California Forward launches 50 State Solution political reform project

610 200 Lenny Mendonca and Chris Gates

(Photo Credit: Justin Brockie/Flickr)

We are excited today to launch the 50 State Solution. Our hope is that this effort will provide a platform and soft infrastructure to support and expand the critically important work of reforming our democracy at the state level.

Our goal is explicitly not to try to get the state-based reform movement on the same page, or to pick winners and losers in strategy or approach. Instead our goal is to encourage a vast amount of creative experimentation so we can see which models produce better results in specific locations. We also recognize that when it comes to civic and political culture, one size doesn’t fit all. What works in Maine may not work in Montana. We think the moment is right to support and accelerate this diverse and growing body of work.

The 50 State Solution site, launched today, will serve as connecting point for this effort. It includes a curated feed of political reform news from all across the country, is the home for a blog (like this one) where activists and thought leaders can share their ideas and perspectives, provides a shared calendar for events and creates the opportunity for individuals to self-organize around specific issues, efforts or geographic areas.

But perhaps most important, this site will be the home for our State of the Field document that provides a state-by-state summary of election models as well as a status update for all major reform efforts. This living document has been built by CA Fwd over the past several months and summarizes how each state registers voters, conducts primaries and general elections, discloses campaign contributions, regulates campaign contributions and conducts redistricting.

Full reform profiles for a significant number of states will be posted on the site in the coming days and weeks. The plan is to have all 50 profiles of each state (plus the District of Columbia) completed by the end of the year. Our hope is that moving forward we can make this a crowdsourced document that is maintained and updated by the reform community at large. There is far too much going on all over the country for any one organization to track all activity, but if the field can find a way to track this work collectively we can create a resource that will serve the work of all.

While CA Fwd is happy to be playing the role of catalytic leader for this effort, our goal is to create an effort that is owned by multiple organizations and is truly collaborative in nature. We will gather with leaders in this space in early 2017 in San Francisco to talk about how this initiative can expand and move forward, and find out what else the field needs to support its growth.

One of the clear truths of our time is that Democrats and Republicans alike find themselves incredibly frustrated with the political status quo in America. Poll after poll tells us that the emotions of frustration, cynicism and anger dominate our political dialogue. But the partisan gridlock that is currently strangling our nation’s capital makes it difficult to imagine that political reform will become a national priority any time soon. No matter the outcome of this fall’s election, we can only presume that power will continue to be shared between the two parties and our current national political stalemate will likely continue.

Another clear truth is that social media and the field of civic tech are reinventing the relationship that companies have with their customers, candidates have with their voters and government leaders have with their constituents. Technology is reinventing the basic processes of how campaigns are run, how voters interact with candidates and campaigns and how our government manages the election process. The technology that most Americans hold in their hand is helping drive an agenda of transparency and engagement that we could never have previously imagined.

For those of us who believe in the cause of political reform, these two truths mean that any progress we make in fixing our broken political system in the near term will happen at the state and municipal level and will involve the use of new tools and new technologies to make our political system more representative, open and responsive. All over the country cities and states are embracing their role as modern “laboratories of democracy” and actively experimenting with new approaches to voter registration, campaign contribution disclosure, campaign financing and disclosure, redistricting, primaries and the act of voting itself.

We also believe that the cause of political reform and democratic renewal must be a bipartisan, if not transpartisan, movement. We recognize that we live in a radically polarized time, when it seems harder and harder for each side to truly hear the other. But we believe that a conversation about reforming, reinvigorating and renewing our democratic practice has the unique potential for bringing diverse interests together. While we know that having this type of bipartisan conversation will be difficult to do, we are committed to that principle.

To that end, we adhere to the caution of Common Cause founder John Gardner who would say that someone has to worry about what is best for democracy “no matter who is in charge.” Some efforts at political reform might be seen as ploys to game the system to the advantage of one side or the other. The goal of our effort is to encourage reforms that both parties can agree will improve and revitalize our democratic process.

The time is right for this conversation, and states and cities are ready to step up to the plate and make the changes necessary to make our democracy one that makes us all proud. We invite you sign up here for regular updates and to join us in this critically important endeavor.

Lenny Mendonca is co-chair of California Forward's leadership council and Chris Gates is a Senior Fellow at California Forward.


Lenny Mendonca and Chris Gates

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