Washington D.C. – If the five Independent political candidates gathered at the National Press Club yesterday were the beginning of a political revolution, it had to have been the most respectful one in a long time. These men and women’s calls for reason, compromise, and open-mindedness in the nation’s capital stood in stark contrast to much of the insult-driven tweeting and dialogue that defines Washington these days.
Hosted by Unite America, the event served two purposes. The organization was re-launching as Unite America after being the Centrist Project since 2014, and it wanted to host the first national gathering of Independent candidates from across country. The five candidates gathered yesterday come from five states and a variety of backgrounds. There’s Bill Walker, already the Independent Alaska Governor, who liked one of his Democrat competitors for governor so much that the Democrat ended up running in a team ticket with Walker to be the governor’s lieutenant governor. Greg Orman and Terry Hayes aren’t new to independent politics either. Orman ran for the Senate in Kansas as an Independent and came close to winning, while Hayes is the first Independent state treasurer in Maine. The political newcomers, Neal Simon (a successful businessman) and Craig O’Dear (an accomplished lawyer), are running for the Senate in Maryland and Missouri, respectively.
The candidates, along with Unite America’s Executive Director Nick Troiano, made it clear that these men and this woman aren’t running on a particular platform. Rather, Troiano says they’re united by a certain set of ideals. He explained, “We believe leaders who campaign and govern independent of any political faction or special interest are uniquely able to serve out [Unite America’s] principles.” Those principles are laid out in the organization’s “Declaration of Independents.” They are placing public interest over partisan or special interest; using common sense and finding common ground to solve problems; standing for opportunity, equality, and stewardship; championing competition, transparency, and accountability; and a shared responsibility of civic engagement.
Though the movement officially began today, the leaders in the room had already started to think about the long-term goals of the organization. Unite America’s change in name doesn’t reflect a new mission, but it does reflect some new practices. The organization wants to give Independents the type of support, volunteer network, and donor access the parties provide. Jon Ward of Yahoo! News asked whether that political infrastructure might lead to a third party. Troiano said it wouldn’t, because he wants truly independent people to run for and hold office.
Instead, Unite America and its supporters hope to force the parties to compromise and moderate. Simon, the candidate from Maryland, offered an ideal outcome for the Independent movement. He said during his speech, “Imagine a Senate with 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and two moderate independents. Both parties would need the votes of those two independents to get anything passed. That would give us enormous leverage to pull the two parties away from the extremes, move them toward the center, and get real results for the American people.” Troiano described this goal as the “Fulcrum Strategy” – controlling the space between the two parties and forcing them to pivot as needed.
When asked, the candidates emphasized that most Americans want genuine compromise on political issues. Walker said he’s seen firsthand that most people agree on the majority of “human issues.” From kids being safe in school to wanting better, cheaper healthcare, he said, people want to find common ground. Orman and O’Dear made it clear that it’s politicians and special interests don’t Americans want compromise.
These candidates might just be running at the right time. More than at any point in recent history, the country appears to be sick of the same old Washington. As of January 2018, Gallup reported that only 20% of Americans now approve of Congress. Things have gotten so bad that 25% of Americans said in 2017 Gallup survey that “dissatisfaction with government” is the single biggest issue in the country, the highest percentage given to any one issue.
To Unite America’s benefit, the two parties might just be the source of people’s growing frustration. Gallup recently found that 44% of Americans are now Independents, a higher number than are either registered Democrats or Republicans. In fact, Gallup’s polls show that 61% of Americans now say, “The two parties both do such a poor job [of representing the American people] that a third major party is needed.”
While these candidates might not offer a third party, they do offer a third way for voters to influence the political system. After the event, Simon pointed out to me just how skewed the system has become. During the recent tax reform vote, he said, “There were 11 states with senators from both parties. For all 11, each senator voted with his or her party. It’s hard that they all had the best interest of their state in mind.”
Revolutions normally take time and massive coordination. Unite America’s revolution won’t take much, though. All it needs is enough people to vote for two or three candidates with an “I” next to their name.