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Posted by on Feb 22, 2010 in Politics | 22 comments

Independent Voters and “Broken Government”


Is American government now “broken?” And, if so, how do independent voters view this and is there anything they can do to correct it? Those are some of the questions raised by CNN anchor Don Lemon in a segment on Sunday.

I was on the independent voter panel along with Omar Ali, historian and independent, voting analyst and Nicole Kurokawa, an independent voting analyst in Washington. Here is the full transcript of that segment:

LEMON: All right. Here’s a question: Is government broken? A simple question with huge ramifications for the country and for members of Congress in this election year.

Now, Senator Evan Bayh sounded that warning this week as he announced he will not seek reelection, saying the Senate has become so partisan it’s almost impossible to get anything done.

So, CNN will be focusing on this question this week and we’re getting started tonight with our independent voter panel — because we think — we like hearing these voices from our independents.

There is he. He’s becoming a regular now, and Joe Gandelman. He’s the editor-in-chief of the “Moderate Voice” blog. He’s joining us live from San Diego.

Hello, sir.


LEMON: Omar Ali is an historian and independent, voting analyst in Washington.

Hello to you again.

And there she is, Nicole Kurokawa, an independent voting analyst in Washington.

So, I want to start by asking you — I’ll start with you, Nicole — what is broken government and what’s not broken government? So — or should it be left alone? Is the government broken? Is it not? Should it be left alone?

NICOLE KUROKAWA, INDEPENDENT VOTING ANALYST: I don’t think the government is broken, actually. I think, you know, we’re not able to get a lot of legislation through right now but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the government overall is broken.

LEMON: Why do you say you don’t think it’s broken?

KUROKAWA: You know, just — like I said, just because we’re not passing health care legislation or cap-and-trade doesn’t mean that the process is broken. The founders envisioned a slow, deliberative legislative process and that’s what we’re seeing right now. These are major decisions that they’re trying to get pushed through and the public isn’t necessarily behind all of them. So, I think seeing that things are taking slower or things are going slower than perhaps they would have otherwise is not necessarily — it doesn’t mean that things are not working.

LEMON: OK. Omar Ali, you know, we talked about Evan Bayh saying that he’s not going to run for re-election. He gave that press conference and then this today, he wrote a letter to the editor of “The New York Times,” says, “Why I’m leaving the Senate,” by Evan Bayh. And he goes on to talk about it, basically talking about partisanship.

This morning on ABC, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and also, governor — who was he on with this morning? Rendell and Schwarzenegger from California — excuse me — on this morning. Rendell was talking about partnership and so was Schwarzenegger. And he said this. He said — Schwarzenegger says, “I am working with Governor Rendell. I’m also working with independent Michael Bloomberg and that’s why this partnership is so perfect because Bloomberg is an independent, Rendell is a Democrat, I’m a Republican. So, what we’re trying to say is that we are rebuilding America, but it’s not a political issue. It’s a people issue. We want to serve the people of America.”

Then he went on to say this about the stimulus plan and hypocrisy. Take a listen.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around and pushing back on the stimulus money and saying, this doesn’t create any new jobs and then they go out and do the photo-ops and they’re posing with the big check and they say, “Isn’t this great? Look what the kind of — the kind of money I provide here for the state. And this is great money to create jobs, and this has created 10,000 new jobs, and this has created 20,000 new jobs.” And all these kinds of things. It doesn’t match up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s hypocrisy.

SCHWARZENEGGER: So, it’s exactly some, I think —

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It’s hypocrisy in the highest level.


LEMON: So if what he says it is indeed true, then what is the solution at least for Independents? Do you believe that it’s true? And do you believe that Independents have a solution? And I guess the question is, do you believe that Republicans and Democrats can work together with this as an Independent?

OMAR ALI, HISTORIAN & INDEPENDENT VOTING ANALYST: Well, I think that all kinds of partnerships are great. I think that’s fine. But it’s more than just partnerships between the two major parties. We’re not looking for bipartisan governance in this country. I think Americans are looking for nonpartisan governance. And Independents have solutions that have been practical and working.

