Colorado Needs Thoughtful Politicians Not Bound to Parties

On September 1st, 2017 Kathleen Curry and Mary Parker published a piece in the Denver Post on the paralyzing polarization of the Colorado legislature and the need for Independent candidates to bridge the partisan divide. Drawing on their joint knowledge about the difficulties of being an Independent candidate and the benefits of serving as an Independent representative, Curry and Parker discuss why Colorado needs Independent leaders that do not answer to parties and how the Centrist Project is working to make this a reality for Colorado.

Voters are clearly fed up with the two-party status quo. A majority of Americans view both parties unfavorably, and more Americans identify as independent than either Democrat or Republican.

The trend lines are even more staggering here in Colorado. Our secretary of state recently reported that more than half of the 25,039 voters who registered since June 28 chose to be unaffiliated with either party. Independents now number over 1.3 million in the state, or 37 percent.

Yet, despite losing market share among the electorate, the two parties maintain total control over our governing institutions: all 100 state legislators in Colorado are either Democrats or Republicans.

The consequence is crippling. According to a University of Houston study, the Colorado legislature has become more polarized than at any time in recent history and is now the most polarized state legislature in the country. In this climate, it is increasingly difficult for the legislature to tackle big issues, from education to infrastructure and health care.

The need and opportunity for independent leadership to bridge the partisan divide and get government working for people — rather than the parties or special interests — has never been greater.

But having run as independents for state office in the past, we know firsthand how challenging it can be. Both parties have thrown up obstacles to prevent new competition, and independents have lacked the same kind of campaign infrastructure that major-party candidates have.

Fortunately, a group called the Centrist Project is building a new vehicle for independents to run for office in Colorado by providing them with the campaign tools, volunteer network, and financial support they need to run competitive races. The group’s objective is to elect a small coalition of independent candidates to the legislature where they could use their enormous leverage to forge real solutions through cooperation between the major parties.

Many wonder what would unite such a group of independents who are, well, independent. To us, being an independent doesn’t just mean you are fed up with both major parties. It means you believe in putting what’s best for the people ahead of what’s best for a political party or a special interest. It means following the facts, using common sense, and acting on the best ideas, no matter where they come from. And it means bringing people together, finding common ground and getting things done.

Based on our experience, we know independents can make a difference as candidates and elected leaders.

One of us served in the legislature, dropped affiliation with the Democratic Party, and learned that you could still represent and advocate for your district without the partisan strings attached. In fact, you end up being the most sought-after vote on important pieces of legislation.

The other campaigned as an independent for state office and knocked on more than 20,000 doors, learning in the process that most voters share common aspirations for our families and community and desire practical solutions to problems. These conversations were only possible by putting party affiliation to the side.

Independent leaders have already shown what is possible in other states. In Alaska, two independents helped form a new “bipartisan governing majority” in their statehouse this year; they made the state’s budget deficit a top priority and passed a series of bipartisan bills to address it. In Maine, after two independents were elected in 2016, one incumbent Republican and two incumbent Democrats decided to unaffiliate and join them. Now, no bill can pass on a strict party-line vote.

Colorado deserves a legislature that truly tackles problems instead of narrowly avoiding crises every legislative session. A dissatisfied electorate deserves more than the same two choices that just aren’t working.

The time is now for independents to step forward as candidates who are able and willing to put people ahead of party.

Kathleen Curry served as a member of the Colorado legislature from 2005-10, becoming an unaffiliated member in 2009.  Mary Parker ran as an unaffiliated candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives in 2016. Both are members of the Colorado Centrist Project.