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William Walker, Walker & Dunlop

Walker Webcast: “It’s the System, Stupid” Katherine Gehl on the Need for Political Change

During her appearance on the Jan. 25, 2023 Walker Webcast, author, business leader and political activist Katherine Gehl shared the story of Michael N. Castle, a well-regarded former governor and U.S. representative who served the state of Delaware. When another well-known politician—Joe Biden—became vice president under President Barack Obama, Biden’s U.S. Senate seat was open. “Mike Castle was the most popular politician in the state,” Gehl told Walker & Dunlop Chairman and CEO Willy Walker. Castle ran in the Republican party primary. And he lost, despite his popularity. The reason? Low turnout, the bane of most state primaries.

“It’s rational that he could have put himself on the ballot in November as an independent, and would have won, beating both the Democrat and Republican nominees,” Gehl said. One problem though. “Delaware has a pretty odd law, called the Sore Loser Law,” she said. “What this means is that if you run and lose in your party’s primary, you are not allowed to have your name on the November ballot when everyone’s going to turn out. No matter what November voters might want, you cannot have your name on that ballot.”

The Sore Loser Law isn’t peculiar to Delaware. The majority of states have some kind of law. According to Gehl, this type of law ensures that the current political duopoly remains in place. And both Democrats and Republicans are committed to the idea of the current, and flawed, political system. The current national election method ensures that competition can’t come in to shake things up.

Primaries are another way to ensure the status quo. Only 8% of registered voters turn out for primaries for either side. Yet it’s those 8% that end up selecting who to send to Washington DC. The general elections generally don’t mean much, Gehl said.

“September 13 was the day of the last party primaries in our country,” she said. “In any seat that is safe red or safe blue, we always know that whoever wins that party primary is guaranteed to win it in November.”

Gehl noted that the current system doesn’t allow relevant third-party runs. Nor does it allow for compromise (as the “fringe” 8% doesn’t necessarily like compromise).

As such, it isn’t necessarily the people who are the problem with politics. It’s the current duopolistic system. In the current system, neither Democrats nor Republicans are incentivized to negotiate on important issues while in office; even those issues that the majority of Americans want.

So how can this change? The solution that Gehl and co-author Michael Porter present in the book “The Politics Industry” is Final Five Voting. This is a ranked process in which five individuals (from either party) undergo a preliminary vote, and the two receiving the highest number of votes compete in the general election. This gets rid of the primary process and its lopsided results.

With Final Five Voting, those elected “can actually take the actions wanted by the people who vote for them,” Gehl said. “In most cases, they’ll still be Republicans and Democrats, though now there’s space for the new competition.” That competition, she added, will put pressure on those in office to actually get things done – or lose their jobs.

And in Gehl’s mind, there’s little doubt that an independent party can put the pressure on. She spoke about Ross Perot’s run for the White House in 1992. During his campaign, he acquired 19% of the popular vote (though no electoral votes). Unlike the Democrat candidate (Bill Clinton, who won the presidency) or Republican candidate (then President George H.W. Bush), Perot ran on a platform of balanced budgets and debt reduction. Gehl said that due to the pressure of that 19% of voters, both Clinton and Republican Newt Gingrich, the House of Representatives Speaker, worked together to balance the budget and draw down debt.

“Competition helps, even when it doesn’t change who wins, because it changes what winners do,” Gehl said. “We need that competition  . . . to bring forth new issues and innovative ideas into the system.”

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Inside The Story

Katherine GehlWalker & Dunlop's Willy Walker

About Amy Wolff Sorter

I love content. I love writing it, visualizing it, and manipulating it to fit into different formats. I have years of experience in working with content, both as creator and editor. The content I create and edit provides assistance with many goals, ranging from lead generation, to developing street cred through well-timed thought-leadership pieces. Content skills include, but aren't limited to, articles and blogs, e-mails, promotional collateral, infographics, e-books and white papers, website copy and more.

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