So, for instance, in terms of the national level, things being demanded by Independents are including Independents in the Federal Election Commission, including having open primaries across the country and nonpartisan redistricting. See, it’s not just individuals getting together at the high levels of governors —

LEMON: Do you think Independents are included enough? Do you think there’s enough there?

ALI: No, it’s not. In fact, there are structural limitations against Independents, from participating as full-fledged citizens in this country. In some ways, there’s sort of a Jim Crow against Independents in this country which runs everything from getting on the ballot, if you want to run for president.

LEMON: What do you mean by that? Explain that to our viewers.

ALI: Well, what it means is, for instance, if you say you, Don Lemon, wants to run for president of the United States, you would have to get over 30 times the number of signatures than you were if you were running as an Independent than if you were a Democrat or a Republican.

LEMON: And you think that is discriminatory?

ALI: Absolutely. The Federal Elections Commission is made up of three Democrats and Three Republicans. It’s bipartisan. It’s not a nonpartisan entity. And yet, they are overseeing all of these campaign election rules which discriminate against Independents and third-party candidates. So there are structural issues that Independents are concerned about.

Redistricting is another issue. So there are a whole set of structural issues that Independents have been raising. And leaders in the Independent movements have been raising this for many, many years. People like Jacqueline Salit, people like Dr. Lanorth Aloni (ph), Jim Maja (ph). And there are all kinds of leaders out there that have been pushing for this for many, many years. and so I think it’s a great opportunity now as the tea party movement has come up, that they can distinguish themselves from the Independent movement because the Independent movement is far more inclusive than what we see out there.

LEMON: And, Jim (ph), perhaps this is one of the nicest discussions that I’ve seen, talking about that interview this morning on ABC about a Republican and a Democrat working together. and I think Governor Schwarzenegger said, listen, people in Washington have to figure out that they are working for the good of the people and not for the good of the party. So, Jim — sorry. Joe, what do you say to that?

JOE GANDELMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE MODERATE VOICE: Well, I think what has happened is gamesmanship has started to [trump] policy. When Evan Bayh talked about the fact that our politics had [be]come almost tribalism, it’s become, I’ve often said, like a sports team, where nobody is really — they don’t want to listen to each other. Everybody is too interested in scoring points and check mating the other. And I also think that there really are some real problems with government working right now because I’m totally in agreement with Evan Bayh with what he said about the filibuster. Until they put it down to 55 votes and the Senator has to be there for it to take place, it could be abused. The problem is that both political parties want the filibuster when they are not in power, and they don’t want [the] filibuster when they are in power. Both parties are really hypocritical on the issue of the filibuster.

LEMON: Well, there is a case thought that people said, if you want to make a difference in Washington, you don’t quit. And they made that same criticism of on Sarah Palin as well. There is the thinking that if Evan Bayh wanted to make a difference, he should stay in there and fight.

GANDELMAN: He should have. But he probably just felt like he was bumping his head against the wall. The real danger with the way our [politics] are going right now is that thoughtful people, people that are not into what I call the talk radio political culture, where there is this demonization and name calling and you try to take somebody out. You try to basically —

LEMON: It’s become theater.

GANDELMAN: It’s professional wrestling is what it is.

LEMON: So listen, I asked Nicole. Nicole she said that she doesn’t believe that the government is broken. Do you believe that the government is broken?

GANDELMAN: I think right now what we see in Congress is broken. I don’t think the founding fathers wanted to see this kind of paralysis. There is tyranny of the majority and there’s also tyranny of the minority right now. It’s hard to sift that out because the minority is going to be the majority, the majority is going to be the minority. But right now, the Congress is [not] working. And a lot of people are really disgusted because nothing is happening.


LEMON: Omar, do you believe that the government is broken?

