Evan McMullin, former US presidential candidate and co-founder of Stand Up Republic, moderated a conversation about civility and working across the political aisle between former U.S. representatives Patrick Murphy and David Jolly.
Explaining the concept of gridlock, McMullin said, “The polarization of our two major parties…results in the failure of our leaders in Washington to address modern challenges. That dysfunction—that gridlock—has now moved into a new phase of dysfunction, into a phase of chaos and violence.”
Gridlock persists because of party politics. Instead of decision making being informed by a diverse community of constituents, decision making is often informed only by party alliance.
“These two men prove that unifying leadership can find success in districts, especially competitive districts,” said McMullin of Murphy and Jolly.
Murphy served as a Democrat representative in Florida’s 18th district from 2013 to 2017. He was the first millennial elected to Congress and served in a conservative-leaning district.
Jolly served as a Republican representative in Florida’s 13th district from 2014 to 2017. He was elected as a Republican in a Democrat-leaning district—a district which Obama had won twice.
What are the problems perpetuating gridlock?
“It all goes back to the human instinct of keeping your job,” said Murphy of the problems with gridlock. Representatives want to keep their jobs and want to keep their positions long enough to make a difference. To stay in office longer, however, representatives need to win reelection and raise funds, which keeps them playing the game.
According to Murphy and Jolly, some of the biggest problems perpetuating gridlock are media representations, representatives playing a part for the camera—or their party, and gerrymandering
“Gerrymandering is the single biggest problem we have in our country,” said Murphy. “When you have gerrymandered districts, it’s not about everybody. It’s about that 15% [of constituents who vote in the primaries].”
What are the challenges and opportunities for reform?
The conversation focused on three main areas that would benefit from reform:
- Change fundraising rules.
- Address gerrymandering by redrawing districts.
- Open closed-primary states
These reforms will cause representatives to want a broader segment of voters instead of a strong, small segment, said Murphy.
The country is already seeing changes in some of these areas. There are movements in some states to change state constitutions when it comes to drawing districts to focus on geographically compact district lines or electorally competitive district lines. Ballot initiatives have been put forth in 30 states.
There are also reforms for primary systems at the state level. California has data emerging about a top-two primary system, where the top two candidates from primary elections move onto the general election, regardless of party. Maine is experimenting with rank-choice voting instead of binary voting.
“Nowhere in our suggestions is for people to reconsider their ideology. We aren’t suggesting that all the answers are in the middle….We are talking about bipartisanship, not moderation of ideology,” said Jolly.
How do citizens generate reform?
Murphy and Jolly offered some specific ways citizens can create change. Their best advice? “Vote.”
In addition to voting, citizens can also create ballot initiatives, register with groups they align with—whether those are political parties or other groups—and find other ways to make their voice heard.
“They’re not in charge. We are. We have the power to change,” said Jolly.