Friday, November 16, 2012

A Sample Letter

I often emphasize the importance of calling, emailing, and sending letters to your local and state representatives. I understand that writing to these public figures can be a bit intimidating. I'm empathetic to those who feel they will just be ignored. In reality, sometimes they will scoff and sometimes we will be disregarded. However, these people want to be reelected. They feel like they are doing a service to the people of their district and the people of the country. Maybe they just want to keep their jobs. But no one wants to lose an election and when we contact our public officials we act as a reminder to them that they are being held accountable for their actions and that we have views and concerns that need to be represented. Your messages matter.

To get you started, I've written a sample letter to guide you. By no means should you change your own opinions to fit what I've written. This is simply an example of a letter I wrote to a Governor last week. I encourage you to voice your individual concerns in your letter or email.

Governor _________,

To preface my message, I would like to first thank you for your service and dedication to the people of your state. I am confident that you have a strong devotion to the people of this state and I know you are doing your best to represent them as best you can. I have several concerns that I wish to raise about our election system and about the partisan nature of our government.

I feel that the people of this state are being slighted by your affiliation with a party. I don't believe you ever intended for this to happen but it is an unfortunate side effect of a partisan system. Your job as Governor is to protect, defend, and support the people of your state. If you endorse a party, and the party happens to have views that do not correspond with your constituents, which alliance will you uphold? Although this may happen rarely, I believe that ever having to put party alliance in front of your electorate is negligent and completely avoidable.

For the reason listed above, I would like to support you as an Independent representative rather than as a party member. I think you will better be able to represent your constituency and gain voter support in the process. I would be happy to further discuss these ideas with you in further detail at your convenience. My contact information is:

Name
City, State
Phone
Email

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Sincerely,

Name

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Who Are They?

Who are the existing Independent reps? The list is short and demographically homogeneous but this does not have to be the case nor will it be if our movement is successful. Most of the current representatives caucus with the Democratic Party and reside in the New England area. What is the most important thing they have in common? They have some of the highest voter satisfaction rates of any politicians. They vote as their constituents demand. They are free to have unique ideas without following the party programs. Let's start the introductions:

Senators
Joe Lieberman - Connecticut
Bernie Sanders - Vermont
Angus King - Maine

Representatives
Unfortunately there are no Independent House of Representative members

Governors
Lincoln Chafee - Rhode Island

Let me do the math for you. That's 4 out of a possible 585 seats. That is about .68% of our representatives in the federal government. According to several polls conducted by CNN during the election season, approximately 30% of Americans self-identify as Independents. That is a terrible misrepresentation of the voting populace and shows the partisan nature of our political system is directly silencing the voices of Americans. Even if our current political leaders do a good job of standing up for the views of their constituents, they still must support their party's agenda or face backlash.

We need politicians to abandon their endorsements and represent their people, not a party.

The Illusion of Choice

Tonight I would like to delve a little deeper into the choices presented by our political leaders and their respective parties. The media portrays the two dominant political parties in this nation as dueling foes, each representing half the country valiantly against their devious opponent. They are polar opposites: Good versus Evil, Truth versus Lies, Life versus Death. Yet, even with such diametric options, the majority of Americans sympathize with one or the other. Are we really a nation composed of two dissimilar types of people with an ever growing chasm between our views? I think not, but the evolution of our parties to represent this bisection is not a difficult transition to logically follow.

Following the emergence of the Republican Party to oppose the already existing Democratic Party in 1854, American politics changed forever. The new party was a coalition of anti-slavery activists in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Act would expand slavery to include the two new territories and, while popular among the southern states, was widely opposed in the north. With such explosive beginnings it should come as little surprise that the two parties have proverbially "butt heads" for over 150 years. The real division of the parties stems from a need to control the House of Representatives and/or the Senate to pass legislation. By garnering the support of as many legislators as possible, congressmen ensure that the bills they attempt to pass have improved odds. The result is a collective with the epitome of a "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mentality.