ALI: Yes. I wanted to add to what Joe was saying, which is, the latest CNN poll came out saying that 86 percent of Americans believe that the government is broken, 85 percent of Americans don’t want to see Congress elected, re-elected. There’s a great deal of anger against the parties. And Independents have solutions that they are offering to do something about the politics paralysis out there.

So I think, you know, what we’re going to see in the coming sort of months and the coming years is the rise of the Independent voter in ways that are going to help —


LEMON: Stop right there. Who — what Independents — and where should we be looking for these Independents. Is there an Independent somewhere or a number that you can point out that we should be paying attention to?

ALI: Yes. Absolutely. There’s actually — anybody can go to it,, has — is a site that brings together associations of Independents from around the country. It’s being led by Jacqueline Salit, who has been somebody that has been at the forefront of pushing for the structural reforms. People can go to these places. There are associations of Americans who don’t want to be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. They want to be Independent.

Now Independents may swing one way in one election cycle and then another way another one. But their message remains the same — something must be done about the political and partisan paralysis that we have in Washington, D.C.

LEMON: Omar, Nicole, thank you so much. I appreciate you guys joining us on a Sunday. It’s always a great conversation. I wish we had a whole hour longer to talk about it.

ALI: Thank you very much.

GANDELMAN: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you.

CNN is taking a really hard look at the cracks in our systems. We are cutting through the political games for you and looking for the fixes here in a new series we’re calling it “Broken Government.” Look for it all this week, all this week, right here on CNN.

FOOTNOTE: We will try to get the video of this segment up on TMV later in the week. Also: I’ve made some minor changes in the transcript (a few of the words on the transcript aren’t correct and don’t match the DVD I have).

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Copyright 2010 The Moderate Voice
  • Joe, I would add that the Congress is dysfunctional in separate degrees, depending on which chamber we’re looking at. The House of Representatives has its own issues, but since there’s such a large mix of people combined with smaller voting districts, members are more likely to vote for their constituents and perhaps break with their party.

    The Senate is where the majority of stagnation seems to be these days, as members are more concerned with their own peacock tails and pocket linings than their constituents. The chance of a member actually breaking from the party (whichever party that might be) is horridly low. It’s more a club of prestige than a representation of their peers.

  • Congress is now little about governing and mostly about politics. It has become a blood sport. The fans are not the voters on Main Street but the Oligarchs on Wall Street. Policy is decided in corporate board rooms and legislation is written by lobbyists regardless of which party is in power so politics should be covered by ESPN as the irrelevant team sport it is.

  • DaMav

    Just remarkable that we only started hearing all this shrill hysteria about the government being ‘broken’ after the Democrats took over both houses of Congress and the White House. You would think the Republicans might be pushing this meme because the Democrats are in charge of everything. But incredibly, it’s mostly coming from the Democrats. It’s almost as if they are running about the town square yelling, “We don’t know how to govern!” at the top of their lungs. And, of course, many of the Republicans are responding with, “We know!”.

    • shannonlee

      People didn’t believe government was broken during Bush’s term because he steamrolled a pathetic Dem minority…and then later and even more pathetic Dem majority. Things got done when Bush was in office because he simply didn’t care about polling or bi-partisanship. Sure, Bush drove us off a cliff, but at least the car was moving.

      Dems were given the keys and a gas card….yet we are still pretty much in park…well, at least that is the perception. Dems have done things, but the general public couldn’t tell you what it is or if it has helped them.

  • ProfElwood

    Apparently, the Republicans are better at making legislation that can appeal to Democrats, than Democrats are.

    • shannonlee

      Punching someone in the face in order to make them eat an apple doesn’t demonstrate that they like apples.

      • ProfElwood

        Sorry, but I don’t get it. Exactly what could the Republicans do if the Democrats decided that they didn’t like what the Republicans were pushing? Skim through the voting records sometime. The vote totals were pretty mixed. Mind you, I normally don’t like what they were pushing, but apparently quite a few Democrats did.

