Reader’s Forum — Tiani Coleman


From Enthusiastic, to Jaded, and Back Again, Rinse and Repeat


Tiani Coleman

The 2020 book The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save our Democracy, by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter, hits close to home. It says a lot of what I’ve been trying to say for some time now, but it’s much more effective. 

Let me explain how I went from being a die-hard Republican insider in 2001; to in 2012, becoming an independent activist trying to change the system to break-up the dynamics that heavily favor parties and their insiders, so that all voters can have a real and meaningful voice. My change in perspective started when I began to grasp the injustice of parties being able to conduct themselves like private clubs, even though they hold a very crucial gatekeeper role in our public elections. 

As Chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party (2003-2005), I ran up against members of my executive committee voting to remove “county and state delegates” from their elected delegate position.  At that time, Utah had primarily a caucus/convention system of nominating candidates for the general election ballot.  Delegates to both the county and state conventions, elected at their county precinct caucus, were free agents, not bound to vote for any candidate, but instead were elected as “representatives” with sole power to cast nominating votes at their respective conventions on any candidate for each state and federal public office (except president, where they only elected national delegates and electors).  Any candidate receiving at least 60% of the delegate vote became the party nominee for the general election ballot without facing a public primary at all.  Not only did all executive committee members and public officeholders (incumbents) already have automatic superdelegate status, but add to that, the power of the executive committee to remove elected delegates and replace them with appointed delegates.  That was a lot of power in the hands of just a few people!  These issues were further compounded by the fact that most general elections were not competitive; Republicans typically won most races overwhelmingly.  Hence, the voice of “the people” in our elections was heavily outweighed by the power of “the party.”  This could result in either the tyranny of the majority, or the tyranny of the minority, depending upon who held controlling power within the party.

In 2010, with that stewing in my mind, I managed the campaign of a college mentor who was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in one of the most conservative districts in the country.  In that race, qualifications, substance behind the issues and the character of the candidates made virtually no difference.  It was a lopsided district, and all that mattered was her opponent getting the partisan Republican base at caucus and convention — then the general election was in the bag.  (And it wasn’t just Republicans; Democrats benefitted from a similar super-majority in the city capital.) 

In 2012, I officially unaffiliated with any party, and began advocating for a change to the caucus/convention system.  I knew we  had to come up with something better than party primaries, though, because of the broader dynamics of not having competitive general elections. Unrepresentative election results especially ensued, given that most voters weren’t affiliated with a party, and thus had no say in closed primaries. Then their choices in the general election were limited and predetermined.  My most profound realization came when I considered, for the first time, that there was no reason we HAD to keep parties as gatekeepers for our public elections.  That’s not in the Constitution.  In fact, the Framers were anti party-system.

California had just passed a top-two primary system, wherein all candidates from all party preferences to no party preference were on the same primary ballot, and the top-two vote getters, regardless of party, moved on to the general election.  That was a neat idea! (But, a little limiting).  In some of our Republican conventions, we had utilized ranked choice voting, a type of instant run-off election where voters can rank their candidates in order of preference; and if no candidate gets a majority on the first ballot, an automatic series of run-offs ensues until someone wins with a majority.  What if we fused the idea of a combined primary, like California had, with the idea of ranked choice voting, to allow for more than two candidates to advance to the general election, or at least to ensure that those who did advance hadn’t simply squeaked by with a low plurality win due to vote-splitting?  That was the answer!

I was so excited about this new proposal for a combined primary utilizing ranked choice voting.  I began sharing it with knowledgeable and capable people.  I found a few good people who were supportive of the idea, and in early 2013, we set up a website to start drumming up support for a citizen ballot initiative.  However, ours was a big change that would not inherently favor the powers that be, and it would require a lot of supporters and a lot of resources to be successful. As we were just getting off the ground, some big money interests got involved and “took over” the electoral reform space in Utah. Their endeavor managed to succeed at adding a signature route to the primary ballot, such that party conventions were no longer the sole route. Theirs was a step, but not a complete solution, since it retained party primaries, with the Republican primary remaining closed to non-party members. 

A little while after my family moved to New Hampshire seven years ago, I got involved in re-instituting New Hampshire Independent Voters.  Our primary purpose is to decrease the power of special interests, including parties, and increase the power of “we the people,” with a special focus on expanding ballot access for all candidates, and voting access for all voters, including independent voters, to cast a real and meaningful vote.  We aren’t a party, and we aren’t directly about trying to help elect independent candidates; we’re about systemic reforms needed to give everyone an equal playing field.  

