“Not left. Not right. Forward.” And so, a new political party is launched in our country with three priorities: free people, thriving communities and vibrant democracy. The party has an ambitious premise: “Reinventing what a political party should be.”
The principals are New Jersey’s former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Democratic candidate for president and for mayor of New York Andrew Yang and former Republican Congressman David Jolly, who has since dropped his Republican affiliation. “Forward” was created by the merger of three entities alike in their almost complete lack of public visibility, the Forward Party, the Renew America movement and the Serve America movement.
The idea of an additional political party as a way of improving the political process in the U.S. is not new. However, the stranglehold the Democratic and Republican parties have on our political system makes it a long shot, to put it mildly.
The polarization of the U.S. has drawn sharp political lines that now penetrate states, communities and families. That, combined with a redistricting system that results in “safe” districts (that reliably support a particular political party) in as many as 94 percent of congressional House districts, means that most districts are not competitive.
In most, the outcome is predictable well ahead of the vote. In a small number, one candidate may take a few positions that cross party lines, picking up just enough votes to prevail in a district where voters from his party are in the minority. This straying across ideological lines may annoy the heck out of his own party, but if it results in an upset in a district, all is forgiven.
The bottom line here is that if a few safe seats are picked off by the other side, it may lead to precious majority status in a legislative body. For any legislature, including Congress, owning 51 percent of the seats means holding 100 percent of the power. It is not proportional. The party that holds two-thirds of the seats does not get two-thirds of leadership positions or two-thirds of committee chairmanships. It gets 100 percent.
A Democratic candidate who wins a Republican district does not do so by espousing straight Democratic ideology. Though he or she may hold many core Democratic values, there will be issues on which that Democrat supports the Republican position. Do these represent the candidate’s true opinions, or is it a carefully crafted strategy that will give the candidate just enough votes, in combination with his or her own party’s support, to put him or her over the top?
Sen. Susan Collins based her career on being a “moderate” Republican, perhaps the most moderate in the U.S. Senate, according to some sources. She supported the policy initiatives of presidents from both parties. There has always been
grumbling from Republicans in D.C. who label her a RINO (Republican in Name Only), but at home, the Maine senator drew plenty of votes from her own party, from independents and from crossover Democratic voters.
Her stance on social issues, the key to her support from the left, underwent something of an earthquake over her recent support for Supreme Court justices who she now feels misled her on their positions on abortion. Whether she can still claim middle-of-the-road status remains to be seen. Democrats continue to debate whether it was deceit or gullibility.
Congressman Jared Golden also holds positions on each side of the party divide, and he has made it quite clear that it is no mistake. He has opposed many of the gun safety measures his party has advanced and voted against a major financial package intended to help the country recover from the pandemic. Democrats were furious, but herein lies the rub.
Golden is the incumbent congressman, a big advantage, but not an insurmountable challenge for a Republican challenger in a right-leaning district. What do disappointed Democratic voters do? Certainly they do not vote for Republican Bruce Poliquin, who is way to the right of Golden. No, there is a tacit understanding that that’s what any candidate in a borderline district must do to get elected.
A Democratic candidate with a “purer” voting record is the only option, yet that is taking a chance for Democrats in a Republican-majority district. So, you live with it. For sure, there is plenty for their parties to like about both Susan Collins and Jared Golden, but oh, some of those votes.
The oddest thing about all this is the general understanding that winning is everything, but what has been won? The opportunity to serve in a body with an 18 percent approval rating, excoriated from sea to shining sea for doing absolutely nothing for decades? Just what is it that makes parties and their candidates so desperate to be part of that?
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.