        • shannonlee

          Reps used “patriotism” as a bat to pass whatever they wanted. Dems were too weak and spineless to justify any “unpatriotic” vote to the american people…whether it was the patriot act or authorization to invade Iraq.

          • ProfElwood

            Reps used “patriotism” as a bat. . .

            I respect your opinion, but I find lobbyists a far more believable explanation than a fear of being called unpatriotic.

          • shannonlee

            I think for a lot of the economics that W ran through Congress…you are very much correct. On Iraq and the patriot act…it was strictly the fear of being called unpatriotic…at least imo.

          • ProfElwood

            and the patriot act…it was strictly the fear of being called unpatriotic…at least imo.

            Pieces of …. questionable legislation … like that don’t seem to have logical explanations. Bob Barr wrote that congress was given some very specific promises from the administration (which were immediately broken) in order to pass the thing, but considering W’s reputation at the time, that still makes no sense.

    • Don Quijote

      Apparently, the Republicans are better at making legislation that can appeal to Democrats, than Democrats are

      Not Really, Republicans work as a single caucus, they vote as a block and know how to name their legislative bills. If you ‘re a Dem and you know that the the Repugs have the votes to pass the “Apple Pie and Motherhood” bill, are you going to vote against, it watch it pass and at election time attempt to justify your vote against “Apple Pie and Motherhood” or just go along with it since no matter what you do it’s going to pass?

      No one has ever said that Dems were profiles in courage…

      • CStanley

        They’re still responsible for their votes no matter whether they cast them out of cowardice or other reasons. Just as the GOP will take responsibility for voting against ‘healthcare’, including the latest attempt which will have soundbites all over the Sunday shows with GOP Senators and Reps being asked how they can vote for insurance rate hikes if they’re unwilling to back the President’s plan to regulate rates at the federal level. Gotcha politics isn’t the province of one party or the other (I’m old enough to clearly remember Reagan being blamed for starving children when the school lunch program was getting an increase in funding but the increase was less than what the Dems proposed so it was being called a cut, for example.)

        Worrying about how the votes will be characterized by your political opponents is not an excuse.

        • Don Quijote

          Worrying about how the votes will be characterized by your political opponents is not an excuse.

          I am not disagreeing with you, I am just pointing out the mechanics… This is what happens when you lack an organized ideological to back you up…

  • CStanley

    Kurokawa has it right:

    just because we’re not passing health care legislation or cap-and-trade doesn’t mean that the process is broken. The founders envisioned a slow, deliberative legislative process and that’s what we’re seeing right now. These are major decisions that they’re trying to get pushed through and the public isn’t necessarily behind all of them. So, I think seeing that things are taking slower or things are going slower than perhaps they would have otherwise is not necessarily — it doesn’t mean that things are not working.

    Also agreeing is George Will.

    It’s really pretty amusing that the networks are all now trotting out this question about government being broken. Really, after the sweeping legislation that has already come out of this Congress under this administration- a large stimulus package, continuation of the TARP program, and taking ownership of troubled automakers- it takes quite a bit of chutzpah to now say that we have ‘paralysis’ or a broken, impotent government just because the Democratic party is unable to pass another huge piece of gamechanging legislation.

    No need to whine about broken systems or blame it on poor messaging. Passing healthcare reform could have been accomplished if the Democrats had put together a package that the public overall would support (mainly focusing on actual measures to reduce healthcare costs, not price fixing schemes or the use of expansive entitlements to get more people insured.) Instead they started with the ideas from the far left, then watered them down until many progressives no longer support it while everyone else could clearly see that the bill was getting less effective while still costing way too much (no rebuttals about the bills being scored as net deficit reduction, please, because this was only accomplished through ‘creative’ means and large tax increases.)

