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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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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Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough


…no matter how bad things get, we as citizens retain control of our government—if we exercise it.”

Gehl, Katherine M.. The Politics Industry (p. 105). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

As someone who has been involved in the electoral reform movement for a number of years in my home state of Florida, I have often become discouraged as expressed by this image.

Eight years ago, I asked myself how we got to the point where the majority of our fellow citizens continue to support two warring political factions that fail to govern effectively. We have closed primaries in Florida, so opening them to all voters has been a long-term goal. However, it was not until 2017 that Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter opened my eyes fully to the mechanism by which the political duopoly perpetuates their control over our elections and much of the electorate.

Steve Hough

Their report, Why Competition In The Politics Industry Is Failing America, brought into focus some things that I had observed in more general terms. That report connected all the dots and provided a blueprint for building a better mousetrap. I congratulate Katherine and Michael for their efforts in sharing their work over the last three years, and I was excited to learn that they were expanding their work in the form of a new book.


You have a choice to make. You can continue applying your agency elsewhere, indirectly perpetuating the political-industrial complex that undermines the very causes you are prioritizing separately (and nobly, to be sure). Or you can redirect your agency to further catalyze a twenty-first-century wave of political innovation to break partisan gridlock and save our democracy; in which case you’re advancing every cause. Without a sea change, our political system will continue to do more harm to education, the environment, the economy—you name it. A transformation of the politics industry can do more than we can do on our own to help those sacred corners of America.”

Gehl, Katherine M.. The Politics Industry (p. 172). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

I agree that great organizations have long been fighting the good fight when it comes to individual issues, and it will continue being a challenge to create awareness about the potential for lasting change via innovative reform of our elections process. By the same token, there are numerous electoral reform organizations working on various types of initiatives and sometimes appear to be in competition with one another. Competition of ideas is a good thing, and I view the movement for electoral reform an evolutionary process. My hope is that, in the very near future, a natural synergy will develop among a number of organizations and the end result will be reformers of all stripes following the same road map in order to arrive at a mutually desired destination.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.

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Reader’s Forum — Jessie Fields


Some Thoughts Beyond The Politics Industry


I very much agree with the authors of The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter, that the prescription for innovation is “to change the machinery of politics – to change the rules that govern elections and legislating.”

And I also wish, as I believe Katherine Gehl does as well, for us to reach beyond reform to transformation of the laws, rules and operations of the political process.

We as a country are in the midst of tremendous social upheaval, a maelstrom moment described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his leading essay in the September issue of Vanity Fair as “The Great Fire.” He writes not only of “the fire,” the ongoing horror of racism and its inhumanity and brutality but also of its glaring public exposure and the uprising against it, “the light.”

A thousand Eric Garners will be tolerated, so long as they are strangled to death in the shadows of the American carceral system, the most sprawling gulag known to man.”

Breonna Taylor is on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine because she was killed by police. It became publicly known about three months after her death that she was killed while lying in her bed in Louisville, Kentucky after the police stormed into her apartment. If Breonna Taylor were alive she would not be on the cover of Vanity Fair. She was an ordinary, beautiful, vibrant young Black woman with high aspirations for her future. All wiped out in a storm of bullets. Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, shares some of her daughter’s life story in the magazine. A piercing question before her family and all the families who have lost loved ones to racist violence, is how is it the continued fate of our people to be called upon to lead in the face of such trauma and pain and how have so many sustained the courage to do so. We as a people, all the American people, need to build togetherness and we have a great deal to learn from these examples of personal courage.

We do need “innovation that is transformative as” the book, The Politics Industry, calls for and to me that transformation has to include transforming the structural racism, segregation, the anti-poor and anti-people of color practices that are inherent in the policies set by the current established political processes. We have to dismantle the top down control, and the ways “we the people” are polarized into warring camps. A cultural transformation is also necessary, one that engages all of us in the process of collective human development and recreating our country.

I believe that as independents and as human beings of any color we ought to always support and speak out for social justice and actively build a multiracial political movement that is deeply connected to the long struggles of people of color in America to remake our democracy to be inclusive of all Americans. We continue on that journey.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, and a Board member at Independent Voting and Open Primaries.

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Reader’s Forum — Al Bell


Led by Independents, not parties,

we have a path to follow in reclaiming our governance.


