Can this presidential election actually energize political reform?

610 203 Ed Coghlan

(Photo Credit: Stephen Velasco/Flickr)

How did it come to this?

The two most unpopular candidates in the history of presidential polling — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — wind up being the two main candidates for President.

While early voting numbers crossed 40 million nationally before Tuesday, an overwhelming majority of voters are simply “disgusted” by the state of American politics.

The New York Times reported in its final pre-election New York Times/CBS News Poll that many Americans are highly doubtful that the winner can unite the country after a presidential campaign that only be charitably described as “highly negative.”

While partisan deadlock in Washington D.C. appears destined to continue for the foreseeable future, shards of hope for more effective of governing are being found at the state and local levels.

California Forward has launched the 50 State Solution, an effort to provide a platform and soft infrastructure to support and expand the critically important work of reforming our democracy at the state level.

“It is hard to imagine a more toxic national political environment than the one we're currently experiencing,” said Chris Gates, CA Fwd Senior Fellow who has worked on extensively on election issues. “It seems clear that, no matter the outcome on November 8th, the result on November 9th will be gridlock. As a result, reformers are now focusing on states as modern 'laboratories of democracy' where real reform can take place in real time.”

CA Fwd has been at the center of the era of reform in California over the last decade. It has been actively involved in helping define and pass citizens' redistricting, the top-two open primary and term limit modifications—all via California’s direct democracy ballot initiative process.

“We’ve learned in California that, when we made the right democracy reforms, more moderate, temperate leadership evolved and now the state is a model for governance,” said Lenny Mendonca, co-chair of the California Forward Leadership Council. “The time is right to have this national conversation that lets the revolution for better government spread across the country state by state.”

Eighty percent of those polled by the New York Times said the presidential campaign has left them repulsed. Both Clinton and Trump are viewed as dishonest and unfavorably by a majority of voters. Almost everyone you speak with say “We can do better.”

In this radically polarized era, the time appears to be right for encouraging the work of reforming democracy at the state and local levels, closer to the people. As Mendonca and Gates wrote recently about the 50 State Solution:

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.


Ed Coghlan

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