Why I’m joining the United Independent Party (for now)

Long-time Democrat says reaching benchmark would boost political competition

“DEMOCRACY IS NOT a spectator sport,” said my hero, John Gardner, from my days as CEO of Common Cause. He meant that it is our job as citizens to remind our leaders whom they serve and to whom they are accountable. That’s why, as a lifelong Democrat, honored to serve in public office for 16 years, and as an advocate for good government and citizen engagement, I’m joining the United Independent Party (UIP). My goal is to help the UIP reach its legally-required benchmark of 43,000 enrollees by this November because it is the most effective way to meet Gardner’s challenge today and for the people’s voices to be heard.

Common Cause, Larry Lessig, and other advocates on the left and the right repeatedly call for campaign finance reforms to curb the dominance of money and the entrenched power of lobbyists and incumbents. Faced with these challenges, ordinary citizens do not want to run, regardless of the merits of the incumbent. This leads to repeated elections like this one, in which, once again, a majority of our legislators are unopposed for re-election, not just in the primary but also in the general election. As a result, even common sense proposed reforms such as public financing, independent redistricting, and overturning Citizens United are all political non-starters.

We all know that this is wrong! And let’s be clear, in Massachusetts, neither my Democratic Party with its overwhelming majority, nor the on-life-support Republican Party solicits or encourages citizens to run for office against any incumbent of either party. As an official party, the United Independent Party will offer us challengers in races across the Commonwealth under a banner of independent thinkers promoting nonpartisan public policies that deserve to be heard and debated. That fact alone will begin creating the climate for reform.

Ensuring contested elections is the single most important reform we can implement right now to encourage citizen engagement and renew our democracy. That is why it matters that enough of us – Democrats, Republicans, and the unenrolled – register and join the UIP by November so it can be a vehicle for contested legislative elections. We must do our duty, get off the sidelines, enter the fray, and participate in our democracy, as Gardner, the founder of Common Cause, urged.

Even though most incumbents may still win contested elections, the UIP deserves the chance to prove that it can ensure that the people’s voice is being heard and the public interest is being advocated in campaigns all over the state. As a result, everyone we honor with election in Massachusetts will be held accountable, will have earned the public trust, and will have understood that it is the people’s office they hold, not their own.

Meet the Author

Scott Harshbarger

Senior counsel, Casner & Edwards
To make this happen, the UIP needs your enrollment. It’s easy to do – and after November, it’s easy to switch back to whatever it is you were before. For me, as a lifelong Democrat, I will likely find my way back to the Democratic Party after November. But in the meantime, I want to be a part of making sure we establish the UIP as a permanent platform for contested elections in our state by lending it my enrollment.

Scott Harshbarger, a former district attorney, attorney general, and Democratic nominee for governor, is currently senior counsel at the Boston law firm of Casner & Edwards.