Voters looking to move away from partisan histrionics and the impotence of “politics as usual” have solid alternatives to Democrats and Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.
In Missouri and Maryland, there are candidates for the U.S. Senate who present a clear vision of what “Country Over Party” means, with unique insight into how a recent surge in nonpartisan political activity can affect our elections, now and into the future.
These two candidates recently shared these insights and more on the PurpleState podcast, a program hosted by developers of a network for nonpartisan reformers and voters to organize, outside the two-party system, for a consensus political agenda and a generation of viable candidates with no party affiliation.
Independent candidates Craig O’Dear and Neal Simon are running for Senate seats in Missouri and Maryland, respectively. O’Dear, a seasoned trial lawyer, and Simon, a leader in business and non-profit organizations, each discussed their experiences on the campaign trail as they seek to give the voters in their states relief from the damage done by partisan gridlock.
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“I think Marylanders are just ready for a change,” Simon said during the recent interview.
“We look at our legislative branch of the federal government and we see stalemate, we see ineffectiveness, we see a lack of results. I think a lot of people blame it not just on the right and not just on the left but actually on both parties that are not finding ways to work together to get things done.”
When asked if Missouri, long considered a bellwether state before the early 21st century, could embrace an independent candidate despite Republican dominance in the past few election cycles, O’Dear talked about the partisan fatigue he has encountered on the trail.
“Having spent well over a year traveling the state and having a lot of conversations...I still believe most people in Missouri are still part of that tradition where you can win from either side," he said. "I find people are open to this, like a lot of other states where there's been a lot of hyper-partisan emotion that I frankly think has people worn out.”
O’Dear went on to cite conflict between Democrats and Republicans as one of the primary reason for his decision to run for Senate:
“I decided that running as an independent was a calling that I couldn't resist. I simply concluded that this difficult time we're in as a country has been brought to us by two political parties. The leaders and the funders of these parties are at war with one another, and they have become far more focused on beating one another than they have on conducting the business of the people.”
“They have a business model that focuses on division and I'm not comfortable with it. I'm troubled by it," he added.
Simon related conversations he had about polarization, especially with new voters from ages 18 to 28.
“They say to me, we don't understand why the government is two teams trying to beat each other and why isn't it one team working together on all of our behalf. They understand this in their gut, what we all know, and they're right," Simon said.
“One of the problems we have in Washington is that anything that’s proposed by the Democrats is dead on arrival with the Republicans, and anything proposed by other Republicans is dead on arrival with the Democrats. The partisanship has become reflexive and automatic and vocal and obnoxious. We deserve something so much better than that.”
Simon felt that Maryland was a winnable race.
"We've got a vulnerable incumbent and a Republican opponent with nearly no funds," he explained. "This is a real opportunity for those of us who feel like somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum needs to be represented and to have someone who's working to try to bring us together and change things in a real way."
“We all deserve representatives who represent us and not represent party leaders. We deserve to have a senator that represents the people of Maryland in this state, not Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell. And that’s really what I want to do.”
Both O’Dear and Simon have found allies in the many nonpartisan reform organizations that have emerged to lead the exponential growth in independent politics seen in recent years.
O’Dear said that he “met people as far back as 2014 that were working to establish a path for independent politics."
"Their vision spoke to me," he said. "It speaks to the challenges we have in our country today."
"In early 2017, the leaders in that movement said, ‘Craig, you believe in this vision. You've been a trial lawyer for 30 years. You've been trained in how to explain complex issues and discuss issues with people. We can't criticize voters for not choosing an alternative vision if it's not on the ballot. We need you to step up and represent this vision and these ideas on the ballot.’”
One of these organizations, Unite America, has provided support for both campaigns. Unite America is a nonpartisan organization building a grassroots community, donor network, and electoral infrastructure to help independent candidates run winning campaigns.
They are also a founding member of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers (NANR) along with organizations including PurpleState.
During his podcast interview, Simon mentioned other NANR members as he described the nonpartisan reform movement.
“I feel like there are many of us fighting in the same war against this partisanship and we're on different battlefronts," he said.
“FairVote's doing something around electoral reform, through their solution, ranked choice voting. With ranked choice voting, you end up with candidates behaving more civilly to each other because it matters if you come in second place on people's ballots. You end up providing more choices for the voters and you end up potentially with elected representatives who aren't as polarizing.
Open Primaries is working on winner-take-all primaries that are closed. In my state, we have closed primaries, so if somebody like me who's an independent does not get to vote in our taxpayer funded primary, that's not fair."
“You have people who are working on campaign finance, other people who are working to get ballot access for independent candidates, other people to get access for presidential candidates in debates," he added. "You have a lot of different people doing things in political reform and then you have groups like Unite America supporting the actual candidates running.”
O’Dear described the nonpartisan movement as an effort to address the lack of fair competition in our electoral system caused by the “Political Industrial Complex” and the political duopoly that supports it. He referenced a study by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter, honorary co-chairs of NANR, titled, Why Competition and the Politics Industry is Failing America, funded by the Harvard Business School.
“The analysis they've done looks at politics the same way we look at private industry, and the parallels they've drawn and the observations they've made about the fact that we have a political system that has insulated itself from competition lies at the very core of much of the dysfunction in our political system,” said O'Dear.
The PurpleState Podcast hosts are a father-daughter team, PurpleState co-founders Jim Ragsdale and Marinda Ragsdale. In the interview, they described the political social network and rating system they are developing and asked Craig O’Dear if he thought that creating a platform to submit, rate, review and support policies and candidates outside a political party structure is a winning strategy for electoral reform.
“I do. You know, we have to," he said.
"The way we're going to solve this problem is innovation, and virtually all innovations in recent years come from technology. What you're describing is a system to use technology, to bring people together as a community, to give candidates a platform and a way to connect and then give people a chance to give feedback. I think it's wonderful when you talk about building this kind of community. This is so critical for candidates.”
When asked the same question, Simon replied that “anything we can all do to provide that majority of Americans who are in the middle with some kind of option to vote I think is great. I applaud what you guys are trying to do and I look forward to working with you on it.”
Excerpts from both interviews are found on the premier episode of the PurpleState Podcast, and the full interviews are available in separate episodes. They can also be found on Anchor, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Castbox and on the PurpleState.US website.