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Leave the Party!
If you're a Republican—leave the party!
If you're a Democrat—leave the party!
Even One Independent Win
Will Make a Difference
Yes, electing even one Independent Senator or Representative in 2014 will make a difference. There are many ways it can be so.
A no-majority Senate
Let's look first at the most dramatic scenario—a Senate with no majority. Democrats currently hold fifty-three Senate seats, Republicans hold forty-five, and two declared Independents caucus with the Democrats, giving them an effective ten-seat edge, fifty-five to forty-five. At this writing, it's generally accepted in the media that the Dems are in trouble in the Senate. Various projections suggest that they'll lose from three to nine seats.
Look at what would happen if the Democrats lost five seats, and if one of those seats went not to a Republican, but to an Independent. The Ds would have forty-eight, the Rs forty-nine, and there would be three Indies. If at least two of the Independents were to hold out and refuse to caucus with either party, it would be possible that no party would have a majority in the Senate. A similar scenario could happen if the Dems lost only four seats.
It's all in the rules
If you're a bit wonkish, you can read the Senate rules for yourself, here, but I'll give you a brief summary. Those rules make no provision for organizing the Senate without a majority. No committees can be formed, no chairpersons selected, no legislation introduced. Nothing.
If there is no majority, the rules will have to be rewritten. And the Senators can do that. The Constitution says, "Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings…" So, on the first day of the new session, new rules can and will be adopted—must be adopted—before any real business can be done.
Now, each party will first try mightily to persuade the Independent Senators to caucus with that party. They will threaten, cajole, posture, fight, lie, cheat and likely try a few things we haven't yet invented verbs for. But under these circumstances, the three Independents will have every reason to hold out. They can force at least forty-eight of the Senators—enough to form a majority on the rules issue alone—to adopt new rules that not only give some power to the Independents, but prevent any majority from grabbing the absolute power that the majority has now. And whichever of the parties has the fewest seats will eventually see the wisdom of going along—to insure that the other party doesn't get a majority.
Everything in the Senate will change
The filibuster will likely be gone—and it won't be needed as long as no party holds a majority. It will be possible, certainly not guaranteed, that coalitions can form issue-by-issue, not dictated by party power, resulting in genuine hearings and debate, and up or down votes on bills, appointments, treaties, etc. Most of this will depend on the willingness of the Independent minority to hold out for rules in the spirit of democracy. And they'll have every reason, in self-interest, to do just that.
But perhaps the greater benefit will be that American citizens will begin to form new understandings of how Independent minority power can work. They will begin to understand the damage that parties have done to their democracy, and to see political independence as a right, and as a tool that can work to citizens' advantage and best interest. That will allow the Indy idea to manifest itself in the House of Representatives, and in state and local government.
One Independent elected to the House?
Suppose though, that our hypothetical "one Independent" is elected to the House of Representatives, rather than to the Senate. There's virtually no chance of a no-majority House. This year, that would require a Republican loss of at least seventeen seats. Not gonna happen.
Or suppose our one Independent is elected to a Senate where either the Rs or Ds have an absolute majority.
In these circumstances, the one Independent will stand alone in a Congress with 534 rabidly partisan politicians. How is that going to make a difference? Much depends on the way our solitary Indy occupies and holds the office.
Independence that makes a difference
We already have two declared Independent Senators, Angus King and Bernie Sanders. The problem is that they both caucus as Democrats. King promised during his campaign that he would not do that—but eight days after the election, he reneged. Then and now, he also threatens to caucus with the Republicans if they take the majority. That kind of Independent stance does not make a difference. It supports the unbridled party power that is destructive to our democracy.
It doesn't have to be that way. The conventional wisdom is that refusing to caucus with a party leaves a Representative or Senator powerless, unable to chair committees, etc. But how important is that committee work, really? Does it make a difference? It does not, in today's money-powered, power-driven political universe. When have we seen a committee member or chairperson, in either house, significantly impact final legislation? It's been a long time.
One Indy with power & influence
It's arguable that our one Independent, in either the House or Senate, could have more power and influence by publicly and loudly standing aside from the political status quo than by joining it. After all, the only people this one Independent should be answering to are her or his constituents. If she has been elected as an Independent, and is pledged to remain independent, she'll be supported by the voters who elected her. That's all that matters.
And there is a lot of publicity power in that kind of principled stance. The political party that tries to disenfranchise voters by isolating their duly elected Senator or Representative is taking a huge risk.
The courage of independence
Holding such an independent position requires courage—but that's not foreign to Independent candidates. By standing up to run viable campaigns as Indies, they have already demonstrated their courage.
Political power returned to you
Perhaps the greatest difference that will result from the election of a single Independent candidate—one who will then serve and govern as a true independent—is the public demonstration of the possibility and potential in it. If the election of one or a few Indies this year makes it possible to elect a larger class of Indies in 2016, we may well see the disempowerment of the two parties. We may well see political power wrested from parties and returned to voters, where it belongs. Even one independent will make a difference.
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