Denver, Colo. -- Across the country, independent/nonpartisan organizations committed to fundamental political reform and equal rights for every voter are hard at work fighting the good fight on a wide variety of ambitious and necessary projects.
From primary election initiatives at the state level, to suing state governments for equal protection in federal court, to demanding equal access to presidential debates, to seeking viable independent candidates to run for office in 2016 -- there is an impressive range of meaningful and intertwined projects happening all over.
Unlike the major political parties, the independent movement doesn't have a central organizing body (or the super PACs to fund it). We come from across the ideological spectrum, don't all agree on every element of our projects, and it's often hard to stay up-to-date on all the issues, players, and organizations at work in the field.
But make no mistake, we're advancing the cause. Our affiliate organizations have an incredible amount of talent and extraordinary pent up energy and enthusiasm for change. Most importantly, we have many common objectives that if channeled properly can make incredible things happen in 2016 and beyond.We just need to know how, when, and where to collaborate and who to coordinate with to put all that pent up energy best to work.
I often recall the counsel my political mentor and former boss, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), would offer for getting like-minded activists to model others' successes.
Lamar would credit his friend, Alex Haley, the author of Roots, with the wise guidance to "find the good and praise it." To seek out the people and organizations pushing ahead, gathering support and accomplishing great things for the movement. And then trumpet that success to fellow reformers so that they may learn from it, emulate it, and fuel even greater victories in the campaigns and projects that lie ahead.
With the wide variety of great and good activities that the independent/nonpartisan movement is producing these days, that is exactly what I intend to do. And, as the preeminent news source for independent/nonpartisan voters and viewpoints, IVN is the perfect "common ground" platform through which to share it.
Every month, I'll seek to "find the good and praise it" in organizations, groups, leaders, and projects in hopes that others will want to hear about the diverse variety of the independent movement's progress, will support the projects that most appeal to them, and begin to see how closely interrelated our common causes are.
Full disclosure: I work closely with the Independent Voter Project, the co-publisher of IVN, on a variety of projects and I'm an informal adviser to The Centrist Project.
And I'll also apologize in advance: This column has limited space so this won't be an exhaustive review of all the great things happening in the independent political world. But it's a start.
So if you know of a group, organization, or person who is helping promote independent/nonpartisan political reform, please send me an update so I can include them in a future column. And be sure to forward this column on to friends and colleagues to help demonstrate the breadth and depth of the important independent work happening across the country.
May 2015 highlights - Independent/Nonpartisan political reform organizations making the difference:
“California’s political reforms are working” - Ed Coghlan at California Forward posted a commentary on the success of California political reforms:
“Are the political reforms that Californians approved having an effect? Increasingly the answer seems to be yes.The latest example was a special election for the vacant 7th Senate District in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. It pitted what the San Francisco Chronicle's John Diaz called "Centrist Democrat Steve Glazer over the more doctrinaire (liberal) Susan Bonilla." That's right -- two Democrats in the runoff. That's because in 2010, Californians, sick of the hyper-partisanship that had paralyzed state government, passed Proposition 14, which gave every voter the right to vote for all candidates in primary elections -- giving politicians an incentive to appeal to all voters in their districts."
Read more of Ed’s commentary here.
Arkansas Legislature Makes Petition Deadlines for New Parties and Independent Candidates Much Earlier - Richard Winger of Ballot Access News posted an excellent update on the Arkansas Legislature making it more difficult for independents to qualify for the ballot:
“Because the petition deadlines for newly-qualifying parties and non-presidential independent candidates are tied to the date on which candidates file for the primary, this bill makes those independent and minor party petition deadlines much earlier. The non-presidential independent petition deadline for 2016 would be November 9, 2015, if the Governor signs this bill. The petition for newly-qualifying parties becomes September 2, 2015.”
Richard writes a monthly newsletter detailing the variety of third party ballot access news from across the country. Read more on Ballot Access News.
"Why America's Electorate Could Use a Little More Crazy" - Andy Smith at The Centrist Project wrote this provocative piece suggesting we turn up the dial to get more voters engaged.
“Fifty-seven percent of Americans blame extreme partisans for the dysfunction in Congress. Public approval for both parties is below 40%. The portion of Americans who identify as independent is at a record high and growing. Americans everywhere see the problems facing our nation, and are calling for something new. So maybe crazy voters aren’t that crazy after all. Maybe they are just the innovators — the early adopters. Maybe what makes them special isn’t how they think, but how they act. Crazy voters are the ones who are loud enough and disruptive enough to be called crazy in the first place, because that is the only way to make a difference. And 2016 is going to be their year."
