No news here: People are increasingly fed up with Washington, with the political parties and with politicians. Three quarters of the American people disapprove of Congress, and the favorability rating of that august body ranges from 14 percent to 17 percent depending on the poll.
Another measure of the public mood, fifty-two percent of Republican primary voters support the three outsider candidates, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. On the Democratic side, outsider support has grown for self-described Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders has been the headline of the summer.
At the state level, disappointment and cynicism have simply turned off participation in the political process. An appalling 60 percent of state reps ran unopposed. Small wonder, then, that in our last mid-term elections, just 38 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Most are turned off by what they’re being offered by both Republicans and Democrats. Fifty-three percent of voters are now un-enrolled, though many do it as an affirmation of independence not as a sign of disenchantment. Some also choose not to designate a party so they are eligible to vote in Republican or Democratic primaries. But as these races are often uncontested, they often have no choice.
Businessman Evan Falchuk, 45, an executive with a global health care company, tried running for governor last fall as a third party candidate, and he got enough of the vote (3.3 percent) to have his United Independent Party (UIP)automatically eligible for the ballot in 2016. But that party designation is good only for two years. To maintain status as a party, he needs to get 44,000 Massachusetts voters (one percent) to enroll in his party by 2016. He points to the 12,000 he has signed up between last February and August as a sign that he can pull it off. There are 1.43 million enrolled Democrats, 446,000 Republicans and 2.18 million unenrolled voters in Massachusetts. He has to get 32,000 more enrollees, but it’s still an uphill battle.
Falchuk is undeterred, his enthusiasm unabated. He and his small handful of dedicated workers are doing voter registration and travelling to various speaking engagements, including one this week at the lifelong learning institute at Brandeis University. He is also trying to encourage others identified with the United Independent Party to run for office, but the only one so far is Taylor DiSantis, a candidate for Pittsfield City Council.
Falchuk is intelligent, earnest and reasonable in a civics lesson, theoretical sense. It’s unclear how far that’s going to get him. He did, however, play a key role in drafting a referendum barring the use of taxpayers money for the Olympics. He framed the message, made it simple and thus provided a specific tool for energizing and organizing opposition to the 2024 event. So it’s wise not to underestimate him.
In terms of values and policy, Falchuk told the Brandeis gathering that everyone should have equal opportunity, with access not limited to big moneyed interests, but, he’s quick to add, taxpayer money should be spent wisely. His website goes into more specifics and notes that Massachusetts taxes are regressive, and that our state and local tax burden is below the national average. The site also includes the UIP’s backing of most, if not all, liberal Democratic policy positions, including public financing of campaigns.
At first glance, Falchuk’s presentation (socially liberal, fiscally prudent) seems to imply a Charlie Baker-type candidate. Baker’s favorability ratings suggest we may already have an official who bridges the gap between Republicans and Democrats. In contrast, the UIP website projects a far more liberal profile than Baker, leaving one to wonder whether, given the substantial costs needed to realize Falchuk’s programmatic ideals, his third party quest is just another academic exercise in civics theory. (Like Harvard Professor Larry Lessig’s Presidential campaign?)
But voters may want more of a choice than tweedle dum and tweedle dee. Friday’s Boston Globe piece by Jim O’Sullivan,”When the opposition party isn’t,” highlights the problem. Comity is a good thing, necessary to making government run. But full-throated praise for Baker by all the Democrats suggest the next gubernatorial race may be little more than a coronation. Falchuk’s new party could offer fresh perspective. UIP candidates could make down-ticket races for State Senate and House more competitive and force too-comfortable incumbents to engage with their constituents. At a minimum, his version of offering disenchanted voters an alternative to establishment Republicans and Democrats is a lot more palatable than the hate and rage that Donald Trump and the various Trump-lites are spewing. Keep your eyes on Evan Falchuk.
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