Governing in Divided Government

The pre-primary season is winding down and the primary season is upon us. The field of candidates will now start dwindling a little faster than it has over the past year. There have been numerous televised debates, town halls, campaign rallies, and new stories.

We have heard countless questions from moderators and from voters themselves. But in all this time, there has been one question that I have not heard asked that should be asked of every candidate that is running. How do they plan to govern with the other side?

independent2It essentially doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November when it comes to this simple question. It all hinges on the Senate. Regardless if the winning candidate’s party is in control of the chamber, the opposition will still have enough to invoke the filibuster. And there is the possibility that the opposition could be in control of the chamber as well. Neither side will have a filibuster-proof majority.

Partisan divisiveness has gotten worse in the past several years. We have seen what happens when neither side want to work together and instead just point fingers. This goes for the halls of the Capitol and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need candidates that are willing to step up and acknowledge that in divided government it becomes necessary to govern with the other side and govern by that mentality. It cannot be an all-or-nothing approach. And it is up to us, the voters, to ensure this and to hold our elected officials accountable to it.

Presidential candidates will spout off promises and tell their voters what they want to hear. But when the dust settles, and we have a winner, then it’s an entirely new situation. They must figure out what they have in common and work through their differences keeping open communication the entire time.

A recent RCP poll average gives Congress a 14-percent approval rating. As we vote, we should remember that as well. We have repeatedly said that we are tired of brinkmanship and going from one crisis to another with only immediate fixes and not long-term solutions. The time has now come to elect candidates that can and will work together regardless of the ideological divide.

So how do the various candidates plan to govern with the other side? I guess we should start asking and find out.

Do Independent Voters Really Matter?

It’s 2014 and that means that it’s a midterm election year.  So that means that the two main parties will head to their respective corners and leave out nearly a third of Americans.

Throughout the primary process… especially the early primaries… candidates tend to move more toward their base so that they can win.  This is helped by the fact that the two main parties don’t want independent voters to have a say in who their candidates are.  This is usually left up to the states to decide for themselves, though.  It’s not until after the primaries are over that a candidate tries to center their message and attract the independent voter because most elections can’t be won without them.

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There are basically two types of independent voters.  The first type is the moderate voter that switches back and forth between the two parties.  The other type are the independent voters that can vote Democrat or Republican, but they also are willing to vote for third party and independent candidates.  They are not held down to the two-party belief that our political system has tried to force upon the voters. The latter group is where I’m placing my focus.  More and more Americans are starting to realize that there are other options out there and are fighting to get them equally included.

As the two main political parties become more polarized and more bent on just serving those voters that vote for them.  Those that exist in the middle find themselves left out.  Third party candidates (and independent candidates) are often left off out debates and are sometimes sued by the major parties in an effort to keep them off the ballot.

The mentality is the same for both Democrats and Republicans.  A vote for a third party candidate or an independent candidate is a wasted vote.  It’s a vote that could have gone to them.  And all one needs to do is to express their intent to vote for such a candidate to hear how much they have that thought in our mentality.

The two main parties still control the election process and are actually working together to keep it that way.  They want to make sure that the voters don’t really have a choice and that the political pendulum only swings two ways.

FACT:  Nearly 40% of people do not vote. This is because they feel left out and ignored.

But as the parties move farther and farther apart, the moderate and independents in the middle are getting left out and the country is losing because there aren’t any real debates or solutions.  It’s just the same stuff over and over again.  If the independents were to rally around one third party or independent candidate, they could make a real play at winning an election.

When it comes to a presidential election, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has imposed a 15% minimum in polls for a third party or independent candidate to be allowed into the debates.  This number was made higher after the 1992 presidential election in which Ross Perot had significant support and was included in the debates.  So now when complaints come in that other candidates aren’t included, the CPD just points to the rules.  What they aren’t telling the voters is that they don’t even include the other candidates in the polls.