Al Bell

It is in your best interest to read this book because the two major political parties believe they own your vote. They are dead wrong. The revolution to get your vote back is underway. Read this book and help get our votes exactly where they belong: with each voter. The secret is to change the election systems to get leaders who believe that. It is none too soon.

Our intentionally dysfunctional party-centric governance is sabotaging the Great American Experiment, first by simply not delivering responsive solutions and secondly by discrediting our entire American enterprise. We desperately need to replace most members of Congress with men and women who actually want to govern instead of wielding partisan wedges so they can look busy while accomplishing very little. Finding those new leaders is impossible at the scale necessary as long as the party duopoly controls the process—and as long as that process rewards dysfunction. This book is written for those who care enough to find those leaders.

The insights reflected here are built on the shoulders of a great many perceptive political leaders going back decades who understood that the party duopoly was just not responsive to our leadership needs. While not named, their presence haunts these pages and lends to them a credibility the authors bring to life.

We speak endlessly of the divisiveness that dominates the public square these days. Differences of opinion and belief are endemic to our society; that is not the problem. Denying their existence and silencing dissenting voices are the killing forces. Differences are both essential and unavoidable. What is optional is whether we will operate a political system dedicated to honestly bring different priorities and visions to workable resolution. Currently, the answer is “no.” We need “yes.”

The authors make a powerful case that our “broken” political system is actually working exactly as intended. It desperately needs to be broken, exactly opposite the typical phrasing we hear. That clarity in perspective drives their ideas about how we can unravel the current governance debacle.

The authors approach “breaking the system” with a business competition and economics perspective. This mentality underpins their analysis as well as their prescriptions. It opens up some intriguing practical options.

The authors document what some of these options look like; they also describe changes in the election process and the practice of legislating that can once again serve us. They offer a coherent basis for evaluating different versions of their preferred election system that are already providing experience—or soon will be.

The current wave of experiments provides insights on how we can change legislators’ behavior by appealing to a different breed of politicians entirely—and enabling them to behave differently when elected. Congressional ineptitude does not have to be permanent.

All members of Congress will be replaced eventually. Why not evolve an electoral system that enables members who are willing to risk excellence, expose themselves to understanding their constituencies, and honor the long view? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to feel regret that someone is stepping down instead of relief?

The authors describe how the business concept of competition can be adapted to the distinctive arena of governance to stimulate excellence and achievement rather than divisiveness, mediocrity, blatant waste, and failure. They present their arguments by subjecting the non-performance of our legislators to a disciplined examination that contrasts sharply with the party duopoly perspective we have come to view as “normal.” In fact, it is congenitally abnormal, as they document.

There is much more work to be done in “breaking” the system that has mutated into a leadership miasma. One is to thoughtfully test the results and effectiveness of the emerging models of electoral reforms, such as totally open primary elections, top two/three/four/five elections, approval voting, ranked choice voting, and variations on these themes. Objective review, achieved by a broadly representative mix of analysts, will be needed to: 1) properly assess what does and does not work best and why, and 2) generate refinements that will improve performance. We have an unprecedented opportunity to realistically fine-tune our best approaches to getting the leadership we need.

The experiments are now underway. They come, not from the parties, but rather from the world of Independent Voters. The political punditry, news media, and party autocracies have consistently failed to understand why almost half of registered voters in the U.S. declare themselves independent of the parties, who these Americans really are, what motivates them to renounce party rigidity, what we can learn from these patriots, and why it matters.

Some of the most informed commentators on our party-induced malaise still do not grasp why Independent Voters are key to breaking the party stranglehold on our governance mechanisms. Yet, that sector of the political universe is generating the breakthrough experiments from which we now have the opportunity to learn so much. We learn here what some of those experiments are. We need to know even more about the Independent Voting movement that promotes a rebirth of the Great American Experiment by fostering effective voting. This book is a superb “launch point” for exploring the people and the organizations waging this battle for years and that are now getting real traction!

I end with one personal entreaty: let humility prevail in this endeavor. The enemy of humility is arrogance, with which our political arena overflows. The opposite of confidence and capability is not uncertainty and incapacity; it is arrogance. That’s one thing we don’t need as we seek to reinvigorate the Great American Experiment. Perhaps, in due course, even the parties will come to grasp that reality.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

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