Welcome to part 12 of our ongoing 12 part series where I’ll share with you what we envision our state and country can look like through our work with Represent Us!
“good candidates –> good governance –> good society”
“Country over Party”
“People over Politics”
“Common-sense people campaigning for common-sense politics.”
“Fix the System”
“FIX” the system by getting out the “VOTE“
The legislation we want is the “political innovations” embodied in element #5 above and the primary responsibility for drafting good laws rest with our representatives. However, while it is their responsibility, we can still be a resource to them with insightful thought leadership from our fellow non-partisan groups who have, as their “main thing,” one of these political innovations. It also means we can share with them good research from Unite America Institute (our national research and education arm) as well as share best practices from what other chapters in other states have discovered. Particularly useful “learnings” from other states include “unintended consequences, pitfalls, and loopholes” which we can avoid in Wisconsin.
Congratulations! If you stuck with me to this point you definitely have the perseverance and grit needed to fight the long game we are engaging. “Fixing the system” is not easy and will not be accomplished quickly. Sure, we’ll make gains along the way. However, the more important idea to keep in mind is that steady, relentless action and execution – fueled by an inspiring vision, a clear mission, and a sound strategy – are the critical elements for success.
I wanted to conclude this series not so much with any more pontification on strategy, but with a modest & personal story instead. Allow me to tell you the reason “why” I signed up to fight against cronyism/corruption and stand up for democracy, for our people and our republic.
For over 50 years of my life I had no interest or concern whatsoever with politics beyond voting. (It wasn’t just US politics – I had an aversion to politics in general and would refuse to even be on a church board in order to avoid the oftentimes messy decision-making processes inherent in such organizations.) I have never had any official affiliation with any political party – the closest affiliation at all was that I was raised in a conservative family.
Don’t confuse my unwillingness to get involved in formal structures with apathy. I was deeply concerned about making a difference in my world and, in fact, had recently discovered a group whose approach to solving the world’s problems resonated with how I was wired. The group I ran across was actually a think-tank called the Copenhagen Consensus. They approached problems from an ROI (return on investment) standpoint across 3 broad categories of “People, Planet and Prosperity.” The ROI approach really appealed to me as a business guy and the problem solving approach appealed to the engineer in me. Essentially, their research helped me to become a more effective charitable giver by educating me on which causes would have the most “bang for the buck” in terms of “lives saved + quality of life improvement” vs “implementation costs.”
There were some surprising things I took away as well. For example, the data around climate change provided overwhelming evidence that this was a huge and increasing issue. However, my ability to make a difference as an individual donor was limited since this is a planet-wide problem that will really require nations working together to address it. Another opportunity was free trade which had enormous potential (more so than any other initiative) to grow the middle class around the world. Unfortunately, from a donor standpoint, my impact would be limited since the ubiquity of corruption in so many governments would guarantee that any funds I contributed would never make it in its entirety to the intended recipients.
Undeterred, I explored further what it would take to grow the middle class (and, by definition, shrink the growing problem of wealth and income inequality). I quickly realized that if I wanted to drive change, it would not be as a small-time philanthropist – it would have to be as an activist. “No problem,” I thought. “Given that I’m a proud citizen of the USA I’ll just start in my own country. Once I’ve easily helped solve the problem of creating a bigger middle class here, it will be no problem to address the issue in other countries!”
The enormity of my naiveté cannot be understated.
The long and short of it was that, after a year of looking into inequality/middle-class growth, all evidence pointed to the fact that the weakening of the working middle class was systemic. There would be absolutely zero chance of me addressing the problem in any meaningful fashion without diving into what I abhorred:
After some deep soul-searching and with the consultation of some trusted friends, I held my nose and dove in on analyzing the US political situation – something I had nearly ZERO knowledge of whatsoever. (The last class I took even remotely related to the topic was US History back in high school – hey, give an engineer like me a break!)
I should have brought out my barf bag.