Independent voters are constantly discussed when an election year comes around.  Even the media seems to talk about them nonstop.  The rest of the time, the parties and even the media could care less.  A question was posed this past Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos about who should be the guest of honor at the State of the Union address.  Political contributor Matthew Dowd said it best, “First Lady should have empty chair in her box at SOTU to represent millions of americans forgotten in dc.”

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So do independent voters really matter?  Of course they do in the general election.  They are the most prized votes to get.  But there is a saying. “If I’m not good enough to vote for your candidates in the primary, then I guess they don’t need my vote in the general election.”

Independent voters should listen to that saying.  They have more voter power these days than they realize.  If they were to unite and exercise their vote, they could shake up the election process.  If independents are the deciding vote in elections then maybe it’s time they make a different decision.  We really do have more than two options.

The Primary Problem

The primary season is more than half over, and with former-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney all but assured the nomination of the Republican Party (especially now that former-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign), all I eyes have now turned to the general election though that doesn’t officially start until September after both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have been held.  But I wanted to look back at a few things that have been on my mind about this primary season… and it does pertain to the primary calendar in general, too.

Usually the media, and the parties themselves, want the race over as soon as possible.  Before Santorum’s upset in Iowa and Gingrich’s win in Georgia, it looked like Mitt Romney would steamroll over everyone in the first month, and it would have, theoretically, been over then.  But that’s not the way it worked out.  In fact, it went longer than anyone anticipated.  But the problem isn’t how many months, and how many contests had to play out before it was all but certain.  The problem is the method of how our primaries/caucuses are done.  There are generally three types of primaries/caucuses.  There are closed primaries/caucuses in which only people that have declared themselves members of that particular party are allowed to vote.  Keep in mind that each state can set its own rules on when people can declare such things.  There are semi-closed primaries/caucuses which is the same as a closed primary/caucus except that independents and those that are undeclared are allowed to participate, as well.  Then there is the open primary in which anyone from any party (and independents) can vote for a candidate in any party.

The problem with an open primary/caucus is that, when there is an incumbent running, members of that party can try to influence who the person will be running against by voting in the opposition’s election.  Democrats/liberals have done this in certain open elections in 2012 since they have an incumbent.  In 2008, there were some Republicans/conservatives who were doing it to the Democrats since the Republican Party wrapped up their nomination quickly and the Democrats drug theirs out through June.

A closed primary/caucus leaves something very important out of the nomination process… the independent (or non-partisan) voter whom that party needs in order to win the general election.  Any kind of moderate candidate is usually pushed out in contests like these.  If the candidate isn’t already tilted to the party extreme already, then they have to pander to the party voters that make up that extreme in order to win those primaries/caucuses.  The bad thing is that they might alienate the moderates and independents (and maybe even some moderates on the other side who might be thinking of switching votes) by doing such a thing.  And a candidate can have a real tough time trying to recenter himself/herself from such a drastic move.  Without the independent voter, a candidate cannot win the general election, so why leave them out of the process entirely?  It is imperative that those voters have a say in who the candidates are especially if they are going to be called upon to vote for that candidate in the general election.  Semi-closed primaries/caucuses solve that problem by allowing independents and non-partisan (undeclared) voters participate.

The next biggest problem with our primaries/caucuses is the calendar itself.  It’s usually spread from January – June… though the parties did try to start later this year, but Florida moved up it’s election so other states had to move up theirs.  Since 1972, Iowa has held the first caucus of the election year and New Hampshire has held the first primary since 1920 (state law requires it to be the first primary).  Other states soon follow, and the media begin to talk about momentum coming out of each state.  In this ordeal, the list of candidates for both parties usually starts to dwindle once the first set of votes start being counted.  Thus, in elections that are held later usually don’t have much of a choice in who the nominee is going to be.  They are usually stuck with who’s left.  So all the states try to congregate near the beginning  so that they can have an equal say in who each nominee is going to be.  This can be quite chaotic and a mess… and quite expensive for candidates that don’t have as much national notoriety or huge money chests as other candidates (who are usually termed front-runners even before votes are cast).

