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2020 Candidates Are Finally Taking Up the One Issue That Could Save our Democracy

The 2020 Democratic candidates gathered in Houston, Texas, for the latest Democratic debate on September 12. (Photo: YouTube)
The 2020 Democratic candidates gathered in Houston, Texas, for the latest Democratic debate on September 12. (Photo: YouTube)

“The good news, as I more or less alluded to, is that there are a number of presidential candidates that have released very strong democracy reform platforms.”

Citizen Truth spoke with Adam Eichen of Equal Citizens about perhaps the most pressing issue of our time and the one issue that could fix our broken political system, democracy reform.

In our interview, Eichen explains what democracy reform means, why it is so vital to fixing our politics and where the 2020 candidates stand on democracy reform. Multiple exciting democracy reform measures are being passed and fought for around our country. There are solutions to corrupt politics, voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and big money’s takeover of our democracy. Find out what organizations and everyday Americans are doing to stand up and take back their democracy.

Enjoy an excerpt of the interview below and watch the full interview on our YouTube channel.

Today we are speaking with Adam Eichen from the organization Equal Citizens. If you aren’t familiar with equal citizens, they are a fantastic organization because they are working on actually fixing our broken political system and fixing our democracy and fixing it at the root. Most importantly, we’re going to talk with Adam about how Equal Citizens is going about achieving democracy, democracy reform, and in particular how democracy reform is playing into the 2020 election and perhaps most importantly, which candidates have actually announced support for new significant democracy reform measures. So thank you, Adam for talking with us and coming back and talking to us again.

Of course. It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me back on.

Let’s just start with the first question. Most basic, can you explain what you mean by democracy reform and why Equal Citizens believes it’s such an essential issue?

Sure, absolutely. I mean, there’s no question that the U.S. Democracy, the United States is broken, uh, big money in politics hold sway over who can run for office, what policies are enacted. Uh, you know, there is an epidemic. You know, there is voter suppression, it’s rampant across the country and has only gotten worse recently, people are being denied the right to vote. Gerrymandering is worse than its ever been. Politicians are drawing the lines such that we no longer have competitive elections in most circumstances. And you know, we still have the electoral college, which is utterly broken unrepresentative and makes a mockery of one person, one vote. So when all of these different… in all of these different aspects of our democracy, we can see that we are not equal citizens, that some have more influence in the political process than others.

And that is unacceptable. And of course, as you and I know and I, I’m sure many of the listeners know that we cannot make progress on any of the issues that we care about until we fix our democracy. The first thing that continuously gets in the way of achieving the meaningful reform that most Americans want, is a system that is unrepresentative. It does not represent the majority of Americans. So it doesn’t matter whether or not the majority of Americans want something like reasonable background checks on guns or action on … to prevent the worst of climate change. Until we make a representative government, those things will never get passed because our system is not designed to actually mimic and produce policy based on the majority opinion.

And so at Equal Citizens what we do is we find innovative campaigns and lawsuits that seek to promote more equal citizenship… to try to make our democracy work for all individuals despite how much money they have, the color of their skin, their age, et cetera, et cetera. And so we’re fighting on issues like to reduce the influence of big money in politics. There are things like public financing of elections. We’re working to combat voter suppression by advocating for automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration vote by mail, ending the stain, the Jim crow stain on our nation of felon disenfranchisement. Few people in this country know that if you’re convicted of a felony in some states, you may lose the right to vote forever. And that is, as I said, a direct legacy of Jim Crow. And so that is a key part about a democracy. You can’t take the right to vote away from folks. And of course we’re working on campaigns, both litigation and policies, to reform the electoral college. So really on all these aspects, it seems very broad and I agree. But the problem is broad. We truly are in a crisis and there’s no silver bullet. And so we have our fingers in all aspects of this reform movement because we need an overhaul and we’re working with them.

So just to kind of rehash, when I looked at your website, it looked like there were four main issues that were kind of the key… that you guys were focusing on for fixing our broken political system. One being reducing the influence of big money in politics, another one being end gerrymandering, another one being making voting easier and more representative and more secure. And lastly, making every vote equal in the presidential election. Are those kind of the four broad general areas you guys are focused on?