Read more at The Centrist Project. (The Centrist Project's members are rallying around good ideas and great candidates. They aim to elect five U.S. senators by 2020. “That’s all we need to change everything.”)
FairVote’s Democracy Slam explores 17 bold election reform ideas
FairVote held its National Democracy Slam in the Spring. Seventeen ideas for breaking partisan gridlock, ending gerrymandering, and improving America's elections and politics were explored during the day. Speakers included U.S. Congress members and community organizers. View the webcast here.
Also, FairVote is seeing encouraging traction with ranked-choice voting (RCV) in Maine where RCV will be on the ballot soon. A recent letter to the editor in Maine makes the case for the voting reform. For more info on Maine RCV, click here.
FairVote advances systemic electoral reform to achieve a fully participatory and truly representative democracy that respects every vote and every voice in every election. Read more about FairVote at www.FairVote.org.
“Group seeks to break two-party stranglehold on presidential debates” - commentary from Cara McCormick with Change the Rule
“As the pressure mounts to open up the fall 2016 presidential debates to an independent candidate, Bloomberg Politics reporter Emily Greenhouse has written an excellent piece headlined: "Group Seeks to Break Two-Party Stranglehold on Presidential Debates." The piece follows similar coverage by the Washington Post's David Ignatius. As Greenhouse writes, that group, Level the Playing Field, has been running full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal headlined, "TWO MEN AND THEIR FRIENDS...crush any chance for an independent candidate for president to compete on a level playing field."
Read Cara’s entire post on the Change the Rule's site.
Change the Rule was created to persuade the Commission on Presidential Debates to allow an independent candidate to participate in presidential debates.
“What kind of democracy do we want?”- Jackie Salit, President of IndependentVoting.org
IndependentVoting.org held its 2015 conference of independents, Partnerships for Independent Power, in New York earlier this year. Several of its conference panels were re-broadcast on C-SPAN. Check out a few of the videos here:
“More Freedom, Less Control” - John Opdyke, OpenPrimaries.org
“The phrases “Republican controlled legislature” or “Democratic controlled statehouse” are used by most political pundits not simply as descriptions of what is, but descriptions of the only way things could possibly be. We have two parties. They compete. Whomever gains the most seats has control. Period. Common sense. End of story. Not so fast. Take a look at Nebraska, as Associated Press author Anna Gronewold did last week. Gronewold paints a fascinating portrait of the Nebraska political scene. There are more Republicans in the Nebraska legislature (35) than Democrats (13) or independents (1). But that does not mean that the Republican Party “controls” the legislature. Far from it. Nebraskans elect their state legislators using a nonpartisan, Top Two system (and once elected they serve in a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature), which means that the parties do not control their legislators. There is much more fluidity, members vote their conscience, and unlikely, left/right coalitions are built on specific issues. In fact they are commonplace."
Read more at www.OpenPrimaries.org.
Finally, a forewarning of a potentially big Supreme Court ruling or two coming in June:
"For more than two decades, Californians have struggled to reform the state's electoral process, to make it less partisan and public officials more responsive. After fits and starts beginning in 1990, state voters approved an independent redistricting commission, open primaries and term limits that now allow state legislators to serve up to 12 years. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court could significantly undermine the reform effort with its review of two redistricting cases, one out of Arizona, the other out of Texas, and both with profound implications for California and the nation. The legal issues seemingly had already been settled by the high court, but they're now being unnecessarily reopened in cases brought by conservative groups with partisan agendas."
Read the complete editorial here.
I’ll post an update should the Court hand down a decision on these issues in June.
Again, if you know of a group, organization, or person making a difference in the independent political reform world, please send their news and updates to me for the next column: [email protected]
Jim Jonas is a political consultant for independent candidates and causes. In 2014, he was the lead consultant and campaign manager for Greg Orman's competitive independent race for the U.S. Senate in Kansas. He was a co-founder of Unity '08 and a consultant to Americans Elect. In a previous professional life, Jim was a Republican media consultant who managed campaigns and produced effective advertising for candidates at every level of politics, from local officials to U.S. presidents.