There have been several plans to revamp the primary/caucus calendar throughout recent years, but each of them have a flaw of one sort or another.  One of the biggest is money and travel.  (You can read those here.)  Our calendar should be competitive and allow for those without national notoriety to actually have a chance in getting the nomination.  As the process goes on, sometimes we find out that we like Candidate B (who wasn’t widely known when the elections started) more than Candidate A (who we’ve known as the front-runner even before voting began anywhere).  But usually by the time this is figured out, Candidate A has already run away with things, and the matchup for the general election is already known before even half of the states have voted.  Sounds like a problem to me.

So are the problems fixable?  Of course they are… though most, if not all, still have flaws.  The thing is to make the flaws spread out equally among all the candidates.  First thing that should be done is that all states should go to a form of a closed primary/caucus so that not only can party members select their candidate, but independents (and undeclared/non-partisan) voters can participate by voting for the candidate they want, too.  The second prong of this equation is the most complicated.  As I stated earlier, there have been many revision plans for the current primary/caucus calendar.  All of which have been defeated someway.  (You can read up on them here.)  My personal favorite is the Balanced Primary System, which is down near the bottom.  It’s cost effective and can work for the lesser-known candidates and more widely-known candidates.  Another option to put with this plan could be to have voting in states only once or twice a month… that way momentum gained in one set of elections might not carry to the next set.  And no primary/caucus should be winner take all in terms of delegates.  Delegates should be awarded on a representative scale as to the percentage of vote.  The one exception being if a candidate receives at least 51% of the vote in a given state (while there are more than two candidates running).  And each group of states must represent different parts of the country (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West) and have a wider-range of the voting populace from more liberal states to more conservative states to the more independent states.  Again, the objective is to make it fair and competitive within each party and for voters of all sorts to have a say in the candidate they wish to see vote for.

As a quick little note here at the end, Americans Elect is doing things a bit differently.  They are an organization working to get a third party candidate on the ballot in all 50-states.  There is no party affiliation with them.  They are working to nominate from the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and the various third-parties in the country.  As it gets closer to their June convention (which will be held online), their list grows longer instead of shorter as it works to give its delegates a complete voice in who they wish to see run.  There is no state-by-state primary or caucus.  All the voting is done on the day of it’s online convention.  It’s an idea that is definitely modern and might actually work for them… but I doubt it would work for the major political parties though I’m not saying it couldn’t.  Any thoughts on such a move that would allow voters across the country to determine their party candidates on one day… the day of that party’s national convention instead of the current state-by-state system?

SIDENOTE:
There is also something called the Nonpartisan Blanket Primary in which all the candidates appear on the same ballot and the two highest voted candidates proceed to a runoff regardless of party affiliation.  This is good for those voters that don’t just vote for one party or the other and spread out their votes. The state of Louisiana uses this method in some of its elections, though there is only a runoff if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

After Iowa

So the Iowa caucus has come and gone for the 2012 election.  Does it really mean anything in the overall grand scheme of things?  Not really.  The Iowa voters don’t necessarily pick the candidate that will eventually be the nominee.  And when it comes to the voting demographic in Iowa, it does not come close to being an accurate representation of the overall national voting demographic.  Regardless, though, Iowa goes first… as it has since 1972.  And though it might not pick the winner all the time, it can definitely derail campaigns and make other soar.

Remember then-Senator Barack Obama (Dem) and former-Governor Mike Huckabee (Rep) in the 2008 primary?  Both of them were largely unknown and won their party’s caucus.  The difference, Obama, though losing in New Hampshire, was still able to ride his Iowa win to victory in other states and eventually to the nomination and to a general election victory.  Huckabee failed in New Hampshire, too, but wasn’t able to mount a successful campaign to stop John McCain from getting the nomination despite winning a few more states.

