Craig O'Dear: Fighting to End Partisan Warfare
By James Piltch | January 25, 2018 We had a chance to sit down with Craig O’Dear, a highly recognized business trial lawyer from Kansas City who is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in Missouri as an Independent. He is part of a national movement to end the partisan warfare and gridlock in Washington. Our conversation covered partisan politics and finding common ground in a divided America.
Craig, in such a polarized moment, why run as an Independent?
The polarization is actually THE reason to run as an Independent. Our two-party system no longer serves the people. It delivers division and gridlock—witness the recent government shutdown—instead of reasonable and practical solutions. Our Founding Father, George Washington, expressed his concern that hyper-partisanship might eventually overwhelm the best interests of the Union. This campaign would be an historic undertaking at a critical moment in our history. We must restore the U.S. Senate to what it once was, which is the world’s greatest deliberative body. To accomplish that, we must rebuild a political center. And in today’s environment, there is only one way to do that—elect senate candidates who will listen and speak thoughtfully and act independently, free of control of party leadership and their corporate funders.
On your website you mention the importance of health care for our economy to thrive. Obviously, Obamacare has been a huge source of tension in Congress. What ideas from both sides do you think we need use in order to fix our healthcare system?
Health care is an issue where both sides have failed us. For years, we have been hearing noise out of Washington. They tell us this noise is about health care, and they spar back and forth about whether to call it the ACA or Obamacare. But this isn’t even a discussion about health care. This is a discussion about health insurance. The underlying issue is health care, and it gets ignored because it is a complex issue. We spend twice as much per capita on health care in this country, and we achieve outcomes that are no better than several other countries. We have a business model issue in health care, and our elected leaders from across the spectrum need to come together with a commitment to use our vast knowledge of science and technology and our extraordinary ability to innovate, to start moving us to a better place on health care. It is a process that will take years to achieve. And we cannot afford to keep wasting years yelling at each other about labels and slogans.
What do you think the 45% of Americans who told Gallup recently that they are Independents are not getting from the Republican and Democratic Party? And what about people in the heartland more broadly?
Most Americans lie somewhere in the broad middle ground of the political spectrum, whether it be center-right or center-left. These 45% of Americans—and I think the percentage is actually higher—are tired of the hyper-partisan warfare. They don’t identify with the divisive rhetoric. The people I am meeting with on my listening tour throughout Missouri are looking for something different. They want Independent leaders that lead us away from partisan warfare and government shutdowns, and toward consensus-building and competent government.
You've stated in your principles, "We put our country above party and the public interest ahead of any special interest." Why do you think so many politicians have seemingly abandoned that mentality?
We have too many elected leaders who have never had meaningful careers outside of elective political positions. And this results in too many politicians who are afraid of losing their re-election bid. They have set themselves apart from ordinary Americans with perks, benefits and pensions unattainable to most Americans. They are beholden to their party and special interest groups because if they break from the party rank and file, they risk being targeted by their party in the next election. Recently, a sitting U.S. Senator announced he would not run for re-election because, for the remainder of his term, he wanted to be free to speak thoughtfully and act independently. If we can persuade the people of Missouri to elect an Independent to represent them in the senate, it would be our obligation to speak thoughtfully and act independently, and we would report to no one except the people of Missouri.
Imagine you're sitting in a room with a stereotypical Trump voter and a stereotypical Clinton voter. What subject do you bring up to help them find common ground?
Before I brought up a topic, I would suggest an approach that has served me well in my professional and personal life. It is one of the Seven Habits—“First, seek to understand. Then, seek to be understood.” Most Missourians are reasonable people. Missouri is a place where common sense still matters. My experiences talking to voters have persuaded me that we can find common ground on nearly every issue. To get there, however, we need innovation in our political system. We need a third influence—a group of elected leaders who are Independent of the current system, which employs a business model that thrives on division and gridlock, and tries to exclude the competition from Independent candidates that would set the stage for a better future. It is this dire need that has persuaded me and our family to consider devoting a year of our lives to this undertaking.