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An anti-democratic, elitist purity test | Three Things Thursday

How Alaska's primary system allows Lisa Murkowski to serve all Alaska voters, why we should celebrate Congress, and a new Gallup poll says that 62% of Americans want a third party, we need a better government. Three Things Thursday from Unite America.

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager
February 18, 2021

Amidst record-low temperatures across the Southern US, power grid failures are compounding problems, leaving hundreds of thousands of families without power when they need it most. 

Texans are showing up for neighbors and strangers alike to help those struggling to stay safe, fed, and warm, while managing for the dangers of a pandemic at the same time. So why aren’t Texas’ elected leaders?

There’s not much that politicians could say at this time to make it better, but there sure are hell things they can do to not make it worse; finger-pointing and partisan bickering won’t get the grid up—or Texans safer—any faster.

In the spirit of democracy reforms to make government, well, govern better, here are three things to think about this week:

  1. Anti-democratic and elitist purity test for candidates

What, you might ask, is an anti-democratic and elitist purity test for candidates? Partisan primaries, according to a new blog by Kevin Kosar, resident scholar at the conservative think tank AEI. As Americans still grapple with the fallout of another impeachment trial, Republican legislators who supported impeaching a member of their own party now face hordes of angry primary voters, ready to oust them in favor of a primary challenger who is a “real conservative”. 

It’s become a tedious balancing act for sitting representatives: toe the party line, lest you draw the ire of a would-be primary challenger. This fear of being primaried is a huge force in our politics, pushing elected officials to serve this small constituency over the interests of the public at large. Fortunately, the incentives can be changed.

Alaskans passed a ballot measure this past year that created a nonpartisan primary system, allowing all Alaskans to vote in the primary to determine which four candidates move on to the general election. By enfranchising all Alaskans — including the over 58% of Alaskans who aren’t declared with either party —  elected officials are free to serve the interests of all voters. For Senator Lisa Murkowski, the only one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump during impeachment, and the only one who faces reelection next year, this means that she won’t be “punished” in the same way she might have otherwise been for “putting principle over party.” Check out the NPR story on Alaska’s new system and her vote here.

  1. Move over Presidents Day

Over the weekend, Americans celebrated Presidents Day; a day set aside for us to honor the executive of our country. But as Yuval Levin points out in the National Review, wouldn’t a day honoring Congress be more apropos?

Given the current state of legislative decision making in our country, you wouldn’t be faulted for saying no. Congress — designed and intended to be the space for diverse viewpoints to come together, negotiate, and find accord with one another — has completely abandoned their lawmaking role, allowing the spirit of bipartisanship to become derelict along with the balance of power of our political system. 

The only way out? Change the incentives of the current system. Says Levin, “But if you think that enabling and compelling compromise is the very purpose of the institution, and that Congress’s serving that purpose is essential to the health of our broader political culture, then you would incline toward the first path of reform — making compromise more likely to happen by enabling the institution to better represent the political diversity of the country and to function as an arena for bargaining and accommodation.”

  1. Americans don’t feeling represented

Despite George Washington’s warnings and desires, our Republic has long been a two-party system. It’s not ideal, and it comes as no surprise that when we divide the world into a hard-line binary, a good portion of Americans feel left out and unrepresented. 

Indeed, a new poll by Gallup shows that support for a third political party is at a record high, as 62% of Americans say that the two political party do such a poor job of representing the American people that a new party is needed. Certainly, this 62% is made up in large part by independent voters (70%), but also Republicans (63%) and Democrats (46%) who feel dissatisfied with their parties. 

We know from experience: without reform, empowering a viable third party is extraordinarily difficult, especially in the current political climate, which has been designed to maintain the status quo around the two parties. To create an opportunity for viable third, fourth, and fifth parties, we need to create a system that’s more responsive to the needs of all Americans.