It is clear that under this system, the wishes of the voters quickly lose power. When a politician wants a bill to pass, he or she must ensure that they have the support of their party. To achieve this goal, they must support the legislation proposed by fellow party members regardless of constituent concerns and desires. Opponents to the bill must rally support on their own side, ensuring nay votes in exchange for support or opposition of legislation in the future. The end result is a stagnant congress with animosity brewing on both sides of the aisle.

A deadlocked congress is obviously detrimental to our country but to exacerbate the problem, policy is becoming more and more polarized. With each new bill, legislators must differentiate their policy from that which they just voted down. The new legislation is written to reflect the opposite values held by their respective party, once again ignoring the wishes of their constituency. Reason and logical are replaced by partisanship for sake of support from fellow party members.

When election season comes to pass, radicalism again pervades the proceedings. Republicans face off against Democrats, each taking polar opposite positions an each issue so as not to be portrayed as concessionary or a "flip-flopper". Any history of crossing the aisle is condemned and vilified. The result is a devastating blow to voter representation in public office. We are forced to choose between to officials on antipodal sides of a widening ravine in policy. Only the most radical voters are truly represented and the majority is left abandoned in the middle, forced to vote for poor representation or none at all. The disconnect is startling and neither side appears willing to step towards the middle.

So what are we left with? A choice between two radically different principles represented by two radically different people? Not even so much as that. When the best option is to choose against a candidate rather than for one, the system is broken beyond repair. The solution is complete reform, away from two homogeneous parties and toward one heterogeneous whole. When each policy can be debated on its merits and voted on in accordance with voter inclination we will have made dramatic progress. A congressional approval rating of under 10 percent (as low as 6 percent in one Gallup poll) is very telling. The majority is not being represented, the minority is not being protected, and YOU are being ignored. Tell your representatives you're tired of it. Demand a change.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Do We Start?

How do we start? The task ahead certainly seems daunting. Well over 99% of the public officials in our country identify as Republican or Democrat and few of these people would even entertain the notion of running as an Independent. So how do we shift the mindset? What is the proverbial push to get things moving? I believe it starts with the small things; primarily, reducing or eliminating the benefits to running as a party affiliate.

One of the first and most immediately attainable goals on our list should be to remove the option of voting a straight ticket in the states where doing so is an option. This list is as follows: Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Where is the benefit to an individual considering an Independent status when his or her opponent will collect votes from voters who not only are uneducated on the issues, but have never even seen the candidate's name? It is a travesty that such an option still exists in a country that claims to want bipartisanship and cooperation. Straight ticket voting encourages divisiveness and uninformed voting.

To truly eliminate straight ticket voting, our next objective should focus on removing party affiliation from accompanying candidate names on the ballots. Even without a "vote straight ticket" bubble, voters can scan down the ballot and select only those candidates who are endorsed by their respective party. The majority of states have party affiliation listed next to candidates on the general election ballot. Such blatant partisanship should offend anyone who wants a free-thinking and educated electorate. How can policy be based on fact and reason when our politicians are more worried about differentiating their positions from the opposition? The result is an inefficient and polarized electorate.

The next step toward Independent predominance is the most obvious: encouraging and rewarding local officials for running as Independents. The basis of change is a strong foundation. Whether it be a city mayor, district representative, or county commissioner, it is important to build a pool of qualified Independent candidates to have a realistic opportunity at making any significant change. As I've mentioned previously, this movement is not about replacing the existing people in office. It is about the existing people in office replacing their party and developing support for new candidates who wish to run as Independents.

Another change I believe would improve the representation of constituents in this country is the breakdown of state electoral votes into districts. This model has already been adopted by the states of Nebraska and Maine and has already shown that constituents are better represented this way. In the 2008 election, Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District voted for then-Senator Barack Obama despite John McCain having carried the state by 15%. McCain received 4 electoral votes while Obama received 1. The constituents of the 2nd Congressional District were certainly better represented by this method.

In all, there are many ways in which we can encourage and develop real change for better representation of voters in this country but it all starts with calling, emailing, and sending letters to your local, state, and federal representatives. No matter your personal beliefs, values, or interests, a representative that is not beholden to a political party is better able to represent those who vote him/her into office. The solution to partisan gridlock and inefficiency is not moderation or collecting majority, it is dissolution of the parties themselves.