I’m fighting with UNITE NY because the baseline question for selecting those who represent us has changed. Engaged voters used to ask, “Is this candidate qualified?” and “Is this someone I can trust to be my voice?” Those questions now are secondary to, “Is he or she a “good” Democrat or a “good” Republican?”
Not that long ago, if a politician voted with his or her party’s leadership 80% of the time, they were considered “solid.” Now, any person who votes with the party less than 95 percent of the time has their “loyalty” questioned. The “party line” has grown narrower, more judgmental, and less forgiving. Critical thinking is exercised at political peril.
I’m also fighting to Unite New York because the climate has grown unnecessarily combative and caustic. While you often hear candidates claim, “I’m a fighter”, I want my political officials to appreciate when it’s necessary to fight and when it is better to wrestle.
Fighting should be reserved for fundamental principles, not party talking points. Executive leadership and legislative negotiation should be grounded more in the art of wrestling, sometimes line-by-line, over policy and programmatic detail. But that’s hard and sometimes tedious work; so today, we have a growing number from both major parties, who opt for the easier route of attack and grand-standing: This practice captures headlines but offers little substance. The messages used are too often shaped, managed and fueled by a handful of “influencers” who appear more focused on the factors of power than reason.
Politics is public service: And in a representative democracy, it is not likely to be easy. We must demand that our representatives do their research, thinking through the issues and evaluating the options. Unfortunately, such a person these days is too often considered a maverick, straying from those talking points that a small group of party elite has carefully crafted to appeal to their target audience.
This all drives an electoral process where party leaders and influencers encourage and support only the most loyal in their bids for office. Middle of the road voters no longer “identify with” the candidates selected by the major parties, but they are offered no alternative. Therefore, voters are staying away from the polls in increasing numbers. This disengagement results in an increasingly “low-information and polarized” electorate.
In New York there are 3.5 million registered voters who are not enrolled in any party. Those who are characterized as “Unaffiliated” are the second largest potential voting bloc in the state and their ranks are growing. The lack of affiliation, to the point of outright alienation is particularly noticeable among the younger voters. Their rejection of party dogma has resulted in their being left out of the decision-making process. For example, New York just finished a notoriously gerrymandered “bi-partisan” redistricting process that essentially ignored these 3.5 million voices. Do we really think the process, or the resulting boundaries would have been as skewed had we not excluded as many people as live in the state of Connecticut?
The system currently works just fine for those who are in control of it. That is how we have Congress with a 10-15 percent approval rate and a 90-percent re-election rate. The average voter simply doesn’t have the time, resources, access or influence to ensure a representative government. Gerrymandering has made the low-turn-out primary the real contest: Purple districts are largely a thing of the past. Nearly every “loyal” candidate of the majority party who wins the primary, has a virtual lock on the November election.
To change all this, we need to need to increase the people’s access to the process. Step away from this “tyranny of the minority” where a select few operatives determine the field of candidates from which we must pick. Give “the power of choice and influence” back to the individual voter. Voter empowerment and representation come from reforms like open primaries where the voices of those 3.5 million can still be heard. We need to reduce those obstacles specifically designed to prohibit ballot access. And we need to encourage problem-solvers, not party followers to get involved.
I’m working with UNITE NY to facilitate access to our electoral process; To encourage the engagement of both our voters and our potential leaders. I know we can do it, and I hope you’ll join me.