Yeah. And there are many different innovative policies that go into each of those buckets. But yeah, in general, those are the four. That’s how we conceptualize the four real key areas that we have to fix our system in which way to fix our system.

Okay. So I want to talk right about the 2020 elections since that’s kind of big news and we have, I don’t know how many different candidates you know, running for the presidency. So in terms of the 2020 election, how is democracy reform coming up? Is it actually being taken seriously? Are there candidates that have adopted significant democracy reform measures? And is it being talked about during the debates?

So I have good news and bad news. I will start with the bad news because I like to end with the good news.

(Laughing) Thank you.

So the bad news is no, the moderators or the debates have not seen or viewed this issue as important enough to ask a question about it. So there has been not a single question. There’s been no question thus far in the debates for president about democracy reform. Nothing about how to reduce the role of big money in politics, nothing to ensure, about ensuring the right to vote for all individuals. Nothing.

Now, some candidates have brought this up independently unprompted, and that’s great. This was more of thing in the first debate where you have someone like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York who really made a compelling case that no issue is more important in some respect as democracy reform because all the other issues rely upon that first step. She said that we will not make progress on any issue, in a line that really could have been said by Equal Citizens founder Lawrence Lessig, until we fix our democracy first.

And she said that in the debate itself?

She said it in the debate and, you know, she highlighted a really innovative public financing program where every voter would get up to $600 in democracy vouchers that you could give only to eligible federal candidates. That would be a radical shift in campaign financing that would really elevate the voices of all Americans in our campaign finance system. It would democratize political power. Other candidates like Pete Buttigieg, you know, said something very similar – when he was asked what is his priority as president, he said democracy reform. So there are these instances in which the candidates themselves are talking about democracy reform on the debate stage, but it’s been a real failure of the moderators to ignore this issue.

I mean, the debates are farcical on many different levels. But really and truly from my perspective, not a single question on democracy reform was particularly egregious. Especially considering on the second night of the first round of debates that morning the Supreme Court issued a terrible ruling on gerrymandering, essentially saying the federal courts can’t adjudicate on the issue of gerrymandering. They can’t do anything about it. And they also ruled on the census question that the Trump administration was trying to screw around with the census by adding a citizenship question, which would’ve led to an undercount as well as allowing states to potentially use citizen voting age population.

I digress, but the point is there were two landmark rulings about our democracy on that day. It would’ve been the perfect news hook for moderators to ask a question about what the candidates would do in response. And yet they did nothing.

And in the second round of debates, it was in Michigan, and Michigan has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. And in 2018 there was a movement to end gerrymandering that citizens voted on an initiative there overwhelmingly – so Republicans and Democrats take the power to draw the lines, the district lines out of the hands of the politicians and give it to an independent commission. It would been the perfect opportunity to ask the candidates what they would do to help support citizens in their effort to reclaim their democracy. But of course, they didn’t.

Now that is all bad news. But the good news, as I more or less alluded to, is that there are a number of presidential candidates that have released very strong democracy reform platforms… That there is a level of sophistication in terms of how these candidates are thinking about the issue. They are recognizing that our democracy is broken and that the key to having a successful presidency is predicated on fixing that system because they will, they see that any sort of reform is just going to be made impossible when special interests are gonna try and block it at every step.

It’s interesting, because to me this is an important issue of democracy reform, because I think like you and a lot of people, we feel like the system is broken. So I have felt hopeful that these candidates are talking about measures and reform and addressing the issue. Even though, as you said, it’s still in a lot of ways not really being looked at by moderators and maybe being ignored in the media and so on. But it seems like there might be a hint of it being taken more seriously than it has in the past, and that something is building, which is why I’m a little bit excited about that.

Right. Yeah. I think you’re exactly right there that, you know, we have a long way to go to even get to push the candidates even further. I think that while a lot of their platforms are good, I don’t think enough candidates are really making this part of their stump speeches. But you’re right. Just the fact that a lot of these once seen as, as kind of, you know, real, not like radical, but radical in the sense of getting to the root reforms, the fact that these are in their plan and they’re talking about it at all is, is a sign of remarkable progress. I mean, it truly is.

