Ohio Gov. John Kasich is leaning strongly toward running for president in 2020 as a third-party candidate — the wisest course for him. But if he does, he should make systemic political reform part of his agenda.
That’s because, out of sight of most of the media, there’s a growing movement around the country actively working to “unrig” a system that now works for the Republican and Democratic parties, their donors and affiliated special interests rather than the American people.
The movement has already achieved notable successes and at a 51-organization “summit” sponsored last weekend by the National Association of Non-Partisan Reformers, it was clear the effort will expand in 2020 and beyond.
Nearly 14 million people voted this year, and mostly by overwhelming margins, for a bevy of election and ethics reform measures across the country. Anti-gerrymandering measures passed in Ohio with 75 percent support, in Michigan (61.7), Colorado (71.3), and Utah (50.3). Voters in Maine overthrew their legislature’s attempt to kill a ranked-choice voting system while more than 64 percent of Florida voters supported a measure to allow most felons to vote again after serving their time. By 60 percent or more, Maryland, Nevada and Michigan adopted automatic voter registration systems. By margins of 75 percent, Missouri and New Mexico adopted “anti-corruption” measures, as did North Dakota, by 54 percent, where formidable opposition was mounted by the oil industry.
More than a million people signed petitions to get these measures on the ballot and tens of thousands of activists campaigned for them.
Kasich backed the Ohio anti-gerrymandering measure, suggesting it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for him make pro-reform efforts part of his platform. Good-government activists have formed at least 300 local and national organizations and the governor already shares a slogan under which some of them operate, “Country Over Party.” Moreover, in his seemingly daily TV appearances and speeches, Kasich invariably emphasizes the need for national unity.
Kasich’s constant criticism of President Trump is partly policy-based — on Russia, immigration, the national debt, trade, gun control and deteriorating relations with traditional allies — but he also has frequently attacked Trump for failing to unify the country and for practicing “the politics of fear, hatred and division.”
Kasich declared on ABC two weeks ago that he is “very seriously” considering a presidential run in 2020. One of his political associates told me he is “definitely running.”
He hasn’t ruled out a challenge to Trump in GOP primaries, but within his circle that’s regarded as a “kamikaze mission,” given that polls show Trump as the overwhelming Republican Party favorite. If Trump for some reason were not to run, the GOP almost certainly would turn to a dependable party loyalist, not an apostate like Kasich, who refused to attend the 2016 GOP convention in his home state.
The bulk of the Kasich team’s planning efforts, I’m told, are directed at an independent run — a third-party effort that would make it less expensive to secure a place on the ballot in all 50 state ballots.
To the idea that this is a historically impossible task, one aide said, “Nothing in history has ever happened until it does.” Kasich himself put it this way in an ABC appearance: “Let’s just say that Donald Trump is nominated and Elizabeth Warren is nominated [by Democrats] and you have this ocean of people who sit in the middle.”
Is there a legitimate opportunity for a third party, bipartisan kind of ticket to be able to score a victory or to have a profound impact on the future of American politics?”
Of the 40 ideas for reform outlined at the Non-Partisan Reformers conference last weekend in Half Moon Bay, Calif., one had particular relevance for Kasich.
Dan Howle, executive director of the Independent Voter Project and a key player in California’s adopting an all-candidate open primary for state offices in 2010, pointed out that the Golden State has moved its 2019 presidential primary from June to March 3.
Howle believes he can secure passage of a bill that would give independent (or “no party preference”) voters — who make up 25 percent of the California electorate — their own ballot listing every presidential candidate.
If Kasich performs well in the state, it would substantially boost his already-high national name recognition. Howle thinks there’s a chance New Hampshire might adopt a similar system, giving Kasich even earlier credibility and a shot at being included in the televised presidential debates.
To win over those hungry for change — and a recent Gallup poll showed that 57 percent of voters favor creation of a third major party — Kasich ought to advocate, besides common-sense policies, some key aspects of the reform agenda.
Among the 40 discrete ideas presented at the conference, those at the top of the reformists’ agenda appeared to be wider adoption of moderate-friendly ranked-choice voting (probably in Massachusetts and three other states on 2020 ballots).
In that system, used in Australia, Ireland and several U.S. cities — or ones like it such as approval voting or STAR voting — voters choose among several names on a ballot; if no one earns a clear majority, second-choice (and, if needed, third-choice) votes are added until a majority winner emerges.
Other priorities included more widespread voting by mail to increase voter turnout, open primaries, automatic voter registration whenever a citizen interacts with government and lawsuits against states with closed primaries (limited to party members) organized and paid for by governments.
It must be noted that independents did not fare well in the 2018 elections. Only seven of 25 state legislative candidates endorsed by Unite America won, and none of its five statewide candidates prevailed even though, nationally, independents attracted some 8 million votes.
A key reason for falling short, according to UA’s executive director, Nick Troiano, was that voters feared independents were merely “spoilers” who would allow a reviled D or R to win. Another reason, he said, is that many independent voters really are Republicans or Democrats reluctant to admit it. Also, many voters are unsure what “independent” signifies.
Those factors could hurt Kasich, too, unless he develops a powerful message, funding network, and support base. He might still lose in 2020, but he could become the leader of a movement as powerful as the Progressives in the late 19th century and have a profound impact on the future of American politics.