Photo by Derek Bridges via flickr CC BY 2.0
There has been a real Washingtonization of politics in Florida. Gridlock, hyper-partisanship, corruption, favors for moneyed interests — politics in Florida have become toxic. So many promises have been broken and commitments betrayed, all within the prism of party politics. It’s no wonder that a survey of Florida voters found 93% want elected leaders that put the people of Florida ahead of the interests and goals of their own political party.
That should be a wake-up call to the political establishment that the voters are sick of divisive and destructive politics. They want Florida to move in a new direction. But effective political change requires more than just replacing individual politicians. Our current primary elections actually incentivize polarization and they will continue to sow political divisions if we don’t take action. We, as taxpayers, may pay for primary elections (over $13 million in 2016 alone) but unlike the general election, our state primaries are run by the Democratic and Republican parties.
Think about that for a second. When you go into a government building to vote in the primary in Florida, and in most parts of the country for that matter, your tax dollars are paying for an election run by our two major parties. And in our party-run primary elections – often some of the most meaningful and determinative elections in our state – less than 5 percent of voters are deciding who represents 100 percent of their district.
That means that in order to be elected and remain in office, our leaders are forced to play to narrow party bases – the liberal and conservative fringes – that actually represent very few of us. And they sure don’t seem to be talking much to Florida’s 3.5 million independent voters, including the 50 percent of millennials who refuse to identify with a party. The game is rigged, and it is forcing politicians from both parties to lose touch with many of their own constituents – and lose their trust as well.
Both our elected officials and our citizens are suffering under the constraints of a political system that fails to empower either. But it doesn’t have to be this way; we can reclaim control of our elections and change how politics is done in Florida.
States like Nebraska, Washington and California – red and blue states alike – did just that. When faced with a political system that was no longer serving them, they stood up and eliminated party primary elections altogether. These states no longer have Republican or Democratic primary elections. They have a single public open primary run by the people, not the parties. They are open to all voters and all candidates. Every citizen – whether they are a member of a party or not – has the opportunity to vote for who they want, and the highest vote-getters go on to compete in the November election.
In these states, competitive elections have skyrocketed and voters have meaningful choices because candidates are now incentivized to reach out to all their constituents, talk to them, and understand their concerns better in order to be elected and stay in office. Politicians from opposite parties can actually be seen working together, and even co-author legislation without having to tow the party line.
Elected leaders in these states don’t stop being Democrats or Republicans – we do have very real disagreements between both parties after all – but they work in a political culture that is free from constant tribalism and prioritizes finding common ground. So when complicated issues emerge, like climate change in California or immigration reform in Nebraska, they’re able to find sensible bipartisan solutions. And the voters are paying attention. Both states are at the top of voter satisfaction polling.
That’s the kind of real reform Florida voters are looking for.
Which is why I am endorsing the recently launched All Voters Vote initiative that, if successful, would put the issue of open primaries before Florida voters in 2020. Spearheaded by healthcare executive Mike Fernandez, prominent businessman Carlos M. de la Cruz, Sr. and attorney Eugene Stearns, this initiative would create a new, far more democratic, way of operating our elections in Florida.
The All Voters Vote campaign is bringing Republicans, Democrats and independents together to give more choice and more options to all voters. Democracy only works when you have the full consent of the governed, and the current party-run system of primaries distorts the will of the people in ways that are harmful to voters and policymakers alike. It’s time to fundamentally reject politics as usual and put “We the People” back in charge of our elections.
The time to start is now.
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