The ranks of the unenrolled voters in Maine grew by at least two last week. Rep. Larry Dunphy, formerly a Republican, of Embden and Brian Jones, a former Democratic legislator, of Freedom laid out a thoughtful, well-reasoned, sincere look at their decision to withdraw from their respective political parties.
In their BDN OpEd, they share justifications drawn from their experience. They write of the “destructive polarization” in Congress being reflected in Augusta and how this climate “harms the reputation and credibility of Maine’s government, and more importantly, frustrates the creation of policies that affect the lives of everyday Mainers.”
They express serious concerns around the influence of money on policy decisions in both parties, even with the “clean elections” option for candidates. Dunphy and Jones cite the behind-closed-doors budget decisions made by two legislative leaders from each party as an example of party politics trumping the concerns and rights of voters. They suggest our current climate has reduced crafting policy to “a team sport with only two teams.”
“The truth is, the ideas and opinions of our citizenry are complex and wonderfully diverse,” they said.
I was reminded of an article from February by Vic Berardelli. In it he proudly declared that he “released the shackles of institutional loyalty to become a free-thinking, independent voter.” Berardelli offered the perspective of a former Republican political operative, someone “partially to blame” for a climate he now rejects.
He is shockingly honest about his journey to independence from the Republican Party and writes about how party politics take precedence over principle. Like Dunphy and Jones, he refers to George Washington’s concern about the emergence of political parties, which allow for “a small but artful minority” to exert their political will.
Dunphy, Jones, and Berardelli hold the media partially complicit in perpetuating the situation by allowing party soundbites to pass as policy news.
I read both articles, thinking things like, You know it, and Amen, brothers, but I’m a little biased. I unenrolled from the Democratic Party several years ago for many of the same reasons and a few more. We are all part of a growing trend that’s so sustained it should probably be referred to as a norm rather than a trend.
We are the plurality of voters in Maine and around the country, and we are poised to change the nature of our political climate. The two major parties should pay close attention. At the same time moderates from both parties have fled, extremists on both sides of the aisle have become more entrenched, prompting more to flee and attracting fewer new members. As many as 50 percent of millennials identify as independent.
Both parties may have to change their thinking in many areas to save themselves. Even without proportionate representation in elected offices yet, unenrolled voters are already disrupting election cycles. The last two gubernatorial elections are Exhibit A. Both parties deemed Cutler a spoiler, but even if there hadn’t been an independent candidate, both parties would have struggled to predict how independent voters would have voted.
In that regard, unenrolled voters are already taking money out of our politics. Candidates and PACs can spend as much as they want on propaganda campaigns, but the majority of voters are a block that are thinking independently of that propaganda. Winning us over takes good information, not party platforms and over-simplified soundbites.
As Dunphy and Jones put it, “We recognize that issues are complex and require conversations, not arguments.” If only all elected officials regardless of party affiliation felt the same.