Running as an independent isn't easy. But political circumstances -- and a compelling candidate -- could put Alaska in play in 2016.
I've had the opportunity to learn more about Margaret Stock, who recently announced her candidacy for the US Senate running as an Independent in Alaska this year against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). A win, as an independent, will not be easy as the parties may not agree on much -- except for their mutual preference for the duopoly they've built and contempt for anyone running from outside of the "system."
From rigged ballot access restrictions to a lack of embedded partisan organizational advantages (money, data, staffing), independent candidates have to struggle to build awareness, raise money, earn credibility, and compete not just against their opponent but a national partisan machine that will vigorously play for keeps.
But Alaska is not like most of the lower 48. And Stock is not your everyday independent candidate. A retired lieutenant colonel, she served in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps for 28 years. She is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government, and the Army War College. She's a MacArthur "Genius Award" Fellow and a nationally recognized attorney. And, having recently left the Republican party (like many others of us, she believes the party left her), she's fiercely independent.
It's no secret that Americans are fed up with their dysfunctional federal government. But they're becoming increasingly aware that the government they detest consists of two parties that are directly responsible for that dysfunction. Yes, government is broken... but it is the hyper-partisan political parties that are doing the breaking.
If we could elect just a few problem-solving independent senators -- like Stock -- to create a common-sense caucus of the middle, the dysfunctional, partisan impasse created by the current zero-sum approach to leadership could finally be responsibly mitigated. The loudest, most uncompromising partisan zealots would no longer control the senate's agenda, but instead by pushed out to their lunatic fringes (where they belong). (The Centrist Project is the national group leading this call to action.)
Now, granted, it's really tough to run as an independent. But considering much of what has transpired in recent Alaska political history provides confidence that an independent can be competitive: More than 50% of AK voters are registered unaffiliated (no party preference); the Murkowski name may be the beneficiary of a long political legacy (she was appointed to the seat by her FATHER who had left the Senate upon being elected governor), but she actually had to rely on an improbable write-in campaign in her last election after losing her Republican primary to a tea party backed candidate; Murkowski has made a number of unpopular moves/votes over the last six years; the AK Democratic party is weak (and may not put forward a viable senate opponent); current governor, Bill Walker, is independent - so there's a record of Alaska voters supporting independents.
Can Stock prove viability? Can she raise the cash and build the team to be competitive? How will wacky presidential politics affect the down ballot senate race? Much remains up in the air. But as more and more Alaskans are abandoning the parties, and as the broken partisan system (and the government they currently run) continues to fail the voters they purport to represent, the opening for a credible independent candidate will continue to widen.
So pay attention to what is happening in the Alaska senate race. Follow @MargaretForAK and sign up for updates at margaretforalaska.com. While it's getting too late for a competitive independent to emerge in Colorado this cycle, a win or two by independent senate candidates across the country will make a competitive Colorado independent candidacy much more possible in the near future.