Independents can bridge the bipartisan divide
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We live on opposite sides of the country — one of us in Maine, the other in Alaska — but we each serve as state legislators in the center of our increasingly polarized politics.

We’re both independents. We’re both millennials with young families. And like many across the country, we’re frustrated with both major parties and the state of our dysfunctional politics.

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Neither of us ever saw ourselves as legislators or even candidates for office. One of us is a former Marine who makes a living as a stone worker; the other worked as a marketing director for a nonprofit organization. We each have three young kids that keep us very busy.

 

But, thousands of miles apart, we reached the same conclusion in our decision to run for state office as independents: our political system is in dire need of more leaders willing to put their state and their country before their party to solve problems.

The conventional wisdom says that independents can't get elected — and even if they could, they'd be powerless in our two-party system. We know first-hand that's not true. Not only did we win our races in 2016, but we have also been able to immediately make a positive impact in our legislatures.

Thanks to independent coalitions shifting the balance of power in our respective chambers, no piece of legislation in the Maine or Alaska state house can now pass on a straight party-line vote. In Maine, since the start of session, one Republican and two Democrats have decided to un-affiliate from their parties. In Alaska, a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents caucus together. This has put substantial pressure on both major parties to work toward finding common ground.

On big issues such as taxes, internet security, education and election reform, we’ve been able to help broker viable, long-term solutions to help move our respective states forward. And as budget impasses led Alaska to the brink of a government shutdown and pushed Maine across the line for a few days, we experienced how independents were looked to by both sides as a mediating and moderating force.

But even as a handful of independents are beginning to exert some strength in Maine and Alaska, politics elsewhere keeps getting worse. At a time when the two-party duopoly is drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next instead of solving problems, our system needs strong independents at every level of government.

As we know from our experience, jumping into the political arena without the party machine or comfort of established voter base can look like an impossible barricade to overcome — and it is indeed very difficult. That is why we are proud to be working with the Centrist Project to build institutional knowledge and the electoral infrastructure needed to help independent candidates run competitive races.

For us, the more challenging independent path was worth it because it gave us the freedom to lead. We’ve learned that our constituents care more about having elected leaders that work together to get things done than having leaders who may share their party affiliation but contribute to political gridlock and dysfunction.

Together, we aim to encourage and empower more leaders — including those like us who may have never considered running for office — to step forward as independent candidates in 2018 and future cycles.

We cannot rely on the same old leaders working within the same old system to change the direction of our communities or our country. A majority of voters view both parties unfavorably and there are now more independents than either Democrats or Republicans. The need and opportunity for new, independent leadership has never been greater.

Today, less than .1 percent of legislators are elected as independents. It’s time to change that. We’d like some company, and we think the possibility of improving the state of our politics depends on it.   

Owen Casas is an Independent State Representative from Rockport, Maine. Jason Green is an Independent State Representative from Anchorage, Alaska. 


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