Last weekend’s brief shutdown of our federal government pointed to the hyper-partisanship and paralysis that plagues our federal government.
“Why”, wonder many people, “can’t these people just stop arguing and start doing the people’s work?”
Ironically, just this week the National Association of Non-Partisan Reformers (NANR) announced its launch. It’s a group of individuals and election reform organizations dedicated to increasing electoral competition and voter choice.
CA Fwd, which has worked to help drive electoral reform in California is one of the founding organizations. We interviewed NANR Board Member Jim Jonas—who is a co-founder of the Colorado Independent Voters Organization– about the goals of the organization.
CA Fwd: Why have you formed the NANR?
Jonas: “We believe giving every voter – whether they're affiliated with a party or not – more choice and a louder voice in elections will lead to better representation at every level of government. Organizations united under the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers banner can bring added credibility, awareness and national media focus to state, local and national reform efforts.
“The partisan political system is fundamentally broken and its leaders are unable to find answers for the very real issue crises facing our country because they are held accountable by their small partisan base voters. The party's leaders view politics as a never-ending battle for partisan advantage instead of a means for seeking common-ground solutions. Those same partisans believe elections should serve the narrow, self-interests of parties instead of being conducted for the benefit of individual voters. That's got to change. While our members won't always agree on the specific, tactical methods of fixing our political and election systems, we're universally aligned in promoting efforts that will increase voter participation, electoral competition and accountability from our elected leaders.
“As the Democratic and Republican parties have created institutional barriers to insulate themselves from d sensible reforms, the association can facilitate the creation of a sustainable national infrastructure to support efforts that create a more equal playing field for all voters, candidates, and officeholders, regardless of party affiliation or non-affiliation.”
Give us a sense of what you aim to achieve in the next year — and in the next several years.
JONAS: “The Republican and Democratic parties enjoy enormous tactical and strategic advantages over unaffiliated, nonpartisan groups in terms of data, money, trusted vendors, nonprofit organizational support, branding, and policy-oriented and media affiliates. These are not easy challenges to overcome. Mounting this challenge requires an entire nonpartisan infrastructure. We believe that by uniting our leading reform organizations, we can begin to chip away at the institutional barriers created by the traditional parties by beginning to pool our experiences, skills, talent and outreach efforts to voters to better level the political playing field.”
“Over the next year we'll focus on building a sustainable organization, increasing our membership at every level and begin the process of building the necessary infrastructure that can effectively support our members' worthy reform projects across the country. “
“A viable, respected and growing association can provide a lot of the benefits including sharing voter information and other back-office resources and talent, attorneys, political and communication advisors, vendors, academics, and others capable of challenging entrenched partisan power centers in the media, in the courts, and at the ballot box. The association can also bring national attention, financial support, and media focus to local, state, and national projects and campaigns that can best serve nonpartisan reform.”
“Perhaps most importantly, a successful association can connect reform projects with professional vendors and consultants who have been in the election trenches and successfully won tough reform battles locally and statewide. Founding Association members have led successful election reforms in multiple states including open primaries in Colorado, nonpartisan primaries and independent redistricting in California, and Ranked Choice Voting in Maine, for example. These are invaluable, real-world political experiences that can benefit every association member and their projects.”
Are there certain reforms that you will be promoting?
JONAS: “We will follow our members' lead when it comes to specific reforms that we'll help support and promote. Generally, we'll rally for members' projects that promote greater voter participation, increased electoral competition and better accountability – but we're not in the business of picking winners and losers. Much like a trade association, our association will provide our members the tools, talent, resources, and general support for them to be successful. Our members will greatly benefit from coordinating and cooperating on reform projects, sharing precious resources and providing key funders big-idea projects that are “shovel ready.”
Where do you expect to concentrate your efforts — national reform, state reform, even local?
JONAS: “All of the above. We're seeing enormous interest from voters, organizers and leaders across the country and at every level of American politics. As the desire for nonpartisan reform gathers more steam, we will take advantage of our collective opportunity to demonstrate strengthen the courts, the media, and especially at the ballot box. Every day, there seems to be a news story covering a new reform effort popping up — and in places you would never expect — of voter groups demanding fairness, transparency and choice in campaigns and elections. Survey after survey supports what the registration rolls prove: the voters are leaving the traditional political parties in droves and making the conscious choice to not affiliate. Yet the movement is still in its infancy. Our job is to help our members support all of those new unaffiliated voters – as well as the ones who choose to stay in a party – have an equal choice and voice in the political process.”
In California for the last ten years, we've seen real progress with Citizens Redistricting, Top Two Primary et al. Those victories were hard earned over political party opposition. The political parties aren't going to be happy with NANR, are they?
JONAS: “California has been at the forefront of remarkable political reform and has clearly been an inspirational leader for other states in recent years in groundbreaking reforms including gerrymander reform, top two nonpartisan primaries, and more that are being emulated (and shamelessly copied) in states across the country. Of course, the parties will continue to resist efforts to increase competition. Many party leaders are not likely to welcome us with open arms. But inside and outside of the two major political institutions are leaders who see nonpartisan reform for what it really is — an attempt to strengthen our democracy through increased accountability. We believe this is healthy for our country, its voters, as well as the parties themselves.”
“Further, the parties should know that we are not “anti-party” and we have no desire to create a party of our own. We are pro-voter and pro-competition. That means having a competitive election system. We believe that democratic republics work best when the most voters participate and its representatives are held accountable to all their constituents, not just their partisan base. So long as the parties believe that their strength should be measured by the number of voters they represent, rather than the number of seats they hold, the parties have no legitimate reason to fear us.”