The Republican Presidential Candidates

What hurt Mike Huckabee then might play out again here in 2012.  Former-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney beat Former-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum by 8-votes in Iowa.  Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in third.  Santorum nearly pulled off a Huckabee-style win getting the majority of his votes from the Christian conservatives/Evangelical Christian voters.  The Republican voting bloc in Iowa is overflowing with them.  The problem for Santorum is going to be the next battle… New Hampshire where Christian conservatives just aren’t very abundant.  If he can somehow survive a beating in New Hampshire, he has a chance in South Carolina and maybe parts of Florida (northern Florida).  But when the contest moves to Nevada, it’s again unlikely that he will win with those that aren’t his main voting bloc.  If he hasn’t derailed by then, that should be the mark.  His virtual-tie in Iowa only means he gets more media attention for now, but it doesn’t mean that he can get the nomination.  The Republican voting bloc sees him as to religious and too-far right wing.  He can get the Tea-Party and Christian conservative votes, but he won’t get the independent and moderate votes that he would need to win in November.

What about some other candidates.  Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has withdrawn after coming in 5th place.  Texas Governor Rick Perry went home to think about it but has now decided to fight to South Carolina.  Without a strong showing there, it will be over for him.  He might make it to Florida, but no chance after that unless he can make a huge comeback.  Former-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is on life support.  Unless he can show that there is some life in his campaign in New Hampshire and/or South Carolina, it will be over for him, too.  Again, he can’t get passed Florida without something bigger… and South Carolina is going to be his best bet to beating Mitt Romney and where he should concentrate (since New Hampshire is not possible for him).  After coming in third place, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is in a good place to make a difference.  He gets a very different demographic of the Republican party and even the independents.  It remains to be seen how far he can go.  His supporters are usually fairly faithful to him.  But his main downfall is that he doesn’t appeal to the core Republican voters.

Former-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney might have been left holding the victory torch by those 8-votes after Tuesday, and though Iowa doesn’t necessarily pick the eventual nominee, he is sitting pretty good right now.  In New Hampshire, he has a double-digit lead.  Though in 2008, Obama had a lead in Iowa but Hillary Clinton ended up winning the Democratic primary there, so nothing is set in stone in this last week.  Who could upset Romney? Congressman Ron Paul could surge up in the independent-minded state.  But there is one other candidate that has put everything at stake in New Hampshire.  He came in last in Iowa, but didn’t really campaign there at all.  Former-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. He’s a moderate and has been campaigning hard.  Though it will be hard for anyone to take down Romney’s double-digit lead in a week, Huntsman needs to have a good second-place finish to stay in the race.  If he doesn’t, I fear that his campaign will end.  If he can, and then can survive until Nevada in February, he might be able to best Romney.  The two Mormon candidates battling it out for that vote in the West where they are on Huntsman’s home turf.  All of that depends on his finishing in New Hampshire, though, and if he can pick up some momentum so he doesn’t get trounced in other states.  Again his biggest drawback is going to be that he’s a moderate and not a party extremist.

With Iowa now over, the nomination is Romney’s to lose.  He didn’t campaign there very much and wasn’t making a big play for it.  Yet, he still edged out a win.  And with New Hampshire being in his political back yard, the ball is in his court. It will be interesting to see now how long this race might go on.  It could all be “theoretically” over with Florida or Nevada… though mathematically, he’d still be far short of the number of delegates needed for the nomination.  It’s all about money to mount the campaign in each state, and he’s the one candidate sitting on it and the campaign infrastructure to keep going.

UPDATE: (1/19/2012)
Upon certifying the Iowa caucus votes from January 3, Rick Santorum won the state by 34-votes over Mitt Romney.

SIDENOTE:
President Obama was not challenged in the Democratic Iowa caucus and will receive all of his party’s delegates.

SITE NOTE:
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