Government gridlock. Democrats force through Obamacare without Republican votes. A small number of Senate Republicans design Trumpcare in closed meetings that even exclude the majority of Republicans. The majority Party alone controls which bills will be considered and who will be allowed to testify in hearings. Ask a Congressman or Senator about an issue they have not yet studied and their answer will likely be: “Whatever the opposing party is for, I’m a’gin it.”
About the only time open discussion and debate occurs is when a few Congressmen or Senators break rank. Independent-thinking mavericks who refuse to be whipped-into-line by the Party are about the only factor that forces some open discussion.
The two major parties currently control politics in this country—over 95 percent of state and federal political offices in the United States. While locally-known independent candidates can get elected in city and county elections, it has been very difficult for an independent candidate to win at the state and national level. Among the 100 U.S. Senators, there are only two independents.
So consider how American politics could be improved at the state and national level by having more independent candidates. If neither major Party had a majority, then they would have to talk to each other.
While hyper-partisanship has reached new heights, many Americans have been fed up with the threat of government shutdown and general inability to get anything done for these last decades.
In 2014, a new phenomena appeared on the political scene: the Independent with substantial support. Eleven major elections across the country had independent candidates who actually had a chance to win, unlike prior third-party candidates who only drew single-digit support. Kansas was one of those battlegrounds, with Independent Greg Orman opposing Senator Pat Roberts. While Orman lost, he did pull in 42.5 percent of the vote. Independent candidates could solve the “Party problem.”
Those problems of toe-the-Party-line politics are described by former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards in his book “The Parties versus The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans” published in 2012. Edwards explains how continuing to work in a polarizing two-Party system will not solve the problems of a majority-centrist country.
As an insider, Edwards clearly knows and shows how our two-Party system limits our ballot choices, causes polarization, and prevents candidates from representing their local constituencies.
Edwards goes beyond listing the deficiencies to proposing solutions. In non-party-based primary elections, any candidate who can secure the required number of signatures gets to run on a single primary ballot. Then the top two run against each other, even if from the same party. This system, called a “jungle primary” by the Parties, is already in place in Louisiana, Washington State and California.
His second proposal is to take away Parties’ control over redistricting, the gerrymandering that allows the controlling Party to draw maps that minimize the effect of opposition voting at the state level. Wisconsin gerrymandering is currently being examined by the U.S. Supreme Court today.
A third revision is to reduce spending and increase competition. If candidates are to represent their constituents, then contributions should only come from their constituencies. Instead, huge amounts of money from outside entities pour into a local district to promote a candidate, making the winning candidate indebted to big-money outside his or her district. In an age of super-PACS and the Citizens United decision, this remains unsolvable. But this money stream poisons the democratic system.
Why would I address party politics in an education column? While Kansas was the second state to lose teacher tenure (due to the far right), California was the third (due to the far left, overturned by their court, but with similar efforts underway on the East Coast). And neither Party has worked to restore teacher professionalism. Simply, teachers often have no one to vote for.
There are more than two sides to many questions, but not when you only have two parties.
Perhaps it is time to send to Topeka and Washington those who can exercise independent political judgement. Perhaps in the model of Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”