We Can Fix Congress!
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Here's the plan with more details.
We start with an act of imagination.
The Current Picture
Please put yourself in the shoes of an incumbent congressperson. You have a fancy office, and are surrounded by a hand-picked staff whose primary goal is to make you look good. The job has its frustrations, but it also features wonderful perks, a steady stream of campaign donations, and public attention to your every utterance. You spend much of your time in a bubble that massages your ego, and makes you feel important and entitled.
Yes, you'd like to keep your job. That means you need to get re-elected every two years -- ugh, that's hard work. How can you make it easier on yourself ? Here are the factors:
1) You need to raise money. It's vital to keep big donors happy.
2) You need to stay in the good graces of your party leadership - they have the power to make your life much easier, or much more difficult.
3) At home, you need to be re-nominated by your party, and to win the primary election.
4) Good news at last: thanks to gerrymandering, once you win the primary, you can usually coast to victory in the general election.
Your path to job security depends mostly on raising money, being loyal to your party, and pleasing a small group of hardcore partisans (they're the ones who tackle the tedious telephone and door-to-door work that engages the party faithful). Victory in the primary only requires winning the support of about 6% of the total voters in your district. Not surprisingly, the 6% who count are the most rabid activists in your party. Note: these same activists are monitoring your every word and act for ideological purity.
Frankly, in most cases, the other 94% of voters are irrelevant to your re-election effort. You can pay them some lip-service, but in November they almost never dislodge an established incumbent (especially not in a gerrymandered district).
Who are you going to represent in your daily work, the broader public, or the activist partisans and generous lobbyists who control your job security ?
The picture changes
It's January 2018, and the election is a 11 months away. You check your email, and see pleasing news: in recent weeks, voter registrations have been climbing. Even more surprising, most new registrations have been for your party, and it appears that lots of existing voters are re-registering - to become members of your party. How encouraging that people see the light !
More time passes. You're still mostly ensconced in your Washington bubble, and surrounded by friends and supporters when at home. But the word starts to leak through: these new registrations are not "more of the same" party supporters. It's an active group of dissatisfied voters -- mostly former independents -- who have mobilized like-minded people to re-register, and vote in your primary. They have already lined-up enough signatures to nominate a popular TV newscaster to run against you. Because of delays in reporting, you don't know how many freshly-registered voters they have, but it's clear that their energy and momentum are growing ...
This is a nightmare for the complacent congressperson who just wants to collect funds, give a few speeches to motivate "the base," and coast to re-nomination. All the money gathered, and all the adherence to partisan rhetoric mean nothing when faced with actual aggrieved voters (perhaps even outnumbering the small band of partisan friends) who are organized to demand change.
This is the nightmare we'd like to deliver in House districts across the country. We believe that outsider participation in partisan primaries can scare incumbents -- making them shift their focus from narrow partisan interests to address the concerns of the broader public.
Frankly, it's nearly impossible to motivate 40% of the electorate to vote for alternatives in November ... but it's entirely realistic to motivate 5% of the electorate to disrupt the established partisan primaries.
(... this is not abstract dreaming. It is almost exactly the formula that brought Tea Party extremists to prominence - a handful of activists, support from big donors and the media, combined with sympathy from voters disgruntled with the status quo ...)
1) We will re-register voters, urging them to vote twice
2) We will identify public servants as candidates
3) We will work person-to-person
4) We will make each contact count, and leverage small victories
1) We will re-register voters, urging them to vote twice. Voting just once (in November) lets a handful of party insiders choose and influence the candidates. When party hardliners determine the candidates in primaries, our November choice is only the lesser of two evils. What if thousands of Independents registered with a party in 2018, and voted in the primary ? Party insiders would get nervous -- and need to develop a platform and candidates with appeal to a broader range of voters.
2) Identify public servants as candidates. Where appropriate, we will seek community leaders willing to challenge partisan incumbents - to give voters a real choice. Every area has some respected and admired citizens, who put their energy into projects that benefit the greater community. What if some of these folks were persuaded to hold their noses, and consider a difficult, but compelling service role: as a Representative in Congress ? There is nothing to prevent them running as party candidates, and no requirement to hew to a party line if elected. It could be refreshing to have a few such people in Washington -- focused on serving the public, rather than partisan posturing, fund-raising, and cultivating lobbyists to get re-elected.
3) We will work person-to-person - 1,000,000 signatures on a Facebook petition feels good, but may accomplish nothing; 2,000 voter re-registrations in your hometown can move mountains! This is hands-on local work, not an abstract battle that plays out in a courtroom thousands of miles away. There are 1,001 ways for anybody to help - everything from simply "liking" us on Facebook, to planning campaign nuts and bolts. Each local group may find its own best strategies for re-registering, or finding candidates -- we'll share best practices, but respect that "all politics is local."
4) We will make each contact count, and leverage small victories - Trying to motivate people to change their voting habits is hard. We must bear in mind that each voter re-registration is a victory: giving that person a sense of empowerment, and cumulatively sending a message to the insiders. Every alternative candidate who challenges an incumbent forces them to address broader public concerns.
Electing significant numbers of alternative candidates is unrealistic. But a handful of Representatives could have outsized influence. In a Congress that is sharply divided along partisan lines, a dozen votes can often tip the balance. Representatives who are not pre-committed to party doctrine would be courted by both sides, with resulting influence on the shape of legislation. Ten successful campaigns at the community level would be a conceivable achievement -- that could dramatically alter the political landscape.
Yes, we can have an impact!
No, nobody else is going to do it for us!
We welcome your questions, doubts, crazy ideas, and more. This movement celebrates diversity and flexibility -- we invite your participation in whatever way suits you best. Click the link below to learn more NOW !
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