Let's Unite America

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Are you, like many Americans, frustrated with your party’s candidates and our country’s partisan drama? Well, I have good news for you. There are an increasing number of politicians running for office as true Independents committed to political reform. There’s a gubernational candidate in Kansas committed to making the state a national leader again, and a businessman running for senator in Maryland who hopes to reform government. One gubernational candidate in Nebraska is being forced to run as a Democrat because of partisan politics while a centrist option in Missouri looks to heal a divided state. These men all have something in common. They want to meet Americans where they are: somewhere in the middle and independent in their thinking.

Recently, Gallup found that 44% of Americans define themselves as Independents. Somehow, though, there only two Independent senators, one Independent governor, and zero Independent congressmen. If Washington is going to truly represent America, there needs to be more Independent representatives.

A few weeks ago, Nick Troiano, the executive director of the Centrist Project (soon to be Unite America), an organization committed to supporting Independent candidates across the country, spoke on The Michael Smerconish Program. When asked why Independent candidates matter so much, he explained, “We’re building a movement to unite the country. The biggest divide in our politics isn’t just between Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservative. It’s between people who want to divide us for their own benefit and those who want to unite us.”

We love the idea of uniting the country and encouraging people to take independent political stances, so we've been interviewing several of these candidates on the website. To highlight their great candidacies, I want to give a quick overview of five candidates who stand out as the leaders our country—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike—would benefit from having.

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Greg Orman: A successful businessman and entrepreneur, Orman began his political career by running for senator as an Independent in 2014. His campaign gathered support from over 70 former Republican officials. At one point, he said that if he caucused with a party, and they “engaged in the same old partisan politics,” he would be willing to switch his alignment.

Now, he’s running for the statehouse so that he can “pick the best and brightest,” regardless of political affiliation. He wants to run Kansas’s government using some of his private sector experience. “The Kansas tax cut experiment,” he said, “is yet another reminder for me of how the public sector could learn from the private sector’s approach to solving problems.” He continued: “In the private sector, you can’t ignore inconvenient facts and expect to stay in business. You can’t dig in your heels and insist you’re right despite all evidence to the contrary. While the tax policy was flawed to begin with, our governor’s real failings were his inability to acknowledge that he’d made a mistake and take action to correct it.”

Ultimately, he believes in Americans' ability to compromise if politicians will allow it: “I believe there is common ground on almost every issue that is being neglected by our government today. Even on the most contentious issues, there is broad consensus about steps that can be taken. Unfortunately, politicians don’t accentuate the things that we share in common. That’s not how you win elections.” He’s out to win as an Independent so that people don’t have to buy partisan talking points to get the policies they want.

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Craig O’Dear: Having grown up on a small farm in Missouri, Craig knows about small-town, rural America. As a lawyer, he’s also gained experience working with big businesses. This combination of life experiences equips him well to overcome the seemingly insurmountable divide between people of different backgrounds.

His advice to voters who are trying to overcome partisan divides? “First, seek to understand. Then, seek to be understood.” He thinks if people are willing to do that work, there is so much that people can agree on and address. In the meantime, he says he’s running as an Independent in order to create change: “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.”

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Bob Krist: Technically, he’s running as a Democrat. But that’s only because Nebraska’s Republican Party created a law requiring an Independent candidate to get 10% of the state’s signatures (over 100,000 people) for that candidate to be on the ballot. So, after spending most of his life as a Republican, he’s now a Democrat.

His decision to run for governor on an independent platform stems from the current leadership in Nebraska’s statehouse. “The Nebraska Unicameral," he explained, "is a unique governing body in America. Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature…put[s] aside partisan party politics for the greater good of our constituents. Unfortunately, the partisan bickering in Washington has spread to our legislature. Our current Republican governor, Pete Ricketts has weakened the cooperative spirit by personally bankrolling challengers to senators who don’t vote right down the line with him.

He sees bipartisan and nonpartisan efforts as having huge potential. He emphasized that "during my years in the Nebraska Unicameral the one common denominator that has brought Republicans, Democrats and Independents together, is fighting for children and the most vulnerable in our society. We were able to put aside our political differences in order to reform our juvenile justice system. These reform measures have resulted in lower rates of recidivism and a reduction of population in our detention facilities by over 50 percent. My colleagues and I are proud to fight for these kids and give them second chances because it was the right thing to do.”

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Nick Thomas: An ally of O’Dear and Orman’s who is running for Congress in Colorado, Thomas is committed to “leading from the middle.” Having traveled across America and the world, he “believes our political institutions are, at their core, set up to capitalize on the diverse communities that make up our national body politic.”

He thinks the parties are the problem. He says that he "thinks the political parties have done the nation an incredible disservice by forcing elected officials to coalesce around a particular agenda in order to receive institutional support. That model unfairly promotes voting behaviors that may run counter to local communities’ best interests. A Democrat in Chicago cannot be the same as a Democrat in New Mexico. Likewise, a Republican in New Jersey is certainly not homogenous in their politics as one in Wyoming.”

The issue he thinks can unite people? Infrastructure. He explained to us: “That said, I think the political parties have done the nation an incredible disservice by forcing elected officials to coalesce around a particular agenda in order to receive institutional support. That model unfairly promotes voting behaviors that may run counter to local communities’ best interests. A Democrat in Chicago cannot be the same as a Democrat in New Mexico. Likewise, a Republican in New Jersey is certainly not homogenous in their politics as one in Wyoming.”

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Neal Simon: Having just announced his campaign for senator in Maryland, Simon is just getting his efforts off the ground. His incredible success as a businessman, however, has him well prepared.

He told us: “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.”

He’s a classic pro-business, socially-liberal candidate – the type of person who can unite centrists everywhere. He said: “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. [But] 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.”

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Each of these candidates brings something to the table our politics desperately needs. So, I hope you’ll support them, or at least think about their message. We could use a little more centrism in our politics.