We’ve had a lot of people agree with our issues and “sign up,” but few have been actively engaged enough to donate significant amounts of time or resources.  We’ve also assisted already established organizational allies on things like money in politics, redistricting, and voting rights.  Since New Hampshire doesn’t allow for citizen initiatives, any electoral reforms have to pass the legislature.  In 2017, finding someone to sponsor a bill for a combined primary was met with resistance, but the idea of a bill to implement ranked choice voting was met with more enthusiasm.  So I’m now also leading an organization called New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting (NHRCV).  We’re focused on educating about and advocating for ranked choice voting in NH.  We’re not focused on combining the primary (although I wholeheartedly still support that concept). NHRCV is having success in a non-partisan/cross partisan manner with people, volunteers and resources, thus far. 

So here’s the kicker. Guess what’s been happening in the last couple of months? We’ve had new people joining NHRCV,  people who haven’t been involved with the independent voter group or the RCV group before, holding up Gehl and Porter’s book, saying that they would be a lot more enthused about our efforts if we were supporting a “top 5” reform. I’ve had others who have been enthusiastically volunteering, say, “Wait, you mean we’re just supporting ranked choice voting without doing away with party primaries?  Well, how will that really change anything?” While I do think RCV reform alone will be a great improvement, I agree that a more fundamental change is sorely needed to truly transform our system to one that really works for “the people.” Oh, the irony of finding myself as the jaded one; the one setting aside the “ideal,” and making the case for working with what’s possible.

Indeed, Gehl and Porter are extremely welcome voices to the movement.  Their research and credibility brings vibrant clarity, with concrete examples, to these issues.  It looks like their work has the capacity to thrust the need for systemic change to the forefront, as they argue in mainstream terms and call upon us to open the market and innovate like we would in any other industry.  They call upon us to quit saying the system is broken; they expertly unveil how the system is working exactly how it’s meant to work, and that’s the problem: we need a new system! They lay out in great detail how “the political-industrial complex is a private industry within a public institution,” and that “reveals the root cause of the situation in which we find ourselves.” They then eloquently propose the solution: a “top 5” combined primary utilizing ranked choice voting in the general election.

If every well-intended, rational American reads Gehl and Porter’s book, combined with Gruber, Hardy and Kresky’s Touro Law Review article, “Let All Voters Vote: Independents and the Expansion of Voting Rights in the United States,” it will be more than possible to bring about the needed systemic reforms that could do wonders for our representative, constitutional Democracy.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.

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Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
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7pm ET
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P4P Book Raffle!

Enter & Win a FREE copy of our next book!

  1. Invite a family member or friend to register for our Politics for the People Zoom conversation with Author Katherine Gehl THIS Sunday, October 18th at 7 pm ET.
  2. Make sure your friends and family list your name as how they heard about the book club.

3. Show up!! This SUNDAY, October 18th at 7pm for the conversation, we will be taking attendance. If your invitee is present, you will be entered in the P4P raffle for our next book! Winners will be announced on the blog next week.

We look forward to seeing you on October 18th at 7 pm ET for our conversation on The Politics Industry.

Reader’s Forum — Ben Walton looks at Chapter 5

Ben Walton

The new rules of the game that Gehl and Porter are advocating for in The Politics Industry are simple:

  • Level the playing field by using top-five voting or RCV to allow healthier competition, and allow your citizens to vote on who they favor rather than having to pick from a bucket.

  • Create better competition and force the candidates and representatives to become more accountable to the citizens which in turn creates a better government.

  • Finely restructure the way we think about our legislative branch. Long ago, our nation decided it was reasonable for the Senate and Congress to create their own rules. Now that we have decades of data to see those rules at work, it’s become apparent that the structure of these two bodies is to repeal and replace rather than create then improve. We need to change this idealism and create a non-partisan commission to restructure and rewrite the rules of our legislative body.

I see sports and politics as one and the same. The idea of two teams in competition against one another, both with the same goal, the desire to win, and both in the same league. We have dedicated networks that offer different opinions, report highlights for the day and analysis of each representative or athlete on what they did and why. This means that as spectators we pick and choose who we support, the teams that we follow. We listen to what the players and coaches have to say and believe them. Politics has become just a game and updating/rule changing is needed. We need better and more fair competition with the opportunity for our representatives to work together and become more accountable to constituents.

We can do it but we have to start now.

