My name is Colston Young, and you likely have not heard a lot about me. While Charlie led the organization’s external-facing efforts, my role has been mostly focused behind the scenes on strategy and organizational development for Unite America.
After four years of hard work and tremendous organizational growth, I recently stepped down from the co-chair role. I hope I have been a worthy steward of your organization. I do know that the organization is in great hands with our new slate of extremely talented and accomplished co-chairs, Charlie Wheelan, Kathryn Murdoch and Shawn Riegsecker, our fantastic executive director, Nick Troiano, and the hard-working (and growing!) Unite America staff.
Before leaving, I was asked by Charlie and Nick to write a brief note to the community about where we are as a movement.
When Unite America was founded in 2013, Charlie and the rest of the founders were very concerned about two intertwined issues: (a) the growing extremism of candidates who were getting elected to Congress and (b) the inability of Congress to address serious long-term policy challenges facing the country. And we did not see a path for these political issues to be addressed without a fundamental re-thinking for how politics and elections are done in America.
Back in 2013, most political pundits scoffed at our idea that we needed to think about fundamental reform of the U.S. political system.
Today of course, things are very different, and a growing number of people both inside and outside Washington are coming to our viewpoint: the country really does need to explore a variety of ways to disrupt the U.S. political system.
And today is such an exciting time to be pursuing fundamental change to the U.S. election system! Congress and the two major parties have shown no ability to reform themselves, and the electorate is increasingly receptive to considering real fundamental reform for how we elect people to office.
And Unite America has emerged as one of the leading organizations in the growing “democracy innovation” space. We are excited about what we have accomplished over the past six years.
Today, our movement’s greatest needs are: (1) a greater number of passionate moderates involved in political campaigns and (2) a greater number of passionate electoral reformers.
Traditionally, our movement has had two major challenges. The first is that along the ideological spectrum, the passion has always been on the extremes. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center provided data which showed just how much more people on the extremes get engaged in political campaigns:
Unite America will continue to be a leader in supporting moderate candidates going up against extremists. But we need passionate moderates to not only get involved in the political system but also to encourage other moderates to get involved: that means advocate for, volunteer for and contribute to moderates’ campaigns, even if they aren’t running in your district. Because that’s what the extremists on both sides do, and we have to match their efforts. Unite America will continue to highlight candidates that are showing momentum and where our community can make a difference.
Our other challenge is to make electoral and governance reform exciting and top issue for voters.
The reality is that most voters are animated by issues that affect them directly. health care, education, the environment, public safety. Public corruption is also a growing concern. But none of these issues ever gets worked on and solved effectively. Why? Because the way we elect politicians has created perverse incentives that make it too easy for extremist candidates on both sides to get elected and stay in office without doing anything.
This makes compromise, good bipartisan policy and good governance all but impossible not only in Washington and also in a growing number of state capitals. This perverse system is not what the founders intended.
So whatever passion you have in terms of policy preferences, you have to recognize that nothing is going to happen on any issue you care about until we as a country change the rules of the game to reduce the power of the extremists and change the incentives of officials once they are in elected office. Without that, we will not have a better political environment.
I encourage everyone in the Unite America community to get involved in electoral and governance reform efforts. I expect electoral reform efforts to emerge in all 50 states over the next several years, and Unite America will be supporting and partnering with many of these efforts, so there will be plenty of opportunity for people in our community to play a role in supporting electoral reform.
Finally, I want to end with some words of thanks…
First, I want to thank the very talented leadership and staff of Unite America. You have been a fun, smart, hard-working group of people to work with.
More importantly, I want to thank the broader Unite America community for your involvement and support - we wouldn’t be here without you. In particular, I want to thank the hundreds of Unite America founding members, who donate small amounts of money every month to support our operations. Trust me...that money adds up and has played an important role in our growth over the past several years. And if you want to be a Founding Member, you can join here.
My most important direction to you, the Unite America community: Let’s continue to demonstrate our passion to bring real change to the U.S. political system. Our continued hard work and positive attitude will continue to convince a growing number of people to abandon their cynicism for politics and join the Unite America movement.