We are only three months into 2018, but already big things are happening within the independent movement -- especially in Colorado.
Unite America (formerly the Centrist Project) recently launched with an ambitious goal: to elect enough independents to shift the balance of power in several states and in DC away from the Republican and Democratic Parties, and give a voice back to the people.
It's an enormous undertaking. The political movement launched with a historic national slate of independent candidates from across the country -- candidates identified as credible, competitive, and viable.
The slate includes:
- Three candidates for governor: Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Kansas entrepreneur Greg Orman, and Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes.
- Two candidates for US Senate: Prominent Missouri attorney Craig O'Dear and Maryland business executive Neal Simon.
“These candidates are the vanguard of a new movement in our politics to bridge the growing partisan divide and to ensure government truly represents the people –– not the party bosses or special interests,” says Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America.
These candidates will be running together under a shared set of principles called the "Declaration of Independents," as Unite America builds the infrastructure and support network they need to take on the two parties:
- “First, we put the public interest ahead of any partisan or special interest.”
- “Second, we use common sense and find common ground to solve problems.”
- “Third, we stand for the timeless values of opportunity, equality, and stewardship.”
- “Fourth, we champion competition, transparency, and accountability in politics.”
- “Fifth, we believe in the shared responsibility of civic engagement.”
I spoke with Troiano over the phone about Unite America, its future plans, and why the group picked Denver, Colorado to set up its headquarters. Troiano says picking Colorado to be the new political movement's home was important.
"Colorado is a microcosm of the country as a whole, meaning that you have a wide diversity of political beliefs in the state," says Troiano.
"A movement to reimagine our politics needs to be built from the center-out, rather than the edges-in, both politically and geographically. There is a perception now that the coasts are out of step with the rest of the country, and I think there is a lot of merit to that. So being based somewhere where we are closer proximity to what some might view as "real America" helps keep us grounded." - Nick Troiano
He added that Colorado also offers the best opportunity to elect independent candidates to the state legislature out of any other state outside Maine and Alaska.
"We wanted to do it in a place where it has never been done before, so that when it happens, it is all the more meaningful," Troiano explained. "And as an organization with a small team that needs to get around, it is in close proximity to our candidates and their teams in Kansas and Missouri, for example."
Unite Colorado launched a statewide slate of independent candidates for slate legislature ahead of the national movement in January, and Troiano says this is just the beginning.
"Last spring we launched a partnership with Maine independents, which is a group that already existed to recruit and support independent candidates, we launched Unite Colorado, and in the fall we launched Washington independents. We will launch a new state partnership in April, so stay tuned, and we aim to expand further in the future," he says.
According to Troiano, there are more than a handful of states in the US "where 5 or fewer leaders can comprise a fulcrum in both houses of the state legislatures."
The "fulcrum strategy" as it is called, focuses on legislative bodies where the political majority held by either the Republican or Democratic Party is so narrow that it would take no more than 5 independents to shift the balance of power and deny both parties a majority -- including the US Senate.
The end goal would be to form an independent caucus that could leverage the power to decide the outcome on any issue to force both sides to the table, end partisan gridlock, and make sure voters are listened to.
The launch of Unite America has not gone unnoticed by the national media. Prominent news outlets like Politico and ABC News have published stories on the group, and Troiano says this cannot be understated or ignored.
"The national attention reflects that this movement is real, it's serious, and it's happening. It's not an idea anymore. There are credible, competitive candidates whose names will be on the ballot in November," says Troiano.
"We suspected early on and it proved true that if you can bring together a group of credible independent candidates for Senate and governor, and if they were to run together under a common banner with shared principles, it wouldn't go unnoticed." - Nick Troiano
The attention from the national press might also speak to an acknowledgment that Americans clearly want change from the political status quo. At least 4 in 10 Americans refuse to identify with the Republican or Democratic Party. Approximately two-thirds of Americans say a third party is needed.
One survey found that in Colorado, 85 percent of voters were open to voting for an independent candidate.
"The fact that there are 5 serious candidates and likely more when November rolls around, that reflects the appetite in the electorate for a new option," adds Troiano.
The political movement has launched. The national slate of independent candidates has been selected. I asked Troiano to discuss what's next for Unite America, along with branching out to establish more state partnerships.
"Now that we have identified and recruited a historic and tremendous slate of candidates, now we have to go elect them," explains Troiano. "That is why we're continuing to build the grassroots movement and donor network that can support those candidates directly."
From an infrastructure standpoint, he says there are three main things the organization is doing.
First, Unite America is gathering "resumes of information" on people who are interested in working in the independent movement and independent campaigns supported by the organization.
"We need to build a talent pool that rivals both parties to help staff those campaigns," says Troiano.
Second, they are developing the "first of its kind voter database for independent candidates." Unite America wants to collect information that can help independents and organizations within the independent movement reach out to voters and share information with other candidates and groups.
Third, the organization wants to build scale support for independents. Troiano says hundreds of people have signed up to run for office on Unite America's website -- "a couple dozen credible candidates running for US Congress."
"We're trying to build some tools to put out there to support at that scale -- like resources of materials and opportunities for networking, so those candidates have some support from Unite America, too," says Troiano.
Troiano and other members of Unite America are optimistic that now is the perfect time for this movement. The hurdles are still numerous and high for independent candidates, but Unite America believes it can provide independents the resources and tools they need to clear these hurdles.
"Many stars have aligned to give us an opportunity to truly make history in November," says Troiano. "We have an organization. We have a wonderful network of supporters. We have tremendous candidates. Now we have to go win elections."