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We need more political parties to give Independents a home

Damn your principles! Stick to your party!

- Benjamin Disraeli


America needs another political party (or two or three). The wild-eyed zealots who inhabit what’s left of the Democratic and Republican parties after two decades of flight by disaffected members have this country so tied in knots it can barely function.

Republicans and Democrats no longer oppose each other, they hate each other and they seem increasingly willing to destroy the country in their zeal to destroy the party they hate.

That they both wrap themselves in the flag and claim to love the country they’re betraying would be laughable if it weren’t so disgusting. And disheartening.

For the past 20 years the number of people identifying themselves as independent voters has grown exponentially.

In Arizona, Independents now outnumber Democrats and by the next presidential election they may pass Republicans too.

Nationally, there are no definitive statistics because 22 states don’t register voters by party. But in the 28 states that do, Republican and Democratic registrations declined between 2008 and 2012 in nearly every state while independent registrations rose in nearly every state.

Exit polls show that nearly a third of voters self-identified as an independent voter in the past election.

The conventional wisdom is that these independents are fed up with the intransigence of their former parties and are expressing their dissatisfaction with their feet, unwilling to remain in their party but unwilling to join the “other” party.”

They’re supposed to be conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans, the so-called moderates, but it’s more complicated than that. And the term independent is misleading because it implies they’re truly independent, that they pick and choose their candidates on merit rather than party, but the truth is former Democrats who reregistered as Independents still tend to vote a Democratic ticket. Same goes for ex-Republicans. True ticket splitters – voters who regularly vote for Republicans and Democrats on the same ballot – are rare.

So why have millions of Democrats and Republicans chosen to become political orphans – separating themselves from the infrastructure and security of the party?

Part of the answer lies in the changing political culture caused by the rise of new communication technologies.

Any candidate, elected official or party member who dares stray from the party’s generally accepted platform can be immediately and brutally chastised and ostracized for their heresy.

Consider retiring Sen. Jon Kyl. In 2005 Kyl stuck his neck out and advocated for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for more than 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be residing in the United States. The bill languished but it helped him get re-elected in 2006.

In 2007, when opposition to illegal immigration was reaching its most fevered pitch, opposition to the bill in conservative media – talk radio, Fox News and blogs – forced Kyl and others to cave and the bill failed. It caused Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to complain that the GOP had been completely hijacked by talk radio.

Kyl changed his position and after becoming Senate minority whip he became an illegal immigration hawk. He had to, lest he be dubbed a RINO and drummed from the party by the fire-breathing rock throwers who had taken control.

Party Puritanism has ravaged both political parties. The quest for the purest of the pure party members continues to beleaguer both. The GOP in Arizona is tearing itself apart as economic conservatives and libertarians battle the social/Christian conservatives for control.

In Pima County, several county GOP meetings nearly broke out in fist fights this year as allies of current county party chair Carolyn Cox argued with members who were supporters of former chair Brian Miller (they’re derisively dubbed “Paulistas” for their support of erstwhile presidential candidate Ron Paul) about the party’s campaign strategies in several local elections.

In Maricopa County, the Democratic Party there nearly split apart during the primary fight for the new 9th Congressional District between Kyrsten Sinema, Andrei Cherny and David Schapira. The divisions were so bitter than some Democrats wouldn’t campaign, endorse or support Sinema in her race against Republican Vernon Parker.

In other words, some Democrats would have rather have seen a Democrat lose to a Republican than the “wrong” Democrat win.

It’s these kind of internecine squabbles that is helping fuel the flight of millions to the political wilderness.

But there’s power in the party. Our entire electoral system, local, state and federal relies on it. And if the parties are broken, so is the government.

Political parties provide candidates education on how to run for office, fund raising and volunteer help, vital voter data and other support that is necessary to win office.

They help voters figure out faster who they’re for and against and they help get out the vote, increasing turnout.

No single political party can be a party for all, nor even two parties. But a party of none, which is the trajectory we’re on, serves no one.

Taking your toys and going home might be OK when you’re six. But for adults whose participation in the political process is vital for all of our prosperity, it’s destructive and dangerous.

We need more parties. Any Independents out there got a few billion dollars to help get one started?

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