2019 Anti-Corruption Awards Honors Three Political Disrupters
2019 Anti-Corruption Award Honorees
Katie Fahey is a Michigan-based activist and an independent.
As the Founder and Executive Director of the grassroots, nonpartisan campaign Voters Not Politicians, Fahey ignited a political movement in 2016 that took on gerrymandering in Michigan by amending the State Constitution via an initiative with 61 percent of the vote in 2018.
Fahey graduated from Aquinas College in 2011 with degrees in Sustainable Business and Community Leadership. She began her career with the grocery chain SpartanNash, creating their first sustainability program. Before that, she worked for Michigan Recycling Coalition.
Fahey is currently the Executive Director of The People, a nonprofit that aims to unite citizens from across the country and across the political spectrum in altering the status quo.
Katie lives in East Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Watch Katie's acceptance speech here.
Adrian Fontes is an Arizona native, born and raised on the border in Nogales. The Recorder for Maricopa County, Arizona, he is responsible for administering elections in the fourth largest county in the country. After witnessing the mismanagement of the 2016 Presidential Preference Election in that county, he decided to run for this office and was elected in 2018.
After serving in the Marine Corps, Fontes pursued his undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona and earned a law degree at the University of Denver. Since graduating from law school, Adrian has spent his career advocating for justice and fighting for those who are disadvantaged — first as a prosecutor with the Denver District Attorney and then for the Maricopa County Attorney’s office and the Arizona Attorney General’s office. With the Arizona AG, he headed the Foreign Prosecution Unit in the Fraud and PublicCorruption Section. Fontes left government service for private practice.
As County Recorder, he has worked to bring renewed energy and vision to the office, with the goal of rebuilding public trust in the county’s election system. Fontes has been an outspoken advocate for independent voters in Arizona, leading the effort to urge the Democratic Party to open its presidential preference election to the 1.27 million independents in the state.
Adrian Fontes lives in Phoenix with his wife Mona and their three daughters. He is an avid musician, college football fan and supporter of his community.
Watch Adrian's acceptance speech here.
Jane Kleeb is the State Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, and the Founder and President of Bold Nebraska. Kleeb is an experienced grassroots organizer and political strategist. Early in her career, she became the Executive Director of the Young Democrats of America in Washington, DC.
In 2010, Kleeb founded Bold Nebraska with the aim of refocusing her state’s political agenda and reconnecting the people and the issues that matter to them to the political process. The organization quickly found itself on the front lines in the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, with Kleeb at the helm. She brought together ranchers and farmers, climate activists, and tribal leaders in a coalition that has succeeded in stopping the pipeline.
Formerly an elected member of the Hastings School Board, Kleeb has been an outspoken advocate for the inclusion of independents in the democratic process, urging that “…the Democratic Party benefits by the inclusion of independent voters.” Currently, Kleeb is expanding Bold Nebraska into the Bold Alliance, an alliance of organizations based in rural states aiming to protect the environment and tackle climate change, while also serving as Treasurer on the board of Our Revolution.
Kleeb lives in Hastings, Nebraska with her husband and their three daughters. She has just completed a book, Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America, which will be released in January of 2020.
Watch Jane's acceptance speech here.
The 19th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards
Independent Voting’s Annual Anti-Corruption Awards was held in New York City on Friday, October 25, in lower Manhattan. Over one hundred guests attended the event established 19 years ago to shine a spotlight on leaders in civic and political life who challenge the status quo and fight for systemic change. This year’s event honored Jane Kleeb, Katie Fahey and Adrian Fontes.
The evening’s hosts included: Jenn Bullock, founder of Independent Pennsylvanians; Steve Hough, director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries; Dr. Jessie Fields, national board member of Independent Voting (IV); and Cathy Stewart, IV’s VP for National Development, opening the program with a welcome and acknowledgements of notable guests, among them: Michael Hardy, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel to the National Action Network; Lois Holzman, the Director of the East Side Institute; Jim Jonas, the Executive Director of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers; Harry Kresky, the General Counsel for Independent Voting; Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, the President of the Coalition for a New Chicago; and John Opdycke, the President of Open Primaries.
Dr. Lenora Fulani, honored at last year’s ceremony on the 30th anniversary of her history-making independent presidential campaign, delivered an update on the fight to protect NYC's public housing from privatization.
“When I ran for president as an independent 30 years ago,” said Fulani. “I was honored to become the first woman and first African American to get on the ballot of all 50 states and honored that my campaign initiated many important legal fights along the way. But what I was most honored to do was to fight on behalf of ordinary Americans who didn’t have a voice and who have been left out of the process and abandoned.” The attack on NYC public housing means that hundreds of thousands of families are living under the threat of displacement.
