The national media have given very little attention to the recently released “Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy,” from the Bipartisan Policy Center. That may be because change comes hard, and our two-party system is deeply ensconced in our psyche.

This column will hopefully contribute some exposure to this invaluable piece of work by a bipartisan group led by former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The voluminous report has three sections: Electoral System Reform, Congressional Reform and a Call to Service. I’d like to focus attention on a few recommendations from each segment.

Electoral system reform

States should adopt open or semi-open primaries to allow independents and/or members of the opposite party to cast ballots in a political primary.

Move away from very low turnout methods of candidate selection, such as caucuses and conventions. Create a single, national congressional primary date in June. Improve the overall voting process so that fewer provisional ballots are needed on Election Day.

Political contributions, including those made to outside and independent groups, should be disclosed so that citizens have full information about who is paying for the political messages they see. Congress should establish a Bipartisan National Task Force on Campaign Finance whose structure is modeled after that of the 9/11 Commission.

Congressional reform

Five-day workweeks for the House and Senate, with three weeks in session followed by one-week state and district work periods. The president should hold regular monthly meetings with congressional leaders.

Bills should be posted a minimum of three days in advance of a vote to allow sufficient time for members and the public to read and discuss. The Senate should limit debate time on motions to proceed to the consideration of legislation.

Congress should adopt a biennial budget process that includes two-year budget resolutions and appropriations bills, with expedited consideration given to enacting into law two-year discretionary spending ceilings for enforcement purposes.

Call to Service

All Americans should participate in service opportunities during their careers and retirements.

All Americans ages 18 to 28 should commit to one full year of service within their communities or at a national level through military service; civilian service, in programs such as Peace Corps or Americorps; volunteer service, through local and national nonprofit organizations or religious entities; or by running for political office.

Schools should increase opportunities for student participation in student government and other leadership roles.

Political parties should make an effort to engage candidates younger than 30 years old by providing candidate training and resources.

Go to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s website, bipartisanpolicy.org and read or download the entire report “Governing in a Polarized America.” Warning: It is 120 pages long, but if you are truly interested in the future of our country, you will be fascinated by the research and statistics, in addition to the recommendations.

The report’s release proved to be timely in view of the controversial primary just completed in Mississippi where veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran squeaked out a victory over his tea party challenger by recruiting a block of Democrat minority voters to vote for him in an “open” primary redux.

Personally, as long as we have a two-party system (although I am OK with a third independent candidate), I am not in favor of allowing voters from the opposing party to decide the outcome of a party primary. If a voter is unwilling to commit to a party then he or she should not have the right to name that party’s nominee.

Run-off elections bother me, too. Re-votes are unfair and often create an entirely different campaign environment (example: Cochran in Mississippi).

One ballot initiative that I particularly eschew is this business of indicating more than one choice for the same position on the ballot. Portland has adopted this system.

I don’t even like the system that Augusta and many communities around the country employ of voting simultaneously for two or three councilors at-large, instead of head-to-head contests with the highest votegetter winning the specific seat up for grabs.

I think we need to keep it simple. I’m good with a plurality in each election, in which the highest votegetter wins. Even it happens to be Paul LePage, winning with just 39 percent of the total votes for governor.

Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.