the people to the best of my abilities.
Where do you stand on civil rights (women’s health, guns, LGBT)?
I believe we need to stop questioning our constitutional rights and focus on what we can do to reduce problems. On women’s health, we need to do all that we can to reduce abortions without infringing on the rights of women to make decisions affecting personal health. There are many countries where abortion is illegal, but still have rates much higher than those with effective women’s health care.
On guns, we need to accept a citizen’s well-regulated right to own and carry firearms. The debate should only be about gun safety and what we can do to ensure that those who are unfit for the responsibility of ownership are prohibited. Voters I met in rural areas pointed out that the need for personal protection is very real when response times for law enforcement can be over half an hour, but they are also all for sensible guns laws.
On LGBT rights, as I have written before, I am an advocate, not just a supporter. It is time to end this final form of legal discrimination.
Are you for the legalization of marijuana?
Yes. Prohibition has done far more harm than good. By legalizing marijuana we will have a much stronger ability to regulate and to understand the negatives while taking out one of the most prosperous criminal networks in the U.S. and Mexico. I believe we need to be doing a much better job of dealing with substance abuse of all forms, including alcohol, cigarettes, and nicotine delivery (e.g. e-cigarettes).For better or for worse, recreational use is part of our culture. As alcohol prohibition should have taught us, making portions illegal only forces the problems underground and misappropriates our criminal justice system because it is not designed to address social issues.
There are, of course, many more questions and I will continue to answer them both in person and in writing. So far, not a single person that has taken the time to listen has left the conversation without strongly endorsing what I am trying to accomplish. There may still be a lot of skepticism to overcome, but when my internal polls put an independent candidate 20 points ahead of the incumbent, I firmly believe that this walk and this campaign is how we get back to honest, representative democracy.
Bruce Skarin is a Massachusetts independent candidate for U.S. Senate. To Learn more about his campaign visit www.bruce2014.org.