The Year of Independents

Stoler FlagI majored in Political Science and minored in Sociology at Tulane University.  I loved learning about governments, leaders and societal behaviors.  This has been a great foundation for the various careers I have had.  I’ve been going to DC to do advocacy for my two professional associations for almost 15 years. In the process, I’ve met with Senators and Congressmen and periodically women – on both sides of our two-party system.  Luckily, I was there to discuss health issues – which are non-partisan.  I’ve served on the Governor’s appointed Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, through 3 governors – again – regardless of party affiliation – as volunteer, for 15 years.  I made a goal to myself to consider a run for Congress when I turned 50.  Again, no other external factors influenced this decision – other than the fact that it seems that for years, people are frustrated with the multi-decade incumbents and partisan politics.

Is there one way to throw your hat into the ring… to raise your hand and say, “I volunteer” for the job of civic representative? No.  Is there a set “training” or path to elected office?  No.  Would being on town council or the board of education give me the training I need to be a Congresswoman?  No.  Heck, I’ve been the President of just about every organization I’ve been a member of.  I have friends in elected and appointed “offices” – I see what they do.  I’ve attended fundraisers, helped with campaigns, and have kept my ear to the ground to hear what people in my community want for almost two years.  In healthcare, we call it a needs assessment, in the military they call it reconnaissance, in the legal world it is called due diligence.  For me, it has been about experiencing “data collection” first-hand… not relying on the media or opinions of others.  I’ve been trained as a scientist and a journalist… and think I do a good job of minimizing personal bias.

I decided to wait until after the November election in 2017 to take the formal steps to get a US Congressional race started.  I was enthusiastic and filled with great optimism.  People have been saying that they want CHANGE.  They are tired of CAREER politicians.  The status QUO is not ACCEPTABLE.  Many long-term incumbents read the writing on the wall, and decided to retire with grace and dignity (for most).  Our founding fathers never imagined people would want to make careers out of politics – or else they would have included term limits in our Constitution.  Had they known that political parties would become polarizing forces reminiscent of the monarchies and feudal systems they traveled halfway around the world to escape, they might have prohibited them.

We are a Republic, which means there are rules and laws, and use a Democratic process to craft, implement and maintain those laws in order to protect life, liberty and our “pursuit of happiness.”  How ironic to find out that in wanting to serve our fellow residents in an elected position – for the very same altruistic reasons that I’m in healthcare and have been a lifelong volunteer – to help others, that the very process of elections is not as “open” as one may think.  The political “parties” we are asked to choose to be a “member” of when we register to vote, is not the same as the actual private party organizations that control ballots and positions.  Yes, I just said it – political parties are private organizations.  They do not have to be inclusive.  Do the parties want you to participate?  It depends.  Yes, they want your money and your votes.  They’d love for you to volunteer to help those who are already in positions… but do they want to encourage you to run for an office?  Not unless you show up with six or seven figure checks  - which is how people buy their way into politics.  Perhaps you’ve done your time like a hazed fraternity pledge, but remain in a holding pattern for decades until some “leader” has given you permission to advance or an incumbent decides to retire.  In the latter, it again means money… attending loads of fundraisers.  Ever wonder who attends most of these events?  Their price tags are not cheap and forget about if you have young kids that require being shuttled to activities (or merely being a parent).  This happens in both the Republican and Democratic parties. 

Why am I telling you this?  Because you need to know this is how it works.  When you think your vote doesn’t count… it does.  In fact, when you don’t vote, you allow the status quo to remain intact.  You allow this “old boys network” to remain in power.  Make no mistake, those people in charge – even at the local level – have their hands in each other’s pockets.  Jobs, contracts, pensions, favors… all those things that you, as the majority, do not benefit from.  So, yeah, you can vote for change every opportunity you cast your vote.

There are many ways to impact change.  First, let the local parties know that you are tired of the status quo… do not give them money, do not put out lawn signs or vote for candidates that you think do not represent YOU.  It should always be about the person versus the party.  Especially when you consider that our local, county, state and federal government works for all citizens, regardless of voter status or party affiliation.  Next, demand that conflicts of interest disqualify people from holding paid and elected positions at the same time that may put them in a position to not be objective or for which they can personally benefit financially.  This means getting legislators to create laws prohibiting it.  A legislator who is not guilty of such conflict, should have no issue getting laws like this passed.  If they do – then vote them out. 

Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”.  This is a principle I live by.  This is one of the reasons why I’m running for US Congress… to be the change.  As I’ve learned in my professional training, change comes from within.   My doctoral research was in worksite wellness, and for sure, I think we can agree that Congress needs a healthy makeover – for the benefit of our country.  How about representation that works for the benefit of all Americans versus partisan politics?  Have you noticed how little gets done?  I want to see term limits for elected officials at all levels in order to ensure a government of, for and by the people.  A true participatory government.  Personally, I’d like to see the Republican party great again.  The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan.  Personal accountability, less government intervention and honoring the ideals of our Constitution.  This means keeping government out of our bedrooms, bodies and bathrooms. 

When grown MEN, and it’s only been MEN, within the party I’ve been a member of for 33 years, feel the need to take to social media to harass me about wanting to be part of the democratic process based upon their own personal narrative, it is just pathetic.  Name calling.  Come on, stop acting sophomoric.  Attacking a highly credentialed, professional, single mom – with 30 years of work experience, running for office.  Hmmm. The irony is that the very people who question my party “membership” fail to hold their incumbent to the same, alleged, party allegiance.  What about squashing competition or punishing those publically who may question inappropriate behavior within political offices.  Whistle blowing gone amuck – welcome to local politics.  This was not what our founders intended when the created our Constitution.  They intended for true representation, not back room deals by “power brokers”.  By the way, primaries are not truly open. Those involved with the primary ballots are not elected but appointed members of private organization.  Follow me here, private clubs pick who can be on your public ballot if you’ve registered to vote for one of the two “parties”. 

Perhaps we should consider doing away with primaries because they cost a lot of money to implement and just have a general election in which all candidates can be considered… that their names are placed on a ballot in an objective manner – like alphabetical order.  Add in campaign finance reform… level the playing field and then maybe we’ll see who the best person for the job really is, not the options that are shoved down our throats like bad medicine.  The process is not transparent, it is not open, and it is not democratic.   In our recent primary, 10% of voters showed up to vote.  That means 10% of Democrats and Republicans narrowed your choices for the general election.

This is precisely why I chose to go directly to the general election in November.  To let the constituents in NJ’s 4th Congressional District have an opportunity to have a real CHOICE about who will represent THEM in Congress.  Not one party, but all 711,000 people in my Congressional District.  In science, we look at the bell curve, where the majority are within the bell curve… and the outliers are the extremes on both sides.  The majority will have options on November 6th 2018. 

While the statistics for running independent of the two major parties in a general election are not good, I am optimistic that there has never been a better time to appeal to those voters are do not identify with either party anymore… to give all voters an option because they do not share the same belief that their party’s anointed “choice” is the best choice. People can stop voting for the lesser of two evils.  It about finally having a real, viable option and making history in a positive way.  I will work hard in representing my constituents – all of them – not constrained by an “us” or “them” club.  I am committed to running a positive messaging campaign.  I’d like to see this become our new normal.  We need to lead by example.  I plan on being the grown-up, professional in this campaign and hope the other candidates will do the same.