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Independents can bring innovation to politics

Independents can bring innovation to politics
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When SpaceX launched its “Falcon Heavy” last month, it was a reminder that American ingenuity and innovation are what truly make our country exceptional. Yet, as the most powerful rocket known to man soared into space, our political leaders back here on Earth could barely reach agreement to keep the lights on in government, no less deal with important issues from guns to immigration.

This striking incongruity should be a call to action for our best and brightest minds to re-engage and re-imagine our system of self-government. While the founding of our Constitutional republic remains one of the most significant innovations in human history, it is clear that our governing institutions have become ossified and outdated. They are no longer able to address the large and growing challenges facing our country.

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At the core of government gridlock and dysfunction is a two-party duopoly that has stopped serving “We, the people” and is instead focused on serving itself and colluding to prevent any new competition. Today’s political incentives for getting attention, raising money, and winning votes have driven both parties toward their respective ideological extremes. Pragmatism and problem-solving have given way to tribalism and point-scoring.

It is no surprise that both political parties are losing market share at a rapid pace. Today, 44 percent of Americans self-identify as independent, according to Gallup. At the same time, 61 percent believe both parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a major third party is needed.  

The politics industry is ripe for disruption and innovation, and a new startup — Unite America — is ready to bring it by recruiting and electing common-sense, independent candidates to office.

Unite America is building the necessary electoral infrastructure to support the first-ever credible, competitive, and coordinated slate of independent candidates running up and down the ballot, across the country this year. It is a movement that is positioned to be the Netflix competing against both parties’ Blockbuster.

From the business world, there is a well-established recipe for success:

First, focus on the customer. Both parties have become wholly owned subsidiaries of their funders; in the 2016 election, for example, Democrats and Republicans took more than $482 million from political action committees. By putting people ahead of the party bosses and special interests, independents remain responsive directly to their constituents.

Second, offer a better quality product. In a marketplace with more than two choices, simply tearing down your competitor will cease to be a viable business strategy. Independents can offer a positive vision for our future and be free to champion the best ideas no matter their origin –– including, for example, both fiscal and environmental responsibility.

Third, continue to evolve and iterate. Democrats and Republicans seem content re-litigating decades-old battles over the role of government and social wedge issues; their latest party platforms fail to even mention the terms “automation” or “artificial intelligence.” Independents can bring new ideas to the table, including how we adapt to rapid technological change.

The ultimate goal is not necessarily to create a traditional third party, but to elect a sufficient number of independent leaders to narrowly divided legislatures like the U.S. Senate where they can control the balance of power as a swing coalition. This “Fulcrum Strategy” is an ambitious but achievable electoral hack to the two-party system that can force greater cooperation between both sides and provide a mechanism to inject new ideas and thinking into the system.

As with any startup challenging two powerful and entrenched incumbents, initial success will likely come down-market first, where the barriers to entry are lower –– in this case, beginning in state legislatures. And it will undoubtedly take time to scale, likely several election cycles. But once this movement gains national traction, as it already has in states like Alaska and Maine, there will be no stopping it.

Ten years ago, few Americans would imagine renting a room in a stranger’s home or hailing a cab with their phone. Ten years from now, electing leaders who run and serve in office independently of a political party may be just as commonplace. Innovation can bring greater choice, customization, and competition into the political marketplace, just as it has in every other aspect of our lives.

Nick Troiano is co-founder and executive director of Unite America, a movement to bridge the partisan divide by election independent candidates to office.