Dream and Debacle: Americans Elect, Cutler and King

After putting $35 million into their dream of forming a web-based centrist/independent political party, Americans Elect is in trouble. The group hired signature gatherers and got their group listed on the ballot in 27 states, but couldn’t gather much interest from voters — or candidates.

According to the Washington Post:

The group said Tuesday that no candidate has attained the level of support needed to be considered at its online convention next month, and that the deadline to qualify has passed. That leaves the group with ballot access in more than half the states — including many swing states — but no name to put on the ballot.

The group may abandon its system for picking a candidate and do something else. It’s possible that its board will just pick one, in a system that’s less open and less participatory than the old-fashioned smoke-filled rooms American political parties left behind over forty years ago.

In any case, Americans Elect’s backers’ dream is now in shambles.

Maine’s own Eliot Cutler is on the board of Americans Elect and founded a state version called OneMaine. 

Cutler is the independent who came in second in the 2010 gubernatorial race, with votes coming people who saw him as their first choice and from people who were trying to prevent Paul LePage from winning.

Like Americans Elect, OneMaine has upheld several banners: a distaste toward political parties and an emphasis on process over policy.  As I wrote in September 2011:

No successful political movement in the history of American politics and no new, successful political party in the history of American politics has been about process. True, the Progressive movement was concerned about corruption in urban political machines and it worked to reform processes (with campaign finance laws, competitive exams for government jobs, the secret Australian-style ballot, etc.) but it was also involved with substantive issues like food safety.

Maine people have traditionally stood for civility in politics, but they are also people looking for more than a commitment to good process.  Independent candidate Angus King got elected governor after publishing a book with his ideas. One can never say never in politics, but given all this, the political potential for a movement without a core focus and ideas is not strong.

Americans Elect doesn’t seem to be able to buck this historical pattern.

And, I daresay, the same will apply for Mr. Cutler and OneMaine, going forward. When Cutler ran for office 2010, he had policy positions. He didn’t just talk about process. Yet his political organization (don’t call it a political party) isn’t about what government should do; it’s all process, no policy.

So far in 2012 Angus King has not talked much about policy. Because Maine people know him pretty well, he has more ability than Cutler to run well without addressing nuts-and-bolts policy issues. And he can point to his record in elected office.

But even King’s window for talking about such things like bringing people together is limited. During the fall campaign, he will have to describe his views on education, health care, foreign policy, and other matters. His opponents will press him and so will reporters and members of the public.

And, as far as having a good political process is concerned, the sooner the better — because process without substance doesn’t lead anywhere.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.