The October 4th Politics for the People conversation with Author Katherine Gehl is being rescheduled.
Stay tuned for a new October date!
…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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn’t a review of the book. These are comments to show why I decided not to spend time reading the book, after reading the free sample of the opening pages. None of us can read everything, so it may help people understand why some people choose not to pursue the ideas of the book. Someone I respect asked me to do this much:
1) I wouldn’t support something nationally for the US until it has thorough testing. I don’t know that top 5 primaries have been tested?
2) Gehl is collecting emails and money to establish a fledgling organization at Political-innovation.org and GehlPorter.com. This effort diverts resources from the hundreds of political reform organizations which already exist. Were the authors unable to convince any existing organization to adopt their ideas? Better to join existing movements for RCV by itself, campaign finance reform, anti-gerrymandering, anti-revolving door, limits on lobbyists, etc.
3) They have incomprehensible nostalgia for big business and the filtering by mainstream media in the old days, which gave us sex and race discrimination, old-age poverty, world-wide poverty, endless war, endless pollution, exploitation of immigrants, etc. No wonder rich people from Koch to Schultz endorse them. https://www.amazon.com/Politics-Industry-Political-Innovation-Democracy/dp/1633699234
4) Neither the sample nor their other writings I found described their “modern streamlined” proposals for legislative procedures. Wikipedia says they propose a nonpartisan group to write new rules from scratch. They have the heft to assemble such a group right now, better than Congress. I’d love to see a draft! In their Aspen talk they only mentioned Congressional rules, an approach which ignores states and towns where crucial decisions are made.
5) Part of their proposal is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). I respect that serious people are working for RCV over the long term. It doesn’t attract me because: (A) Auditing RCV to find errors requires big samples in every contest. Even now no state audits enough ballots, in enough contests, and we can’t continue to leave results unaudited in a world of error-filled software. Approval voting is more auditable. (B) Ranking choices is simple enough in parliamentary elections for one seat, not in our elections for 10-20 offices, where most people can’t even pick one candidate per office. San Francisco seems to have had this problem https://www.city-journal.org/instant-runoff-voting. (C) In five-person contests name recognition would stay crucial, especially for 2nd and 3rd choices. Name recognition requires money or previous fame, like actors. That leaves power with lobbyists and donors. See point 3.
Paul Burke has been a poll worker in Bosnia, West Virginia and California, and found strengths and weaknesses in all three.
On September 23rd, Cathy Stewart moderated a special Politics for the People Facebook Live conversation with:
Katie Fahey, Executive Director of The People
Katherine Gehl, author along with Michael Porter of The Politics Industry and the founder and Chairman of The Institute for Political Innovation
Jackie Salit, the President of Independent Voting
Their lively conversation covered a lot of terrain — from what political innovation in the political arena could look like; to a conversation about the importance of voting and the urgent need for the American people to do much more; to the challenges and role of women’s leadership in the broad reform movement. Check out their conversation here:
Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 4th
Click here to RSVP!
As we are all gearing up for one of the most anticipated elections this fall, Gehl & Porter’s book is an important reminder as to how we got here and why this election will likely fail to solve any of the issues brought up in the book, regardless of who is elected. Gehl and Porter reiterate throughout the book that the two parties will not give up their power and welcome a third party into the arena. The people of our country must come together to determine the desired outcomes of our political system and act to make sure our political system provides those. Regardless of political affiliation it must be seen as patriotic, not partisan, to want better for our country and to demand more from our elected officials. Chapter three provides data for where we are and sets the stage for what needs to be done.
The consequences of failing competitiveness Gehl and Porter outlined in chapter three all resonated with me because I have personally experienced all of them within the past month. We are living in a house (America) with countless cracks, Gehl and Porter discuss a few of the major ones. There is a lack of problem solving with our elected officials, no one seems to want to take accountability and work together to create solutions. There is no attention to preventative care; leaving our politicians to only deal with what is absolutely minimally required of them, instead of looking out for the long term health of our country. Most shockingly, the country is deeply divided. I was recently harassed while getting my mail by a political parade driving down my road. These individuals saw me as an enemy, a threat to their existence and as less of a person and decided they would yell obscenities at me from their megaphone. I do not believe our divide will be healed with electing the right person or initiating the right policy. Rather, this divide will take years of restorative justice, working together and building a shared country together. I do not think anyone reading Gehl and Porter’s book would disagree with the cracks in our home; how we got these cracks may be open for debate, but we have come to understand as a country we are in need of some repairs.
I value the section in chapter three discussing the consequences of the U.S.’s failing political system, as many of these topics have unfortunately been politicized; yet they are facts, rooted in data. Our country was seated at the top of many standards for a period in time, but without maintaining those gains we have fallen behind other countries. It is not unpatriotic to say we are not the best, and we can improve. In fact, I believe working on our country should be seen as one of the most patriotic things a person can do. We must make this declaration because we have ranked 26th in the world for overall social progress. Government must provide shared prosperity for its citizens and the current system of American politics is failing to do so. An interesting point to me was that we’re behind the country of Ghana in the rankings of safety; a country I called home four years ago.
Prior to reading Gehl and Porter’s previous paper and this book I did not understand how competitiveness was defined. It is not simply more candidates running for office. Instead, it is creating a shared prosperity for people and businesses which is desired and sustainable. Our country currently fits the definition of failing to be competitive. We have declining labor force participation, the private sector is strong while the public sector is weak, and economic gains are centered at the top of the income distribution.
Our country came to assume our future prosperity was assured, but over the past few decades we have realized it’s not. Like Democracy and relationships our prosperity is a living thing that needs attention, dedication and continued inputs to improve and not stay stagnant. Without an investment, we land where we are today; falling behind. Our political process’s foundation is cracking and we must work to repair the foundation while we still can salvage it.