The hosts—all of them cabinet members of Independent Voting’s “Eyes on 2020” campaign—gave spirited reports on the body’s recent accomplishments. In January the cabinet began to raise a simple but historic voting rights question: Will independents be given the same voting rights as all other voters in the 2020 presidential campaign? Three years ago, in 2016, 26 million independents were locked out of the presidential primaries. In 2020, that number could be as high as 30 million.
“Could the Democratic and Republican parties simply decide to open up the presidential primaries to indies in 2020?” asked Dr. Fields. “Yes, they could. They have the power to make that change. Will they? That is the question that the Eyes on 2020 campaign has been asking across the country.” The hosts reported on highlights interspersed with media clips starting off with Florida where 3.6 million independents – 27% of the electorate - reside.
Voters in Florida have been demonstrating a strong desire for reform. In 2018, they passed an initiative to secure the automatic restoration of voting rights for people formerly incarcerated as felons with 65 percent of the vote. Also, independents came out from all across the state - as shown in this media clip - to tell the Florida Constitution Revision Commission they wanted the right to vote in party primaries.
Steve Hough: Founder, Florida Fair and Open Primaries
Though the Florida Constitution Revision Commission disagreed, Steve Hough’s grassroots organization set out to gather the 766,000 signatures on an initiative petition for nonpartisan elections—a tall order for a grassroots committee with no funding. With the support and guidance from Open Primaries, a Florida billionaire eventually stepped up to the plate and took up the cause that Steve’s group had given birth to. To date, they’ve collected over one million signatures to put a measure for nonpartisan Top Two state primaries on the ballot for November 2020. Not surprisingly in the last several weeks, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Florida both asked the court to throw the measure off the ballot.
On the 2020 presidential primary front, Hough reported on how deeply the partisan resistance to the rights of independents runs. After several Democratic leaders succeeded in getting four county Democratic Party Executive Committees to adopt a resolution to open the Florida Democratic Party primaries, including the presidential, the state party leaders took the resolution behind closed doors, rewrote it to be about registration, not voting rights, then further buried it as one phrase in an omnibus resolution that also condemned top two nonpartisan elections. The fight goes on, as Steve explained, He saluted the leaders inside the Democratic party who stood up and spoke out for a fair process. One of those, Dr. Jeffrey Solomon who spearheaded the effort to pass an open primary resolution in the Florida DP, resigned from the Party and became an independent.
The program turned to Arizona where 33% of all voters and forty-one percent of Latinos are independents.
Cathy Stewart, VP for National Development, Independent Voting
Independent Voting has been in the trenches for the last decade in Arizona, pushing the political power of independent voters. In 2017, Independent Voting persuaded the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University to do a research study on the cultural impact of independent voters, the subject of a local PBS show Arizona Horizon segment with Independent Voting President Jackie Salit and then Morrison Institute Director Thom Reilly.
In Arizona, there are open primaries for every single election except for one, the presidential primary, where independents are barred. (The Republican Party cancelled their presidential primary for 2020). Last spring, Tim Castro, a leader with Independent Voters for Arizona, and Cathy Stewart met with Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. The Recorder administers the elections, and Maricopa County is the largest in Arizona—the fourth largest county in the U.S. Adrian was elected in 2018 in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential primary debacle when thousands of voters stood on lines for hours because there were too few polling sites, and tens of thousands of independents were turned away. Adrian immediately took up independent voters’ cause and campaigned for the Democratic Party to pass a resolution at their September State Committee meeting to open their presidential primary.
Independent Voting turned up the heat on the Democratic Party with a hard hitting social media spot that drew attention to the issue and triggered a broad response, with 42,000 people watching the video on-line. One of IV’s Arizona donors saw it and liked it so much she funded a cable TV buy to broadcast it in metro Phoenix. Independent Voting pushed the social media campaign and got the press engaged in the story. They also sent volunteers to campuses in Tucson and Phoenix to speak with students and get their support. All the while, Adrian Fontes led the fight inside the Democratic Party, writing an oped, drafting the emergency resolution, and lobbying legislative district leaders. Fontes and Independent Voting’s Cathy Stewart were guests on PBS’ Arizona Horizon just 36 hours before the Democratic Party State Committee meeting.
The emergency resolution came before the plenary session of the Democratic Party state committee meeting and an intense floor fight ensued. The young leaders on the state committee, including many people of color, fought passionately on behalf of the resolution, demanding the party open the primary to independents. A reporter from Arizona Republic livestreamed the floor fight.
