There are three types of politicians: partisan, bi-partisan, and non-partisan.
We’re all familiar with partisanship – candidates and voters self-identifying as either democrats or republicans (or marginal third-parties). Fit neatly into boxes, voters and their representatives can quickly figure out if there’s a philosophical fit by putting a D or an R after a person’s name. For legislative offices (State Senate and State Assembly), partisanship can sometimes be useful, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes downright poisonous. But in today’s hyper-partisan environment, neither major party is especially functional nor popular.
Non-partisan means that the candidate has no stated political affiliation. Judges, mayors, county boards and city council members to name a few. But easier said than done. State Supreme Court candidates are technically unaffiliated, but that’s not reality.
Bi-partisan means that from the standpoint of the candidate, the individual actively represents the interests of all voters regardless of party affiliation. The candidate could technically be independent (which in reality makes their chances of winning slim-to-none), or they could literally be a member of both major parties. (What???)
For the Wisconsin Governor, being bi-partisan would be novel, ideal, and bold. As a kind of CEO for a state (throw off the for-profit baggage, please), a bi-partisan governor could run for office with a campaign built on policy initiatives that have broad support among a broad number of constituents. Economic development, educational excellence, fiscal responsibility, environmental conservation, prosperity and quality of life, personal security, next-generation transportation, free and fair elections, constituent engagement, transparency, privacy rights, energy self-reliability, agricultural innovation, and more – policies that make sense without the partisan handcuffs.
How would that work? Elegantly, but it would take some creativity. From the start, the candidate would have to run a campaign without party affiliation. Policies first, which would require the candidate to present ideas that reflect their own beliefs and experiences (rather than party-driven initiatives). The result would be fresh ideas, fresh thinking and a beacon of light in a politically fractured state.
Obviously, this creates logistical issues (lack of existing party infrastructure and lack of party funds, for example). But it would unshackle the candidate from the indebtedness that party money inescapably creates. Gone would be the days of “owing” the party undying loyalty, which would be shifted back to where it belongs for a governor: loyalty to the residents of the State of Wisconsin. ALL of them.
“Pie in the sky,” you say? Maybe. And the practicality of our two-party system is that eventually the candidate may have to temporarily affiliate with one party or the other. Independents are notorious for losing elections. It’s just not practical to run and win in the vast majority of cases.
But what if the candidate ran for the governorship under two parties? Say a candidate were a true fiscal conservative (and their economic development, security, conservation and long-term planning credentials were attractive to republican voters), the candidate could actually get enough nomination signatures to appear on the ballot as a Republican.
At the same time, if the candidate were to be a social progressive (and their support for excellent public schools, civil rights, equal protections, privacy, voting rights were attractive to democratic voters), he/she could easily get enough nomination signatures to appear on the ballot as a democrat.
(It is certainly possible to be fiscally conservative and socially progressive – experience tells me that much of the electorate is.)
This scenario isn’t currently available under state law (you can only appear on the ballot once), but it may actually be bold enough to survive a reasonable challenge.
If the candidate were to appear on the ballot under both parties but win only one partisan primary, they would receive that party’s nomination. If, however, the candidate were to win BOTH primaries (and what a great story that would be!), the candidate would appear on the final ballot twice, would presumably win, and at inauguration would renounce any party affiliation.
The result would be earth-shaking: a truly independent governor, with truly bi-partisan politics, representing all of the residents of the State of Wisconsin. It would be a national and international story, it would put Wisconsin back on the map as a state serious about its future, and it would advertise to the world that Wisconsin is the place to be. A cooperative, bright new political landscape for our state would unfold, with a bi-partisan governor, a partisan and functioning Senate and Assembly, and a truly non-partisan state Supreme Court.
Looking ahead – The next three Sustainable Ideas will launch from a bi-partisan governor: a stronger non-partisan Supreme Court, “competitive cooperation” between Senate and Assembly representatives, and genuine campaign finance reform that puts the best interest of all Wisconsin residents first.