The last election wasn’t a good one for independent candidates, including myself. In my bid for U.S. Congress, I lost by many thousands of votes. And I wasn’t alone — independents all over the country were unsuccessful.
The result is that there is not a single person in the U.S. House of Representatives who isn’t either a Republican or Democrat. The message from voters was not that they wanted political parties out. Instead, voters signaled that they want the other political party out.
But since the new Congress was sworn in last month, the United States government has been shut down for five out of six weeks, with 800,000 federal employees going without pay for much it.
Think about it: That’s like every working person in Maine going without pay for five weeks — and for what? As of yet, our leaders have still failed to fix border security or pass sensible immigration reform. This is exactly the type of gridlock and dysfunction we are all tired of. None of this power posturing has gotten one more person a job, built a mile of road or reduced the cost of prescription drugs by one penny.
It’s clear that partisan paralysis is not just frustrating. It’s bad for our country. But the shrinking center has hamstrung our government’s ability to act. Congress cannot name a bridge, let alone improve our schools or speed up services for veterans. The basics of governing are being neglected in favor of grandstanding.
To be clear, there are centrists in the U.S. Congress. But the power of the caucus is too much for them to overcome, particularly in the House of Representatives. I don’t blame them. There is plenty at stake for compromising and crossing the aisle and voting out of line. You could lose a committee assignment, lose national fundraising support and face a primary challenge. As a result, individual voting members effectively have no power beyond the ability to take orders from leadership and gang up on the other side and say: There’s more of us than you. It’s an approach that is good for blocking progress but not for making progress.
It does not have to be this way. In the Maine House of Representatives, my fellow independent and third-party representatives and I often helped the Republican and Democratic caucuses communicate with each other. We provided a no-risk sounding board for compromise proposals, and were critical swing votes needed for legislation to pass both the House and the Senate. And we voted the interests of our legislative district, rather than that of a national political party.
If the current state of affairs in Congress doesn’t highlight the need for practical centrists who won’t caucus with the two major parties, I don’t know what does. People are waking up every day trying to figure out how they’re going to pay a set of bills in front of them. The continued soap opera in D.C. is not helping, and electing one more Democrat or one more Republican won’t change a thing.
It’s a harder road for independents today, but if we genuinely want to end this reality show and get back to the basics of governing, we need to support reforms such as open primaries that can elevate more moderate candidates, and we should consider the best person to do the job regardless of the letter after their name. That includes independent and third-party candidates — be they Howard Schultz or anyone else — at all levels of government.
Marty Grohman is a former independent candidate for Maine’s 1st Congressional District. He previously served District 12 in the Maine House of Representatives.