One of the important, yet slightly overlooked sections in Gehl and Porter’s chapter three is around the lack of accountability elected officials have while in office. Elected officials should be accountable to their constituents; however, this is not how our political system operates today. Gehl and Porter discuss how the lack of accountability in part is due to the duopology between the Democrats and Republicans. It was striking to me how nearly 50% of Americans desire a third party; however, we have failed to see one emerge. Again, our political system is not responding to the needs of the people. Instead, the two parties rig our system to make it impossible for a third party to emerge. Thus, they use the political process to keep themselves in power. This chapter made the case for a multi-party system even more attractive to me as a consumer.
Chapter three discusses what Gehl and Porter believe are the five outcomes our Democracy must deliver: solutions, action, support from a broad base, balance short & long term needs and show fidelity to the Constitution. I personally favor a system where the people of our country come together to discuss the desired outcomes as opposed to politicians, business elites and the ‘experts’ deciding. While I recognize that some of Gehl and Porter’s five may overlap with the people’s I believe there would be more based on the lived experiences of more people contributing. As a citizen I pay into a system of politics which should work to improve my life, my community and my world. I am a dissatisfied consumer of the American Political System and I am actively working to change that system.
I fiercely agree with the claim that our political system is not broken, it is functioning exactly how the parties, political influences, monied interests, etc. are wanting it to work. A fundamental issue with our system is that it is catering to these interests and not the interests of the general public. Gehl and Porter outline the problems we are now seeing due to a failure of competition in the political arena. As Gehl and Porter conclude this chapter the promise of it being the darkest in the book is realized; however, it is important to understand what is truly broken, fully assessing the situation, before jumping in to salvage it. So while this chapter may be difficult to read it is nevertheless necessary to understand where we are and where we can go from here.
Paige Bartkowiak is the Head of National Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Paige was the Major Fundraising Event Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians, a fundraiser for Senator Debbie Stabenow and a field organizer for Bryan Mielke.
Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 4th
Click here to RSVP!
Executive Director of The People
Co-author of The Politics Industry, our current Politics for the People selection
President of Independent Voting
As we head into the final six weeks of this election cycle, we’ll chat with three of the country’s top independent reform leaders about their thoughts on where the country needs to focus the day after November 3rd. And by the way, they are all women.
Then, join us on Sunday, October 4th at 7 pm ET
for a Zoom conversation with Katherine Gehl.
To RSVP for October 4th, please click here.
I loved reading The Politics Industry. I am on my second go around now! Thank you so much for your advocacy and articulation of the need for significant system reforms.
I am a long-time activist in the independent movement challenging the two-party stranglehold on our elections. Our group, Independent Pennsylvanians, is committed to the rights of independents to fully participate in our elections. I so much support your recommended reforms that would infuse needed innovation, let alone basic fairness and functionality to our so-called democratic process.
I am also a psychotherapist committed to helping people develop and grow into who they are becoming. I am thinking about how your signature reform of non-partisan top 5 first round/RCV second round of elections could be a way to support our political process to grow, develop, become.
I wonder about how your reform recommendation can be operationalized and adopted for on-the-ground advocacy and strategy. I question if development of the electorate is needed simultaneous to advocating for significant reforms such as top five nonpartisan primary/RCV. Some of our activists are concerned, for example, that pushing any reforms other than opening the primaries to nonpartisans will “go too far”. Of course, opening closed primaries alone does not go far enough, but do we, as voters and activists, need to be able/willing to stretch and have vision for what more we can reach for?
Jennifer Bullock is the Director of Independent Pennsylvanians, which is a proud founding member of the PA Open Primaries Coalition. She is a social therapist practicing in Philadelphia.
On August 25th, Katherine Gehl, Founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, spoke at the Convention on Founding Principles. Katherine outlined her view on the crisis in our political system and how America could create a pathway forward where “our best days are ahead.”
“I’m not saying November 3rd isn’t consequential, it is. But I will tell anyone, regardless of the side they’re on, the same thing. No matter who is elected President on November 3rd, we won’t be on a trajectory to our very brightest days ahead because on November 4th, the political system that’s breaking our republic, that’s breaking us in two, will remain.”
“…Most of us are still in love, in love with America…with the possibility of these United States of America, imperfect yet striving. What should we do with this love of our breaking country. Let’s put it to work….”
“The only thing each party has to do to win is to convince the average voter to choose them as the lesser of two evils. The one thing neither party needs to do to win is to deliver results for the citizens, results in the public interest writ large….”
“We must change our dysfunctional election system. Which brings us right to Founding Principles, to our Constitution. Article I gives each state the power to make all the rules about their state’s congressional elections. Let’s use that power to solve our problem. Let’s change the rules of how we vote by implementing a system called Final Five Voting. Final Five Voting is a combination of open top five primaries and ranked choice voting general elections. Under this system, party primaries will no longer create a proverbial eye of the needle through which no problem solving politician could ever hope to pass. Voters for new challengers and new ideas won’t waste their votes or “spoil” the election. And the general election will be more important than the primary, as it should be. Change the rules of how we vote, thus change the incentives and change the results we get from Washington, D.C.
I like to call it free market politics. Delivering the best of what healthy free markets promise: innovation, results and accountability. Let’s not forget that the last time we had a balanced budget was…when both parties felt the competitive pressure from Ross Perot’s deficit focused 19% of the electorate. Competition delivers progress….”
You can watch Katherine’s full remarks:
Join us on Sunday, October 4th at 7 pm ET for a zoom conversation with Katherine Gehl as we explore The Politics Industry