When the ballots were counted, the emergency resolution failed. The next day, the state’s leading political columnist wrote this headline, “Arizona Democrats claim to be the party of inclusion. Just not when it comes to opening their presidential primary to those all-important independent voters.”
You would think that some Democratic and Republican chairs would be smart enough to open their primaries to independents….and some are. One of them was an honoree at the event, Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
Jane is a prairie populist, best known for her work building a cross-ideological coalition to defeat the Keystone pipeline. Jane was a champion for the inclusion of independents in the 2020 presidential primary and, under her leadership, her state party created a binding open presidential primary, in which independents are welcome. At the request of our Eyes on 2020 team, Jane went beyond Nebraska and lobbied fellow Democratic party leaders in other states to open their primaries. Jane was unable to leave Nebraska to be at the Anti-Corruption Awards in NYC, so she delivered her acceptance speech by video .
The program then turned from Nebraska to Pennsylvania where the desire for democracy reform is winning supporters inside both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
Figure 1: Jenn Bullock (in Green) with members of Independent Pennsylvanians and Sue Davies (far right) of New Jersey Independents
Independent Pennsylvanians founder Jenn Bullock explained that they are part of a coalition of a mash-up of reform organizations—including the prestigious 100-year-old “Committee of 70”—that champion the cause. Now there’s a bill and a line of leaders from both parties on independents’ side, including two former party chairs. The Scarnati bill for open primaries passed the Senate by a vote of 42 to 8 and Independent Pennsylvanians is now turning their attention to the Assembly side.
Dr. Fields, who grew up in Philadelphia’s black community, spoke about her efforts to partner with Bullock and Independent Pennsylvanians to bring this fight into Philly’s black community. “All of this legislative action,” explained Fields, “comes directly from organizing at the grassroots—organizing regular folks who are fed up with the ways that the system is rigged against us.”
No one knows that story better than ACA’s second honoree, Katie Fahey.
Figure 2: Katie Fahey with Steve Hough and Dr. Jessie Fields
Katie was the founder and Executive Director of Voters Not Politicians, the organization that passed a nonpartisan people-driven redistricting reform proposal in Michigan in 2018. The Voters Not Politicians initiative passed with 61% of the vote. And, as in Florida where the foes of democracy always try to restrict the will of the voters, the Michigan measure is under attack, this time by the Michigan Republican Party which has filed a lawsuit to strike down the commission. The parties do not relinquish their power easily!
Katie is now the Executive Director of The People, a national nonprofit that aims to unite citizens from across the country and across the political spectrum in shaking up the status quo. Katie is a true independent, and her work has been an inspiration to new and veteran activists alike. As she announced in her acceptance remarks, for the first time, Michigan Citizens can apply to serve on the commission and begin the process of designing how they will draw district lines.
Hosts then brought to the stage the “poet laureate of the independent movement,” Alvaader Frazier who delivered a poem written for the event entitled “Mercy, Democracy, Mercy.”
MERCY, DEMOCRACY, MERCY
By Alvaader Frazier
lest we forget_
Queen Isabella’s bloody
to get paid!
mercy democracy mercy_
let’s fight on_
for our constitution...
mercy democracy mercy!
victors to the spoils...
third rail vote...
Let’s fight on_
for our constitution
let’s fight on_
for our constitution_
Independent Voting President Jackie Salit spoke next and reflected on the recent attacks by Hillary Clinton on Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein, tracing the Clinton pattern of attacking women of color at political moments when their independence threatens the party establishment.
Jackie Salit: President, Independent Voting
The Eyes on 2020 Cabinet was acknowledged next. Cathy Stewart introduced the group as having been formed to address one of the most significant and under acknowledged voter suppression issues in the country today—the exclusion of close to 26 million independents from casting a ballot in the presidential primaries. “It is a tough task, a critical task,” said Stewart “that is about inserting the voice of independents into every corner of our democracy, insisting that we be respected and recognized. The Eyes on 2020 Cabinet is a diverse group of leaders who rolled up their sleeves, designed campaigns, wrote letters, did press interviews, tracked down candidates and party leaders, gathered signatures and postcards, and did not stop when they heard “no.”
The final honoree for the evening was Adrian Fontes. “At every juncture,” said Stewart in introducing him “when others might have said, I need to cool it, Adrian kept pressing forward, saying that the bottom line was this is the right thing to do. So we are proud to be partners with this very important leader, a former Marine who grew up in the border town of Nogales and who is breaking down barriers wherever he goes.”
Adrian Fontes with Cathy Stewart