The First Principle of the Declaration of Independents: How to put public interest first

Putting the public interest ahead of all other interests has become the first principle of the movement to elect independents to public office. An independent will say something like, “if elected, I will deliver common-sense solutions,” or, “if chosen, I will put the public interest ahead of all others.”

These phrases sound great. Putting the public interest ahead of partisan and special interests is, without a doubt, essential to good governance. But why would any candidate for public office profess anything different?

If every candidate readily agrees to put the public interest first, what can an independent do to convince the electorate that he or she will actually follow through on that pledge, while party-affiliated counterparts have shown time and time again that they have a built-in conflict of interest with the public?

Submission is Implied

There is an implied agreement that marks anyone who bargains his or her independence for the support of a big organization, like the Republican or Democratic parties. Running for office, gathering signatures, and asking for donations is hard work. And doing it alone without a voter or donor list is extremely hard.

The party apparatus makes it significantly easier for someone to accomplish these objectives in order to get elected. By accepting the help of a party to achieve this end, a candidate agrees to prioritize loyalty to the party above all else. This creates an inherent conflict in interest between what the candidate promised voters and what the party demands in exchange for access to political power.

It’s why politicians become so candid and altruistic after they announce that they will not be running for re-election. They are finally free to speak their minds and advocate for the public interest because they won’t be needing their party to help them get re-elected.

Hold the High Ground

The answer to what independents can do may sound simple: hold the high ground, and do not abandon it for any reason.

On top of this, independents must challenge each candidate, one by one, on his or her commitment to putting the public interest first. If he is an incumbent, the candidate’s record should be scoured for decisions where he failed to put the public interest first.

The legislation does not need to have made it into law. The fact that he voted for or against a piece of legislation is enough to make the case that he is willing to put partisan or special interests above the public interest.

If the opposing candidate is running for the first time, an independent could ask, ‘how will you respond when your party leaders tell you how to vote without asking your opinion?’ It happens regularly at all levels of government, and the goal is usually to promote the party’s interests, special interests, or to make the other party look bad.

If she says that she’ll vote her conscience regardless, then the independent should follow with, ‘how do you think your party leaders and other members will react?’ Ignoring her leaders will create friction and diminish, if not obliterate, her ability to be an effective legislator. Part of the implied contract between members and their party is obeying their leaders.

Finger-Pointing

The second thing that independents can do is highlight the finger-pointing that has been happening at all levels of government. Finger-pointing does nothing to move us closer to a solution. It lays the blame for a public problem on a particular party and seeks to elevate the moral authority of the finger-pointer. It’s political theater and a complete waste of time.

The average American understands that finger-pointing never helps and only forestalls practical solutions. According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, most Americans believe that their representatives should work to resolve contentious disputes, rather than hold out for more of what they want.

Both parties have revelled in finger-pointing for decades, even when it comes to issues that only grow worse with each passing year, like immigration, social security, and healthcare.

Ideology Cannot be the End Goal

At first, the Republican effort to fix healthcare by repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with something better seemed genuine. It was understood that a better solution would be produced before anything was repealed. But better is not what the public got.

Republican tinkering has made today’s healthcare marketplace worse, not only compared to the first years under Obama’s administration, but compared to what we had before the ACA took effect.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health insurance exchanges continue to disappear and, in some areas, coverage options on exchanges have completely disappeared.

How can reducing healthcare plan options without offering any replacements be good for the public?

The decade of Republican banter that began before the party even started tinkering with the ACA was just that, vainglorious verbal candy. The Republican party put no thought into how to actually replace the ACA, or even how to improve it. It was pure political theater fueled by ideology.

Dogma Doing its Worst

Healthcare in America could become even worse. The Department of Justice, led by Jeff Sessions, is refusing to defend the ACA against a lawsuit filed February 2018. If this lawsuit is successful, the entire Act will be declared unconstitutional.

If the ACA is determined to be unconstitutional, the provision requiring insurance companies to insure people with pre-existing conditions would also become unconstitutional. If that happens, an estimated 50 to 130 million Americans below the age of 65 who are not on Medicare and have a pre-existing condition will either lose their coverage or have it significantly altered.

Maybe the ACA is unconstitutional. If it is, then so be it. But following the law is not the only thing that our elected officials need to think about, especially when it comes to the health of millions. Our legislators need to replace the ACA with something better, and the time to do that is before more than 50 million people are denied coverage for their pre-existing conditions.

Nothing, however, is waiting in the wings to replace the ACA if it is declared unconstitutional. Instead, Republican ideologues serve up more ten-word answers, such as “we need to start from scratch” – as if we are baking a cake and not toying with the fate of millions of Americans.

Even the healthiest among us depend on those with pre-existing conditions, either at work, in the community, or in one’s personal life. So in a strictly self-serving sense, keeping this group of Americans healthy is in everyone’s interest.

A More Mannerly Iterative Process

Advocating for public interest is never going to be achieved with an easy phrase or formula. Any attempts will be contested by both parties and everyone in between.

No one, not even independents, has a monopoly on what is the common interest. Solutions will be messy and labored, achieved one voter and one issue at a time.

The absence of a formula or another straightforward process for determining what the common good is means that we will struggle with the process over and over again. It will be an iterative process, one that will continually be updated with each issue and each policy.

The takeaway is that the public interest is a work in progress, a never-ending process that each day, week, month and year is pursued by men and women of good intent who are bound, not by an allegiance to party or ideology, but by a passion for good governance.

The doctrine of any party can be a starting point, but it cannot be the endpoint. Ivory towers are nice to look at, but progress happens on the sidewalks and streets of political dialogue.

Case in Point

After nearly six years of public service, Arizona State Senator Bob Worsley wrote:

“Blind ideological allegiance to only one of the two buckets has created a political atmosphere where the most poisonous word an elected official can mutter is ‘compromise.’”

Worsley’s op-ed announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 – an election that he most likely would have won – and lamented that the State’s legislative body had lost the art of compromise, substituted oversimplification for thoughtful consideration, and had forgotten its civility. In effect, the legislature has traded good manners for close-minded ideology.

A person with good manners demonstrates more than just consideration for others’ feelings. Such a person understands that he cannot read another’s mind and that listening to someone else does not mean agreeing with that person.

Having good manners does not entail blind allegiance to a code that stifles problem solving and forces people into political corners, as partisans might say. It means exactly the opposite. It is a non-discriminatory, person-centered etiquette that allows for all opinions to be heard so that a more holistic, equitable, and cost-effective solution can be achieved.

To put it another way, artful compromise, thoughtfulness, and civility – the hallmarks of good manners – are key to an iterative process that works to resolve our most pressing problems.

The new independents who are running for office on the federal, state, and local levels this election season will, hopefully, not respond as Republicans and Democrats have for decades with finger-pointing and vainglorious ideology. Let us hope that they, for the sake of the common good, will seek to adopt an iterative process where compromise, thoughtfulness, and civility - or good manners - are commonplace.

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Christopher Leone is an Independent running for the Arizona State Senate. After a career with HR Block, he worked at the Arizona House of Representatives. He is a Founding Member of Unite America. Website | www.voteleone.org • Email | christopher@voteleone.org • Twitter & Instagram | CBLeone

Views and opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily reflect those of Unite America.