    Anyway, regardless of polls showing that large numbers of people agree that government is broken, I think independents like Joe G. are misinterpreting if they think that all who respond to the question that way are referring to gridlock or who they blame for the gridlock. Conservatives and independents who lean right view the current situation as the system functioning the way the founders intended- with the Senate having rules that work to slow down the pace. That’s not paralysis or ‘tyranny of the minority.’ If the American voters want the Dems to be able to proceed without having the brakes on, they would send more Dems to the Senate in November of this year. So far, all indications are that they’ll do the opposite, so it’s not logical to presume that most independent voters want an end to gridlock with the current Dem leadership remains in place.

  • pacatrue

    The problem I have is that the Senate is not a slow, deliberative process. It’s a “make the other party look as bad as I can so that I can win the next election” process. Parties in the minority will vote to stop their own former legislative proposals if it makes the other team look bad. The current example that comes to mind is that the Senate bill’s major health care rule is mandatory health insurance, which was the Republican’s own proposal during the Clinton years.

    To put it another way, the founding fathers did not intend for all legislation in the Senate to require 60 votes. If they had intended that, it would be right there in the Constitution.

    • dduck12

      To put it another way, the founding fathers did not intend for all legislation in the Senate to require 60 votes. If they had intended that, it would be right there in the Constitution.”

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the founders assume that senators were appointed by the states and could be recalled? It’s seems to be a different ball game now.

  • robertbwinn

    Political parties are not the government of the United States. If political parties are broken, according to President George Washington, that is a good thing. There are now more independent voters than Democrats for the first time since the election of 1800. Register independent.

  • joemodlinesq

    Broken Government Solution: Each Elected Official including members of the Senate and House and their staff should be required to take a Lie Detector test yearly (at an unannounced time) and answer predetermined questions about the period of time since their last test as to whether they have voted, agreed to vote, or agreed to influence anothers vote, for or against any legislation in return for a favor, financial or otherwise. This could easily be regulated and managed by an Ethics committee. Procedures and Punishment for failing a test could also be predetermined. This would clearly deter corruption and the influence of lobbiest.

    • dduck12

      This could easily be regulated and managed by an Ethics committee.”

      Those machines are very fragile, and the pens would break off every time.
      Oh, is that the same ethics committee whizzing through on Rangel?
      Nice spoof, Joe.

  • DLS

    “Kurokawa has it right.”

    A slow, deliberative process, indeed should be favored over the impatient and irrational rushing we saw this past year. This, along with the nature of the legislation that was rushed, were things that concerned and repelled the public (at least, the mainstream).

    Some related notes:

    * Impatience with the Senate now is like liberal impatience during other times. Curiously, this was not the case after the 1994 elections, when the House was filled with ambitious Republicans and smug liberals clucked admirably about the Senate’s much better comportment, accompanied by frequent references to the Senate being the “saucer” to cool the heated produce of the GOP House.

    * The same goes for related complaints about the “undemocratic” nature of the Senate now, as well as (more superficially) with the filibuster.

    * We’ve heard similar remarks in the past about “divided government,” when a Democratic Congress faced not a Democratic but a Republican President, and easy legislative passage of (Democratic) legislation was imperiled, and cooperation was replaced by conflict. (This kind of conflict also stokes related references to an “imperial presidency,” again because it’s a Republican in office.) In this case in particular, criticism of separation of powers ensues, with reform suggestions in the form of fusion of powers (ultimately to be in Democratic hands, for Democratic advantage, as are reform suggestions giving Congress more power over “imperial” Republican presidents, or giving Democratic presidents more power over Congress, taking more legislative powers as we see how with Obama, and so on).

    * This is also related to the difficulty in amending the Constitution, which one liberal author I’m reading again has stressed is part of what underlies the practice (liberal in modern times) of judicial activism. (The author says the Constitution is too hard to change, even though much activism isn’t justified by this fact.)

    Food for thought. If excessive, I apologize, but it’s all that was “tripped” by that deliberation remark.

  • DLS

    “Lemon is creepy”

    I disagree with that, but I do believe that CNN is fluff and glitz and possibly destined to become the next CBS, even though it’s snazzy rather than stuffy.

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