Why local-level offices need independent candidates
Nagel leads the marketing team at Good Party, a company building free tools and a volunteer movement for independent candidates. Prior to his involvement in politics, Jack worked in tech startups, with previous stops at Help Scout and G2.
City governments are not just where Americans feel the most impact of government on their daily lives – they’re the last line of defense against hyper-partisanship. A recent piece in The New York Times revealed a sign of increasing tensions to come: Swing state legislatures this session have passed increasingly partisan agendas without mandates. Local governments, generally non-partisan, are where we can reverse this trend and govern by consensus. These races also provide the perfect platform for independent candidates to emerge as a solution to the two-party system that has devolved into chaos. By recruiting and electing truly independent candidates – those that have no party affiliation or financial backing of partisan special interests – we can foster talent and enthusiasm for a nationwide independent movement.
Early 20th-century progressives sought to make municipal governments – the bodies that have the most impact on the daily lives of the people they represent – more efficient. Today, 22 of the nation’s 30 most populous cities have non-partisan elections. But the promise of local governments escaping partisanship has not panned out. In a study of the San Diego City Council, professor Craig Burnett of Hofstra University found even with a nominally non-partisan council, all but one of the eight city council members consistently voted with their party affiliation. Furthermore, school boards nationwide have become the hotbed of the culture wars with substantial investment in candidates backed by partisan groups such as Moms For Liberty.
The consequences of this development are immense. Local governments hold the power to make decisions that directly impact our day-to-day lives. Increasingly, cities are shifting focus from filling potholes and providing services to wading into national politics. Some governments are even starting to weigh in on foreign policy issues, a far cry from the vision of municipal governments as efficient executors of the public will. This escalating partisanship has resulted in state legislatures punishing local governments with different party affiliations. In Nashville this year, the state attempted to halve the size of the Metro Council in retaliation to the body voting down a proposal to host the RNC in 2024.
Electing truly independent leaders will allow cities to focus on delivering results for their communities. True independents have an opportunity to act in the best interests of their constituents by not taking money from special interests or political parties that may influence their agenda. By refusing money from special interests and political parties, independents can govern based on consensus, eliminate corruption and waste, and prioritize the needs of the people they represent. This approach cultivates good habits in our future leaders, setting good habits for governance.
One of the main obstacles independent candidates face at the national level is their lack of a track record and a popular base to support their campaigns. By starting locally, true independents can gain the necessary experience and demonstrate their ability to govern independently. Plus, these races are winnable – nearly 70 percent of elected offices around the country are left uncontested, and most of these uncontested positions are at the local and regional levels.
This formula has worked elsewhere: Hillary Schieve went from at-large Reno city council to a three-term mayoral incumbent; Calvin Schrage gained experience on the Abbott Loop community council in Alaska to win a state house seat as an independent. Lastly, Ron Nirenberg, the independent mayor of America’s seventh largest city, San Antonio, ran a grassroots, underdog campaign for city council, priming his successful mayoral run.
One organization dedicated to electing more independent candidates around the country with the goal of ending the two-party system is Good Party. This year, they had over 750 participants from around the country say they’re interested in running for local office as independents, and are actively working with 22 individuals on serious mayoral and city council campaigns.
As one of their candidate prospects said, “Winning as an independent is not a moonshot.” By resisting the allure of the noisy federal environment and concentrating on winnable, impactful local races – a nationwide independent movement is just around the corner.