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Declare your independence — from a political system that doesn't represent you

Liz Terwilliger for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

More and more Americans are declaring their independence from the two-party political system.

The number of Independent, or unaffiliated, voters has grown in recent years to the point that there are more independent voters than voters registered with either of the 2 major parties.

It isn’t hard to see why. Rather than strive for “big tents” the two old parties cater to their bases in elections increasingly won and lost at the primary level. There’s no room in the Republican Party for supporters of civil rights. There’s no room in the Democratic Party for proponents of small government. Yet we are constantly bombarded with the message that these are the only two viable parties.

As Hoover Institute Fellow, Morris Fiorina, said in his recent article in this newspaper: “if a citizen favors lower taxes and less regulation, why should she have to support restricting abortion, or vice versa? Those are the kinds of restricted choices the two parties offer.”

Stories in the media often highlight extreme polarization, with a focus on extreme partisans, framing them as “typical” American voters. These stories sell newspapers, get web clicks and support cable channels, despite the fact that this narrative is patently false. In his meticulously sourced book, “Unstable Majorities,” Fiorina makes the case that on most policies, the majority of Americans actually agree with each other.

I know one thing most Americans can agree on: the most likely 2024 presidential candidates stink. A survey of 26,000 registered voters found that 62% did not want Trump to run again, and 69% did not want Biden to run. So much for the pretense that parties listen to voters.

Members of congress may complain that they have no choice but to follow the dictates of party leaders, even when they believe the policies are wrong. There is, however, a choice. They could think independently. Of course they may lose committee positions, and financial support. They may lose their next election. Being dictated by fear of those consequences is no way to represent your constituency.

Over the course of the past year, we have seen at least one Senator take advantage of the close head count in congress to buck party leaders. Unwilling to toe the party line, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was able to alter major policy initiatives, forcing both parties and the president to compromise their positions. Having a tie-breaking power did not change the minds of the party elites, but it earned the respect of voters who want their representative to stand up for principles.

There are alternative political parties. There are Libertarian and Green, Constitution and American Family. New parties, in an effort to move away from the shrinking old parties, have emerged as well. Andrew Yang’s Forward Party and the No Labels Party are two examples. The main thing all these parties have in common is that they are not Republicans or Democrats.

Increasingly, voters are registering as Independent, eschewing any party affiliation. They may lean slightly left or right, but agree with each other far more than they disagree.

These growing ranks of unaffiliated voters want to see common-sense change in their government.

As I found out quickly during my third party 2020 run for Congress, the major parties deftly use their position to minimize the power of independent and small party voters. They paint a picture of every non-R or D candidate as unelectable and tell the horror story of thrown away votes that could cost an election.

If you are running for office at any level, and are not an endorsed Dem or GOP candidate, you have little chance of proving to the voters that you are electable. You are blocked from the debate stage and struggle for the same level of media coverage given to the prom queen and her court.

To make matters worse, in many states, like Pennsylvania, unaffiliated voters and third party voters can’t participate in primary elections unless there is a local referendum.

This is because primary elections are not part of the local government process at all. They are voting systems that use taxpayer dollars to support private, non-government entities, namely the Republican and Democratic parties.

As the voting roles swell with Americans who do not belong to major (or any) parties, the top-down policies of the Democrats and Republican leadership’s lose significance. They may be forced to (horrors!) pay attention to what the American public cares about.

As we celebrate our country’s birthday this July, it is time for more of us to declare our own independence by leaving these old, tired political parties and supporting candidates who better reflect our values.

Liz Terwilliger, an early intervention speech pathologist living in Warren Center, is a founding member of Reform Congress.

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