As I put myself through self-study on “Politics 101” I would repeatedly kick myself for my ignorance over the years. I could have been (should have been?) way more involved and way more vocal to at least combat one of the big, if not the biggest challenge that stood in the way of progress:
The ever-widening gap in our country, exacerbated by the voices of the very few (but very loud!) on the Far Right and the Far Left, soon made me realize what hyper-partisanship and all that goes with it entails:
- lack of civil discourse,
- tribal loyalty is more important than intellectual honesty,
- winning at all costs even if it means compromising one’s values,
- perceiving the “other side” as “the enemy” as opposed to a fellow American with a different viewpoint,
- finding common ground seen not as a deft skill but as a weakness since it shows a lack of ideological purity, and
- little incentive to fix the big problems
If left unchecked, hyper-partisanship would prove to be an existential threat to our republic.
Our Constitution was designed with “the People” in mind as a government “of, by and for the People.” “The People” were meant to be engaged and active so that the most robust form of democracy ever invented would thrive. Unfortunately, over time, the voice of “the People,” particularly the voice of the largest group – “the political middle” – became less engaged. Simultaneously, it was drowned out by the big-money influence of special interests and by a rigged political system designed to keep the two-party system in complete control.
Given that there were so many people like me who, at best, voted once every two years, I was disenchanted thinking that we stood any chance to take back our republic and defend our democracy from the powerful “few” who were most listened to by “the system.” Still, I persevered and continued my self-study.
Then, one day, I struck gold.
The “gold” was a book entitled, “the Centrist Manifesto,” written by Charles Whelan, a professor from Dartmouth and a former congressional candidate. In it, he talked about the problem of hyperpartisanship and our need to “fix the system.” He had, in my humble opinion, one of the most conceptually feasible plans that just might work to get our government working together again for the American people. It was a plan built from “common sense.” It was a plan that built bridges across the common ground, not impenetrable walls dividing non-empirical ideologies. It was a plan built (much to my engineering fancy!) for solving problems.
That plan was called, “the Fulcrum Strategy” (something about which I’ve written before in part 7 of our series here).
The rest is history. Charlie went on to found the Centrist Project which ultimately became Unite America in 2018. That same year I contacted them through their website to see if I could join the local chapter here in Milwaukee. While there were 30+ chapters already springing up around the country there was no chapter at all in Wisconsin yet. So, after some significant soul-searching and with great hesitation, I decided to take the first step to atone for my 50+ years of political indifference and, later that year, agreed to serve as the Chapter Leader for Unite America Wisconsin. (Even then I was too chicken to do it by myself and asked my wife, Lena, to serve together with me since she shared my conviction that we needed to move from casual voter to active citizen!)
Fast forward to today.
I remain convinced now more than ever that the best way for us to “fix the system” is for all of us to become active. While I understand we are in it for the long haul, I consider it a cause for celebration every time I see the light come on in people’s eyes once they realize, just like I did, that only we as engaged citizens can take back our republic by rooting out the corruption in our system and putting independent-minded “people over party” type of candidates in office.
Nearly everyone I talk with, Republican, Democrat, and independent, loves our country. Yet, all of us are at various stages in our journey on political engagement. Whether you are like I was and just starting to realize that indifference isn’t the answer or whether you have years of battle scars from fighting for what is right, there is a place for you here in the nonpartisan democracy reform movement. No matter your status, if you feel the slightest tug in your heart to take the next step, I invite you to come join us. All you need is common sense and you’ll fit right in. We are, after all:
Common-sense people campaigning for common-sense politics.
Thanks for reading this series. We’ll take a break for a few weeks and then dive into our next series on the specific reforms we’re working towards. Please e-mail me back if you would ever like to have a conversation about fixing our system or if you have any questions about how you can make a difference!
THIS WEEK’S ACTION
This is straight from our friends at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign:
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court abdicated its responsibility to ban partisan gerrymandering, it’s up to all of us, here in Wisconsin, to solve this problem ourselves.
2) Contact and urge your legislators to support these bills, which have three Republican co-sponsors. And please thank Republican Representatives Todd Novak, Travis Tranel and Joel Kitchens for their support. Call the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 (266-9960 in Madison).
3) Please also contact the respective chairs of the Assembly and the Senate committees who preside over this crucial issue and demand that they hold a public hearing on SB288/AB303.The chairs of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection are Senator Stroebel (Chair) and Senator Kapenga (Vice-Chair).
The chairs of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections are Representative Tusler (Chair) and Representative Sanfelippo (Vice-Chair).
Stay cool, stay centered, stay united,