Ben Walton is the Head of Program Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Ben served as the High School and College Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians. Ben received his BA in Political Science from Aquinas College in 2018

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Gehl’s Five Stages of Political Grief

In an interview with Valuetainment’s Patrick Bet-David, Katherine Gehl describes her journey in trying to make positive changes in government. In the video clip below, Katherine applies the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief to her experience searching for solutions for true political change. After trying one method after the other, Katherine comes to the conclusion that the barriers are systemic, they are embedded in the rules and incentives of politics and that we have the power to change and reform them.

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Reader’s Forum — Alan Baily

Alan Baily

The book starts out with an exceptionally good analysis of the structures of the current political system and what they term the “political industrial complex.” This analysis helps you understand how the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties have structured the election and legislative processes to control who we can vote for how we pass legislation and who these processes serve.

The current political system is not broken. It is designed to do exactly what you see it is doing. It works for and delivers to exactly who it is designed for. Clearly, not the citizens who vote for them but the corporations and donor class that pays for them.

The book starts with an analysis of the election and legislative processes. The book does an excellent job of defining the structure of these two processes and how the duopoly manages to keep its power. Over the past few decades, through an accumulation of minor changes in how elections are run and how the legislative process works, the duopoly of the two major parties has managed to make it very difficult to be an independent candidate or Congressperson.

The changes in these systems protect the duopoly at the expense of democracy. With this structure in place, there is very little incentive for Congress to deliver for the average citizen. It is the best government that money can buy.

The second strength of the book are the solutions to democratizing the election process, specifically non-partisan open primaries leading to the top candidates moving on to a general election with ranked choice voting. My one criticism of the election process assessment is the lack of analysis of the redistricting process and how gerrymandering distorts this part of the process. Personally, I think the “efficiency gap” method of analyzing the redistricting process is a good one but the Supreme Court seems to think it is a bunch of “sociological gobblygoop.”

My other basic criticism is with a lack of emphasis/analysis on campaign finance reform. Along with gerrymandering, I consider these problems to be more important than election and legislative reform. It is possible that it was thought that some of the solutions proposed would help alleviate these issues but that was not made clear.

Relative to the election process, I thought the solutions of open primaries and ranked choice voting were excellent. After that, the solutions for legislative reform, campaign finance reform and opening up competition were weak. There are many suggestions about what “should” be done to solve many problems but no specificity in how the solutions to these problems should be implemented.

Currently, there is no incentive to have “solutions-minded centrists” to run for office. All the other/above problems would need be solved before that can be a reality. My opinion is that if the above problems are solved, it will lead to less polarization and more centrists will be elected. If politicians don’t work for voters, you will never have solutions-minded ones.

My major disagreement is thinking that change can come from the center. As the book says so itself, most change has come from the fringes. Since the corporate/donor class is the right side of the spectrum, I only see any possible solutions to any of these problems as coming from the left side of the political spectrum. To see how hard the corporate/donor class is willing to fight, one only has look at what was done to Bernie Sanders during the 2016 and 2020 presidential cycles. The Democratic Party, basically being a private corporation, did everything it could to make sure his prospects as a viable candidate were destroyed.

Alan Baily is an architect who, as a member of the Big Apple Coffee Party, has a keen interest in fighting against corporate power.

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Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
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7pm ET

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click here to RSVP!

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Reader’s Forum — Catana (Barnes) Malinowski

Catana Malinowski

The Politics Industry, by Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter is a good reminder of who is supposed to be in control of the political process in our country, but it is also a cautionary note about the fact that our political process has been hijacked by the two party duopoly and that the system is not working for us, “We The People.”  There are many points made in the book about who makes election laws and rules, some arbitrary, as well as who it is that has the ultimate power to change them…”We The People.” As a lifelong activist, a long-time leader in the independent movement and a recently derailed independent candidate for a state senate seat, due to rigged rules and COVID-19, I found the rallying cry for unity to be the most important message. However, I truly believe that unity is the greatest obstacle we face.

I have lived all over the United States, have recently moved to another state, and have found that we, as a nation, are anything but united. I agree with the message in Chapter 6, “Laboratories and Principles,” that we must be mindful of the individual uniquenesses of each state and how they operate, but we also need to find the ways that the states are all alike, the similarities, or we, as a nation, are certain to fail as divided individuals. I feel Chapter 6, “Laboratories and Principles,” also provides the best examples about division and unity. On pages 158 and 159, under “Localize, Localize, Localize,” I found two statements that stand out:

Again, the unique personalities and histories of our fifty states are some of America’s greatest strengths, but this individuality can and will bite back if not respected.”

