Lunch with Ken Block is an experience. I swung through Rhode Island this
summer, and made a point of visiting the founder of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island. We were about 40 minutes into our conversation before stopped talking long enough to order salads. The conversation ranged from the challenges of launching a third party, to the evils of the "master lever" to innovative school reforms, to why he so fiercely guards his independence from the two major parties. He's a self-made man who earlier this year volunteered his firm's resources to identify ways RI could end financial waste. He did far better than expected in his 2010 gubernatorial race, and has been running a smart campaign for 2014.
I'd want Ken to be my governor.
But independent candidates face a tough sell to donors and voters.
This morning, Ken changed his party registration to Republican. The move should open the financial floodgates for his campaign. And Ken's unlikely to toe the party line unless he truly agrees with it. Nevertheless, I mourn his decision. Here's why.
Independent governors are a stepping stone toward independent thought in Washington. As Charlie Wheelan wrote in the Centrist Manifesto," independent leaders in Congress are free to vote for the best ideas from either party - they can get Congress off the hyperpartisan merry go round. But it's tough to run for Senate straight out of the private sector. A more likely path for independents is to prove themselves as governor, then run for Senate.
But as Ken Block has learned, there is no "Emily's List" for independent candidates. So it's on us - moderates, centrists, independents, Republicans, Democrats - to rally behind independent gubernatorial candidates. This is where we build our farm team with an eye to electing independent leaders in Congress in 2016, 2018, 2020.
There are a few independent candidates running for governor in 2014. Here are some worthy of your time:
Eliot Cutler in Maine - A serious candidate who finished a close second to Looney Tunes Republican Paul "Obama hates white people" LePage in 2010. His loyal campaign staff includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents who have supported him for years. Click here to learn more.
Bill Walker in Arkansas - “Initially, when I filed, they said, ‘You can’t say that in the Republican primary, you can’t say that in the Republican primary.’ Finally, after about three or four of those, I said, ‘You know what? I need to be an independent.’" Learn more here.
Jeffrey McCormick in Massachusetts - Last week, the founding partner of a Boston venture firm became the second independent candidate in the gubernatorial race. We'll post more info on McCormick when it becomes available. In the meantime, here's an article about his candidacy.
Evan Falchuk in Massachusetts - An early entry into the MA race, Falchuk decries the limited options of a two-party system, outdated political arguments, and leaders putting loyalty to party line before pragmatic solutions. Visit his website to learn more.
PS: Virginia's Robert Sarvis is polling at 12.7% as the Libertarian gub candidate. It's a post-script because Sarvis isn't technically an independent candidate, but he's (a) a centrist who is fiscally conservative and socially compassionate, and (b) offering Virginia voters (like me) a pretty solid alternative to Republican Ken Cucinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Here's his website.
PPS: Ken Block was quick to reassure me he'll be anything but a typical Republican. "Politics as usual are killing Rhode Island – and they are severely damaging the country as well. Most folks simply want their most worrisome problems fixed." That was his goal as an independent, and it's still the centerpiece of his campaign. Here's his new campaign site.
Now, one last thought. This blog post is not a Centrist Project endorsement of any candidate. It is, quite simply, a heartfelt word of encouragement to look outside your state and find an independent gubernatorial candidate you believe in. Then donate $5, $10, or whatever you can. If you have time, volunteer to gather signatures for ballot access, make phone calls, or go door knocking. These leaders are taking a leap of faith by running as independents. We need to get their back.