Neal Simon: Fighting to Moderate the Senate
This week, we had a chance to speak with Neal Simon, an Independent candidate for Maryland Senator. Our conversation covered why the government isn't like a business, how divisiveness has become its own source of conflict, and how Independents could influence the Senate. You’ve been phenomenally successful in business. How do you think that experience has prepared you for serving the American people? Is there an idea you think you’ll bring from the private sector that will be particularly helpful in helping the government run more effectively?
During my career, I have run five professional services companies. At each of my companies, I have been surrounded by smart, energetic people with a diverse set of opinions. My style has never been command-and-control, but rather to treat everyone around me as my equal. My role has always been to bring people together, to get people to communicate and collaborate, to form as much consensus as possible, and to make decisions based upon facts.
There is no reason why the U.S. Senate can’t operate the same way. But, it doesn’t, primarily because the members are playing partisan games, trying to win the news cycle or defeat their opponent, rather than come together and do what’s best for the American people. They’ve lost sight of why they were sent there. The reality is that Senators work in Washington about four days a week, they rarely socialize outside their own parties, they distrust one another and are always looking for ways to one-up the other party. That’s not a recipe for getting things done or addressing the real issues that people care about.
You’ve said that the government is an “entity where with a very small number of independent moderates, you can make a difference.” What does that difference look like to you?
If we had a small group of moderate independents in the U.S. Senate, which is virtually split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats, neither party would have the votes to pass major legislation without the support of the non-partisan members. That gives the non-partisan members incredible leverage to move the two parties away from their extremes on issues, and toward a more balanced, centrist position, which is exactly where most Americans are.
A small group of moderates could also propose legislation from the middle. Consider the recent tax bill, which initially had tremendous promise. Most of us agreed we needed to lower corporate tax rates and offer the working class permanent tax savings. But we did not need to add nearly $2 trillion to the debt and hurt high-tax states with the limitation on the SALT deductions. Imagine if a group of moderates had proposed an alternative that kept the good parts and offered a few changes. Without a party label attached to the proposal, it would have a much better chance of getting done.
Beyond the obvious desire to shake up Washington, why run as an Independent? Can you tell us an issue where you might seem like a Republican and another you might seem like a Democrat?
Being a moderate independent is first and foremost about a mindset. It’s about putting people over politics. It’s about putting the interests of the country ahead of the interests of any political party.
As far as specific issues, I probably seem like more of a Republican on business issues. I have run five companies, and I believe deeply in the power of the private sector to create jobs for many Americans. If someone has a good job, they have an income, they have health care coverage and they have a sense of purpose. At times, it seems the Democrats have developed a disdain for corporate America.
On most social issues, I probably seem more like a Democrat. For example, I believe that the Dreamers should have a path to citizenship. I support gay marriage. And I believe women should have access to safe and legal abortion.
What issue do you think is most divisive in our country right now? What do you think is the pathway to finding middle ground on it?
Immigration might be the most divisive issue at the current moment, but it really does not need to be. The two parties have painted the issue in black-and-white terms, with the Democrats opposing any addition to border security and the Republicans opposing any effort to provide a path to citizenship for the Dreamers. It’s a situation where a compromise is obvious to everyone except the partisans on Capitol Hill. Imagine if a group of moderates proposed the compromise that included a path to citizenship for the Dreamers plus additional funding for border security.
Imagine you’ve just been sworn in as the country’s third sitting Independent senator. What’s the first thing you go about doing?
One of the first things I would do is to make a concerted effort to develop a trusting relationship with each of my 99 new Senate colleagues. I would invite each of the other Senators for dinner in small groups at my home. We need to change the culture in the Senate. We need to develop trust, to communicate and to collaborate. This starts with personal relationships.