TOPEKA — Founders of a centrist political group in Kansas collecting signatures to place candidates on November ballots joined forces Wednesday with a new Denver-based organization launching a state-by-state campaign to break a self-interested stranglehold the two main parties maintain over government.
The Party of the Center, which emerged in Lawrence among frustrated Republicans, Democrats and independents, agreed to the partnership with Serve America Movement to gather 18,000 signatures by June 1. A grassroots effort has secured thousands of signatures on behalf of the Party of the Center.
Leaders of both entities said they were drawn together by an interest in giving voters options not based on tribal allegiances or the growing extremism in the Republican or Democratic parties.
“We are excited that SAM has found in us a partner in Kansas to help push forward their national effort to right our political ship,” said Scott Morgan, who helped start the Party of the Center. “There is a huge swath of Kansans who are politically lost and who find that neither party represents them. Kansans are tired of crazy.”
Sarah Lenti, CEO of the Serve America Movement, said Kansas was the first of a handful of states the organization intended to be involved with during the 2018 cycle. The Serve America Movement is a tax-exempt organization with no fundraising or spending limitations, but it does report donors.
Drawing people together from across the political spectrum to support ambitions of the Party of the Center and comparable groups in other states is a first step to putting people ahead of entrenched political interests, Lenti said.
“Kansas is a state in political flux,” she said. “Nearly a third of all Kansas voters are unaffiliated with either major party. We hope that SAM and POC will provide those voters with another credible option when choosing candidates for office this November.”
She said these alternatives would compete to change an American political system hijacked by a two-party system content to pass the baton of power between themselves election after election. That approach yields candidates who focus on narrow interests rather than broad perspectives of their constituencies, she said.
In addition to third-party development, she said, the Serve America Movement would strive to end gerrymandering of district boundaries, improve campaign finance disclosure, ease voter registration and advocate for other electoral reforms.
Morgan said the Party of the Center planned to complete the signature phase, assemble a convention of activists, and endorse candidates for Kansas legislative and statewide offices. He said formal organization of the new party would release pent-up frustration with the status quo in Kansas.
He said the new Kansas party would be less about ideology and more about a political structure that engaged people in the process.
“Take guns. That is an issue that cries out for a conversation to discuss it as the health issue that it is. To look at it as sane adults and figure out what restrictions we can make, changes we can make,” Morgan said.
He said conventional wisdom was the experiment in formal centrist politics wouldn’t be successful.
Some skeptics question the strategy, he said, due to apprehension the new party could serve as spoiler and contribute to election of Republicans more deeply conservative than those holding office now.
“People who love this idea say, ‘Where the hell has it been?’ ” Morgan said. “There is not an independent voter in Kansas who doesn’t want another choice on the ballot.”
He said Party of the Center should be viewed as “an entirely new style of party” where good ideas won’t be suffocated because they were inspired or endorsed by a partisan rival.
“Too many believe that being in the center means you stand for nothing,” Morgan said. “The truth is that being in the center means having strong beliefs on issues, but recognizing that other good and decent Kansans have different views.”