Is Dawn Running?

My wife, Dawn Stensland, hasn't made up her mind about a run for Congress. But one thing's for sure: America — and Pennsylvania — need more independents like her

Something fascinating is happening in America. As the two parties that control our government drift farther away from the middle and closer and closer to their ideological extremes, voters are abandoning both parties and declaring themselves independent.

For the first time in our nation’s history, there are more people registered independent than either Republican or Democrat. And what will this seismic shift to the middle mean come the midterm elections? Nothing, nada, diddly squat.

The electorate will continue to shift power from one side to the other, like some perverse political tennis match. After dissatisfaction with Republican control of the legislature, voters will give control to the Democrats, and back again, and again and again. And the scandals, the partisan bickering and the spending will continue unchecked no matter who is in charge. [SIGNUP]

To really change things, independent voters need to look past column A and column B on the menu of candidates. Look down the ballot past the R and the D and vote for an I.

If you really want to shake things up in Washington or the state capital, start sending a group of legislators who do not have to yield to party pressure for their continued political existence. The only group of people an independent is beholden to are the voters who gave them their jobs. What a refreshing change that would be — true representation.

Do you know how many independents there are currently in the U.S. House of Representatives? Zero. Not one.

It is easy to see why. Independent candidates are underfunded, marginalized by both major parties and ignored by the media. The only way they can win is if registered independents stop bed hopping between the right and the left and live up to the promise of their personal declaration of Independence.

Before someone points it out in the comment section below, let me disclose that my wife, Dawn Stensland, is considering a run as an independent in Philadelphia’s 7th Congressional District. She has received thousands of emails, tweets and posts from people in the district offering their vote, hard work and money. She is moved beyond words at the outpouring, but for personal reasons she is still undecided and time is running out.

I am not writing this as a prelude to her running, but because of the lessons I have learned as she makes her decision.

Most of all I learned that everything is run by the political machines — the primaries, the elections and the candidates themselves. I always suspected that was true, but the romantic patriot in me wanted to believe otherwise. Now I know it is true.

It starts with the primaries. The political machines will do everything and anything to intimidate, entice and cajole opponents of their party controlled candidate to drop out of the race. Then, in Pennsylvania, Delaware and 17 others states, only party faithful can vote in the primaries; independent voters are banned and left out an important part of the process. Their tax dollars help pay for the expense of those primaries, but they aren’t allowed to participate. That is what our Founding Fathers called taxation without representation.

Our Founding Fathers also envisioned a country where successful citizens would leave their chosen professions and answer a call to serve their country in the legislature as a patriotic duty. The republic was supposed to be run by people of varied experiences and passions who joined together from a wide array of fields to solve problems. But somewhere along the way, the lust for money and power corrupted the process. And now the government is increasingly run by those who choose the blood sport of politics as a profession, where the only priority is to keep control at all cost.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Pennsylvania. The state where the United States Constitution was signed and ratified is the worst state in the union for free and open elections. And it is defiant in its quest to keep that title.

Pennsylvania’s election laws are built by and for the two parties that have taken turns running the state. The state has gone to extreme measures to keep independents and third-party candidates off the ballots. On at least six occasions, federal courts have found Pennsylvania’s election laws to be unconstitutional. Each time the state has ignored the courts and refused to amend its laws.

A few years back, Governor Ed Rendell appointed an election reform task force to review Pennsylvania’s election code. The task force issued a 65-page final report in 2005 that contained just one sentence addressing the complaints of the federal judges. “The Pennsylvania Election Code should be amended to provide greater access to the ballot for minor political parties and political bodies.”

That was ignored too.

The independent and third-party candidates on the ballot in the upcoming mid-term elections had to jump hurdles that were cleared for the two major party candidates. They had to fight challenges, get thousand of more signatures, pay more fees and fight a system set up to assure they fail.

They deserve your attention.

Their only hope is that the swell of dissatisfaction with the two party system is real; that 40 percent of the registered voters are not Independent in name only but are willing to act that way and make November 2nd a true Independent’s day.

But that probably won’t happen. It is easy to register independent; much harder to vote that way.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post on Mondays and Thursdays. His video commentaries are seen on Tribune television stations across the country. You can view them at