Joe Magruder is a former news editor for the Associated Press in New Hampshire, where he covered eight presidential primaries. He lives in Concord.
By JOE MAGRUDER
I certainly will celebrate Independence Day, but on Sunday, July 9, I plan to celebrate our country in a more meaningful way as part of the nonpartisan New Hampshire Rebellion’s Walk and Rally for Clean Elections.
The short walk will begin in Maine, which is significant. While the Rebellion and other groups fighting big-money politics gained lots of supporters in New Hampshire this year, we mostly lost at the State House. (We will be back.)
Maine, meanwhile, is a leader in one of the most under-reported success stories of our time: citizen activists restoring democracy at the state and local level through means including citizen-funded elections, bans on partisan redistricting and laws to make it easier to vote. Clean-election laws in Maine, Connecticut and Arizona are models for other states and the country, but Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream? counts 25 states with some form of public financing of some elections. About half the states also have or are considering reforms to end partisan redistricting (gerrymandering).
Since Maine passed its groundbreaking Clean Election Act in 1996, more candidates run for office, and they spend more time with voters and less time raising money. Participation in the voluntary system is high, and the success seems to be self-reinforcing. In a poll conducted by Critical Insights last year, 91 percent of Mainers said reducing the influence of big money in politics is important. Maine’s system will be the focus of the July 9 rally in Portsmouth after the short walk from Kittery, Maine.
I’ve been working against big-money politics for nearly four years, and I’m as optimistic today as ever despite the current hostile climate for reform. Why? For starters, few Americans like or will defend our current system, which allows a tiny fraction of Americans to fund campaigns and, together with often unaccountable and deceptively named interest groups, drown out the voices of We the People.
Contrast that with the agenda of the Rebellion and its numerous kindred groups, local and national: Making all of us campaign donors through citizen-funded elections (first proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt); outlawing super PACs; ending secret political spending and gerrymandering; and overturning Supreme Court decisions that say money is speech and corporations are people.
Such reforms don’t have much traction in Congress – yet – but they are popular with voters across the political spectrum.
You might ask whether putting the brakes on climate change or blocking a bad health care bill aren’t more important and more urgent. Let’s work on those and other critical issues, certainly. But I and many others are deeply skeptical that Congress will make meaningful progress on any of the serious challenges we face as long as Congress remains in the grip of big money.
We the People, conservative to liberal, are way ahead of the politicians on the need to fix our democracy. Join us on July 9 to help spread the word.
Joe Magruder’s op-ed was first published Tuesday in the Concord Monitor.