Thursday, August 25, 2011

If Pres. Obama wants to fix partisanship he should look to California

Jason Olson: If Obama wants to fix partisanship he should look to California.

FORUM: Look to California for path to post-partisan model

by Jason Olson

President Barack Obama recently took to the air in his weekly radio address and focused on an issue of concern to most Americans: the negative effects of partisanship on the political process.
Obama said, "[L]ately, the response from Washington has been partisanship and gridlock that's only undermined public confidence and hindered our efforts to grow the economy. So while there's nothing wrong with our country, there is something wrong with our politics, and that's what we've got to fix." The president implored the American people to contact their local representatives and air their frustrations while he demanded that Congress end its partisan ways.

But if President Obama thinks that's all it's going to take to fix partisanship, he's in for a rude awakening. On the other hand, if he is finally getting serious about political change, then he should look to California.

For the past several decades, there has been an unspoken agreement between the American people and the major political parties. As long as the political parties took care of the important issues ---- the economy, maintaining a basic social safety net, keeping our streets safe and protecting our nation ---- the American people would let them "get away" with partisan shenanigans and special-interest horse trading. In fact, the American people allowed them to restructure the entire political process so that the political party insiders ---- and not the voters ---- decided who was elected to office.
While we can debate when and where this agreement began to unravel, what is clear is that the Democratic and Republican parties are defaulting on their part of that agreement. Equally clear is the fact that as long as partisan self-interest is the only principle guiding our elected representatives, then our country is in serious trouble.

In the face of fiscal meltdown and political gridlock, Californians have passed fundamental reforms necessary to remove the structural partisanship. In 2008 and 2010, voters passed critical reform measures that remove partisan control over our elections process by empowering all voters ---- particularly independents. Gone is the ability of the partisan politicians to gerrymander every election district to ensure their own re-elections. Gone is a partisan primary that allows the parties to lock out the state's 3.5 million independent voters and dictate the process. As a result, in 2012, California's election system will be radically different, as the political parties are forced to reach beyond their narrow bases to get elected.

Perhaps as important as the reforms themselves was the manner in which they were passed. Each effort had a diverse coalition that included independents in key leadership positions. Each effort was built upon a message of nonpartisanship, heavily influenced by independents.
As an independent who, like so many, supported candidate Obama in 2008 based on his promise to bring fundamental political change to Washington, D.C., I want to believe that President Obama is now willing to do what is necessary to repair our democracy. That would mean moving beyond chiding electing representatives and taking the lead on attacking the structure of partisanship itself. If President Obama is ready to follow California's lead in taking on that structural partisanship, then there may yet be "hope."

Jason Olson is the Director of IndependentVoice.Org, a leader in passing Redistricting Reform and Open Primary Measures in California between 2008-2010.

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