…While national politics takes place through the filter of the media circus, local politics by and large does not. It is thriving because we are in an era of low social trust. People really have faith only in the relationships right around them…”

My concern, then, is that if we focus on local only rather than local plus national as a whole, We The People will fail to unify our nation for the greater good and we will lose our ability to regain our collective power.

Catana Malinowski is an independent leader with the National Election Reform Committee (NERC).

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Reader’s Forum — Frank Fear


The Politics Industry Gets 5-Stars


Frank Fear

As a Progressive Independent, I found ‘hope’ in The Politics Industry. Well-conceived and expressed, it’s a book written for the American public. “Innovators” is the term Everett Rogers used to categorize folks like Gehl and Porter.

Rogers, a trailblazer in the field called the adoption/diffusion of innovations, concluded that Innovators need Early Adopters to move things along on the road to change. I’d hazard a guess that lots of you reading this piece are Early Adopters. If so, you may have done what I did: nodded your head as you read the book, and made notations as you came across a passage that stood out. You may have recommended the book to a friend.

I thought a lot about The Politics Industry and Innovators/Early Adopters today. As I did, I thought about two other groups of people that factor heavily into the mix of political innovation and reform. First, there are activists. They are the ones who run with new ideas, take leadership, and do the heavy lifting. Second, there are advocates. Advocates don’t necessarily do a lot of the work. Still, they believe in and support the work, aiding it in some way, such as contributing money and endorsing the idea with family and friends. Any activist will tell you that advocates are the lifeblood of change. In the scheme of change, activists are small in number, but advocates can (and need to) proliferate.

The points I’ve made here have nothing to do exclusively with political innovation and change. My observations have to do with any type of innovation and change. There are relatively few activists, and there is a core of advocates that activists seek to grow over time. But, in truth, it’s also important to point out that as activists and advocates do their thing, the majority of people (to use a term a colleague of mine uses a lot) ‘are on the sidelines.’

Sound tough? It is. And there’s even more. It’s doubly difficult when 1) what you seek to change is an industry with buyers and sellers, a robust market system, and ‘losers’ if the industry were to become somehow attenuated, and 2) the change you propose conflicts with some dimension of personal identity.

Gehl and Porter make a strong case for politics as an industry—and a private industry at that. I agree with their assessment wholeheartedly. But, mind you, the assertion carries considerable weight when it comes to change because industry resistance to change is economic and political. Just think about the billions of dollars pouring into political coffers this cycle, and how that money is being spent—on employees, advertisements, etc. Consider how media companies, like FOX and MSNBC, are tied so strongly to what goes on in America’s politics today. Make that … what the political parties are doing in America’s politics today. And think about how the major political parties team up to oppose political innovation and reform when any proposal impinges on their party-centered preference. “Don’t mess with the industry!”

On the personal identity dimension, I asked: “How many of my Facebook friends might read The Politics Industry?” “How many of those would agree with its content?” “And how many in that sub-set would take action?” I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’ll speculate that the answers to all three questions are ‘not many.’ Why? What Gehl and Porter write about isn’t seen as a problem for those who are invested heavily in party politics. Being an invested party affiliate isn’t just a political preference and a voting choice. It’s a prominent feature of personal identity—waving the flag, defending the castle, winning elections, and doing what needs to be done to keep the party vibrant and in power. What I learned long ago is that it’s tough duty to talk change when that change involves personal identity.

None of what I’ve written is intended to detract from what Gehl and Porter have written or offer. Hardly. It’s an important book that gives me (as I wrote in the intro) ‘hope.’ The challenge is making the hill climb to change. In some respects, the climb is made easier by the fact that so many Americans tell Gallup that they are party-unaffiliated (40% in the Aug-Sept national poll).

But we need more than that. We need everyday Americans, not just the innovators and activists, to see the problematic nature of an American electoral system that’s profoundly party-centered. With that in mind, I was drawn to a statement shared on Facebook by Carrie Ann Rathbun Hawks (a friend and associate) in response to the first Presidential debate:

Can we eliminate the political parties, please? So many of our problems would go away at every level of government. It might even get back to ‘We the people’ instead of ‘We the Republicans’ or ‘We the Democrats.’ Shameful!”

Hope. Carrie gives me hope that what Gehl and Porter recommend can happen. But, as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” (italics added). For Innovators and activists, that’s the nut to be cracked.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.

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