I’ve said throughout this election cycle that top-down campaigning won’t have great results when it comes to independents and third-party candidates trying to affect change.
Bernie Sanders came to this position after his primary loss, acknowledging that change must start at the bottom, penetrating all levels of government, and work its way to the highest levels of office.
There are many reasons for this — oppressive state laws requiring significant hoop-jumping for ballot access, the stigma of independents and third-party candidates being ‘spoilers,’ and the fact that it’s hard to rally the entire country around an idea without developing it first at the local levels.
In Kansas, anger at the incumbent governor’s tax-cut plan, which has left the state with smaller than expected revenues each month for almost two years, has created a significant backlash against the solidly red conservative state legislature and federal seats.
But the fight isn’t just starting at the legislative level; it’s starting much, much lower in the political arena — in township seats, mayoral positions, and judgeships.
In my own small town of Goddard, Ks., the mayor, Marcey Gregory has embraced the independent ideals and runs city council meetings without partisanship — and her political aims are higher for 2016, challenging Republican Karl Peterjohn for County Commissioner.
Gregory has long accused Peterjohn of wasting the commission’s time by going on long partisan rants during meetings. She is hoping for change.
And the list of these grassroots independent candidates continues to grow, with the secretary of state’s website listing 4 independent candidates for magistrate judge, and numerous independents challenging state legislative seats (this list is not complete, and is updated often).
This is the real plan of action for independents nationwide.
Sure, having independents or third-party candidates challenging national offices gets plenty of media coverage — but it’s hard to win without those in local and state offices able to change the laws that stack the deck in favor of the two-party duopoly.
Independents must, at the local level — even in small towns — show voters what running government without partisanship is really like.
Voters need to see this. They need to see that it works, because that is the only way to break so many of the stereotypes against independents and third-party candidates.
Unfortunately, a successful election is always the standard by which campaigning is judged — and independents have an uphill battle.
But continuing the fight to eliminate the two-party lock on politics, regardless of previous losses, is the worthwhile endeavor.
Because as voters see how partisan-free politics works, more and more will stop to take notice of something we’ve been missing in this country for over 100 years — real change. From the smallest local office to the presidency, real change will come when voters see the benefits in action.