Washington, D.C. – Against the backdrop of dysfunctional government, widespread economic uncertainty, and a general failure of the two-party system to solve many of the nation’s most pressing challenges, a crop of Independent elected officeholders Wednesday came together to make the case that independent candidates for public office can get elected and bridge the political divide between Republicans and Democrats.
“The two major parties don’t agree on much except to make it very difficult for anyone else to compete, yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that a growing number of Americans are ready to embrace a new way. There is something happening out there,” said Nick Troiano, executive director of The Centrist Project, at an event held Wednesday morning at the National Press Club.
He added, “We believe a new pathway will emerge, and we are committed to building the electoral infrastructure to help independent candidates win election.”
The event was headlined by Alaska Governor Bill Walker, one of the country’s highest-profile elected leaders not affiliated with either major political party.
“It’s easier to make hard decisions as an independent,” said Walker, who came into office facing a historic fiscal crisis brought on by a sharp drop in oil prices that resulted in an 80% reduction in state revenue. “Independents are looked upon as problem solvers. That is what’s causing this change in Alaska.”
Two independent state Representatives helped flip control of the Alaska state house for the first time in decades from the GOP to a new bipartisan governing majority, which has been instrumental in putting forward balanced and bipartisan proposals to address the state’s budget deficits.
“Without a party, I was forced to go door-to-door and have conversations with all my neighbors, regardless of party affiliation,” said state Representative Jason Grenn, a participant in Wednesday's event.
“When you as an independent, it forces people to ask you questions. When you’re a Republican or a Democrat, it puts you in a box in the minds of a lot of people.” - Alaska State Rep. Jason Grenn
In Maine, since two independent state representatives were elected in 2016, three incumbent state representatives –– one Republican and two Democrats –– dropped their party affiliation.
Now, neither party controls an outright majority in the Maine state house. The independents have been outspoken in advocating for structural political reform, including protecting a Ranked Choice Voting ballot measure passed by Maine voters last year.
“I didn’t need a party affiliation to learn the issues and form an opinion,” said Maine state Representative Owen Casas, who spoke about the role he played in advancing a major piece of legislation in Augusta simply by resolving to break the partisan gridlock between elected Republicans and Democrats and engaging in constructive dialogue.
“It took one person to walk around and talk to people,” he added.
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In Iowa, State Senator David Johnson became the first serving independent legislator in 45 years after he left the Republican Party in June 2016, during his fourth term, as an objection to Donald Trump’s campaign.
"I am feeling more comfortable with my votes than I ever have," Johnson recently told The Des Moines Register.
Independent voters now comprise the largest and fastest growing segment of the American electorate, at 40% as of May 2017 according to Gallup. This figure is significantly higher among millennial voters.
Editor's Note: This article originally published on The Centrist Project's blog and has been slightly modified for publication on IVN.