You know, we want reform now obviously, but you have to take a moment to recognize just how far this movement for reform has come over the last four, even three years. We really inserted our talking points into the mainstream. I mean the fact that presidential candidates are even going up there on the debate stage and saying, we can’t, you know, solve the crises in our country until we fix our democracy first. I mean, that’s a huge victory for those of us who have been in this reform movement for a little while.

On your website, you guys have a great page where you ranked the 2020 candidates and where they stand on democracy reform. Can you just give – I think there’s about 25 candidates, so you don’t have to do all of them off the top of your head – but can you just give an overview of what  candidates are at the top of the list and some of the key platforms that they support?

Sure. So I think the key thing to understand about our website, which we call POTUS-1, is it’s a little bit of a play on H.R.1 which was, that was the omnibus democracy reform bill that the Democrats prioritized as the very first bill introduced in the new Congress when they took it over earlier this year. They called it the H.R.1 because it was a sign, a signal that this was the most important issue and it contained just a multitude of all the reforms that we fight for. I mean really what it is, is this amazing reform package that would revolutionize just how inclusive our democracy is.

And so we call it POTUS-1. Because what we’re looking, the reason that we compile this list is we wanted to know what the candidates are saying about reform, but also which candidates are prioritizing, have agreed to prioritize democracy reform as their number one priority. So we divide this page into two. We give them a grade for how strong their platform is, but we’re also keeping a tally of those who are committing to fix the system first. And if candidates meet both of those criteria, we call them POTUS-1 certified candidates.

So we have a couple of those certified candidates. I mean, you know Kirsten Gillibrand who I mentioned earlier, really has an outstanding, outstanding platform. We give her an A Plus. She’s also POTUS One certified. Andrew Yang has another extraordinarily, extraordinarily strong platform and has also agreed to fix democracy first.

We’re holding what we’re calling democracy town halls across New Hampshire this year and we’re inviting presidential candidates. We have held one with Senator Gillibrand and Mr. Yang. At both of those events, they both agreed that democracy reform as a top priority. Andrew Yang actually, you know, revised his statement in the course of our town hall. He said, my number one priority has long been giving every individual one thousand dollars in universal basic income, but I would amend that statement to say, first off, fix democracy and then I will get everyone the money; because he recognized that the democracy reform has to come first.

You know, Bernie Sanders has an extraordinarily strong platform, especially on voting rights. Beto O’Rourke likewise has an A and Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bennett are another two candidates along with Marianne Williamson who has a strong platform. And from there the list goes down a bit and we’re looking to see a bit more, someone like Elizabeth Warren has a very strong democracy reform platform. But she doesn’t mention public financing of elections. And in our view, any democracy platform without public financing is inadequate, because that is the only way to really democratize the way campaigns are funded. And until we do that, all policy priorities are going to be skewed. And the list goes on from there.

That’s really the top of the pack. The real thing that’s keeping some candidates from getting higher rankings – you know, the criteria we use for this list is essentially, if it’s not on your platform, we’re not going to give you credit for it unless it’s really easily found. Because that’s a baseline. If it’s not important enough to put on your website, then it’s not important enough for us to give you credit for it. So the real thing that’s keeping some of these Democratic candidates down is that their websites don’t mention democracy reform.

We hope that will change as the primary season goes on. I’s another reason why we are having these town halls and we are hosting a podcast where a Lessig interviews these candidates, because we do want to give them the space to raise their grade. We’re not looking to hit any candidate over another. That’s not the point here. We want every… we want every candidate running for president to get an A-plus and to be POTUS certified. That’s what we want. We want every candidate to have a baseline democracy platform that we believe would truly fix our system.

Full Interview:

Lauren von Bernuth

Lauren is one of the co-founders of Citizen Truth. She graduated with a degree in Political Economy from Tulane University. She spent the following years backpacking around the world and starting a green business in the health and wellness industry. She found her way back to politics and discovered a passion for journalism dedicated to finding the truth.

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1 Comment

  1. Larry Stout September 23, 2019

    When the two (and two only!) political parties put forward only candidates that have been vetted — long before you hear their names — by the special interests that control the parties, there is no democracy, nor is it a “republic”.

    Anyway, how encouraging is it when the “grass roots” folks can’t find Ukraine on a world map and tote a Colt .45 on their Walmart trip?


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