• Gregory Z. Smith

The Problem with Being Independent

The beauty with being independent of the two major political parties (and this is probably true enough of being independent of the "third parties" as well) is that it is easier to be "true to one's self" as far as speaking up and acting when what one believes is a reasonable response falls outside approved party orthodoxy. Of course, no one I know agrees with either of the major parties 100% of the time, and all who are registered or otherwise aligned with either of them express various levels of support or disgust for what they see their parties representing at different times. So, there already exists some unhappiness, even among their membership, with the parties as they currently manifest.

For full disclosure, let me say that I was registered with one of the major parties until about four years ago. I made the break for one reason: I wanted to draw attention to the fact that independent (or "decline to state") voters in New Mexico pay for primary elections with their tax dollars, but they are not allowed to vote in them. I believe the primaries should be opened to all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof. If the parties wish to have closed processes that are limited to only those registered with those parties, let them pay for those processes themselves. The simple fix, as I see it, is for there to be a single ballot primary in partisan races, and all registered voters can vote in it, with the top two candidates (regardless of party affiliation or lack of it) going on to the general election.

Some of the most disparaging comments made to me since I was first elected to public office were from one or two strong supporters of the party I had left. Despite their unhappiness and the desire on the part of some to make our municipal elections more partisan, I did win reelection, even as an independent, three years ago with the highest margin of any of the races that year, and I went on to be subsequently reelected by my colleagues on the city council as mayor pro tem. Those disparaging comments and the more recent election, two years later, of someone else as mayor pro tem may be downsides to being independent, but there's a bigger issue.

We know that teamwork can often help us overcome the odds and overcome obstacles. So, the independent candidate has less opportunity to exploit teamwork; hence, a tougher battle when it comes to campaign volunteers, when it comes to generating campaign slogans and messages, when it comes to raising campaign dollars. More importantly, once in office, from the municipal to the federal, there are times when party demands dampen opportunities to collaborate. Thus, with the "tribalization" of political parties, something I call the "footbalization of America" has taken partisan teamwork to a destructive place.

We all know people who identify so completely with their favorite football teams that they regularly and proudly wear team apparel, have team stickers on their cars, and even decorate their homes with team motifs. Aside from the occasional family spats and fan fistfights, such team loyalty is relatively innocuous, and really a matter of taste. Where it becomes problematic is in how that same sort of dogged loyalty gets applied to our political parties.

Just as some see it as a matter of regional loyalty and/or principaled honor to support certain football teams, there seems to be an increasing willingness to suspend all other considerations as some party loyalists put party before country, before honor, before their regular sensibilities. So, the power of teamwork is, unfortunately, at this point in time, too often working too much more for a vague party identity and counter to the long term best interests of our country and the world.

I will continue to work for top-two, open primaries in partisan races and for ranked choice with a 51% threshold in nonpartisan races, but I will also be asking that we all look harder for ways to be a team that defies party and philosophical affiliations. Let that team instead be about good results for our community, our state, our country, and the world.

Well do I know that it can be a tough road to navigate as an independent, and I am far from suggesting that everyone should try it. However, for the sake of so much that we hold dear, I am asking that we think less tribally as we team up to solve the issues confronting us.

Enjoy Football as a Sport; Let Teamwork in Our Politics Operate from a Different Example

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