Group Aims to Break Partisan Gridlock in Washington

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a different take on the presidential campaign.

With rhetoric heating up and calls for bipartisanship growing across the country, a new group called Americans Elect is pushing a new way. The nonprofit says it will secure ballot access for a unity ticket — one Democrat, one Republican, in all 50 states in November.

I spoke late last week with two former governors supportive of the effort, in Miami, Christie Todd Whitman, a Republican and the former governor of New Jersey, who sits on the Americans Elect board, and in Oklahoma City, former Sen. and Gov. David Boren, a Democrat who is now president of the University of Oklahoma.

Thank you both for being with us.

Gov. Boren, if I may call you that, to you first. How did you come to this place? Why, to you, is this a good idea?

DAVID BOREN (D), former Oklahoma governor: Well, I think it’s because our country is in real trouble.

We look at the fact that our portion of the world’s output of goods in the world economy is going down dramatically. We have scrambled to stay even in the top 20 in educational rankings around the world. Respect for us is going down. And what do we see in Washington? We see Democrats and Republicans wasting precious time, fighting each other, instead of getting together to solve these problems and meet these challenges.

So, it seems that it’s time to do something to get the two-party system working again, to bring it some shock therapy to get it going. And I think that’s what Americans Elect is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gov. Whitman, what about you? Why do you like this idea? What do you want to see happen this year?

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN (R), former New Jersey governor: Well, I want to see us get over this partisan gridlock that David was talking about.

This is — we have real issues in this country. We have real problems. We have got to solve them. Not every issue is a partisan political issue. We have policy decisions that need to be made. And when I looked at Americans Elect and was first asked to consider going on the board, the thing that makes so much sense is let’s try — first of all, let’s open the process.

We have over 4,000 delegates. I think that’s more than — if you go back through the history of the two parties and all their conventions, more than you’ve had all of them put together. So we’re opening the process to people by using the Internet. Anyone can be a delegate.

But, also, by putting together a bipartisan ticket will mean that each party has a dog in the hunt, as it were. So they won’t be quite as likely, I would hope, to say no the minute a suggestion comes from the executive branch, because we can’t afford to keep going like this. We can’t afford it fiscally. We can’t afford morally. We can’t afford it for our quality of life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gov. Whitman, just on that point about it being online, as I understand it, people go online to be eligible to vote.

The question I have about online, though, is not everybody in the country has access to the Internet.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN: Well, that is a challenge that we have.

But that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to make sure that it’s in every library, so that people who don’t have their own computers can access it through the library, because it’s open to any voter, any registered voter. You have to be a registered voter to become a delegate for Americans Elect.

But this is as ubiquitous as you can make it. Is everybody going to be able to participate? Probably not, because, as you say, not everybody can even get to a library. But we’re trying to make it as open and as accessible as is possible to as many people as we can involve in it.

It’s — when you go around the country — and I know Sen., Gov., President Boren, all those titles of someone I really respect, knows this, because he’s seen it and heard it too — there are so many frustrated people who are saying, a pox on both your houses. I don’t like what I’m seeing. I don’t like the rhetoric of these campaigns. I want a change.

And this is a way to do it. Give them a chance to really be heard, if they’re serious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Gov. Boren, you are a longtime Democrat. Why walk away from the Democratic Party and the party’s nominee, President Obama, this year?

DAVID BOREN: Well, Judy, this is certainly not personal toward President Obama.

And we are going to have to wait and see if this process produces a ticket that we should all get behind and support. We think it should be given an opportunity. And you think about every single registered voter in this country, Democrat, Republican or independent, will have a chance to go online.

At either the Republican or Democratic Conventions, there will be a few hundred people. Maybe it’s — 1,100 is the magic number, I think, for the Republicans. We’re talking about millions of people, opening up the process of both parties and independents as well helping to choose the next president.

And I think we really ought to emphasize this. People say to me, oh, you’re supporting a third party. Oh, you might be supporting an independent.

No. This is a bipartisan ticket. This would be the first bipartisan ticket in modern American history, a Democrat and a Republican running together, putting together a Cabinet that would be half Democrats, half Republicans, like Churchill did during World War II in Britain. It worked. It brought that country through those perilous times.

And when we have met challenges before as Americans, we have always come together. So, I’m not — wouldn’t be giving up my party. Christie Whitman would not be giving up her party to participate in this process. We would be supporting a bipartisan ticket.

And when we look back, when Perot, for example, did run as an independent and got 19 percent of the vote, the disapproval rating of both parties in the Congress, for example, was 30 to 40 points lower than it is right now. Right now, it’s 91 percent disapproval.

And I think it is because people are fed up with the fighting between the two parties. We’re Americans first. There’s something more important — even though I’m a Democrat, there’s something more important to me than the Democratic Party or the Republican Party called the United States of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me just ask you both a few more questions.

Gov. Whitman, again, same question. You are a longtime Republican. Why walk away from your party, potentially your nominee, whether it’s Gov. Romney or somebody else?

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN: Well, as Sen. Boren said, I’m not. I’m going to maintain my Republican status. I’m fighting for the Republican Party that I knew when I was growing up.

And I want to see the kind of change in Washington that will get us to the point where we start making the big — taking on the big challenges and making the important decisions, that we stop looking at every issue through that partisan political prism, saying, what’s going to get me another vote in caucus, what’s going to get me another percentage point on my reelect, and start saying, what’s going to solve the problems?

When David Boren was in the Senate, people came together. They could stand up for their parties. And they did. And they objected to one another. They went on the floor of the Senate and they talked about the issues that were important. And then they went together — got together afterwards and said, but, okay, how can we solve this problem? Here’s where I am. Here’s where you are. Let’s talk about how we really solve the problems of the American people?

It doesn’t mean you give up your party. It means you honor your party by honoring America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Gov. Whitman, you’re not discouraged by the recent history of third parties, that they just — including Unity08, many of whose supporters four years ago are now on board with this effort. It fell apart the last time.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN: Well, it’s a growing thing, though.

Judy, this is a new trend. We’ve never done this before. We have never had an Internet convention. We are making the rules as we go along. And it’s been excited to see how people have responded to it. Literally, when you talk about 400,000 delegates, 2.8 million people have signed petitions to get Americans Elect on the ballot. That tells you there’s something happening in this country and the time is right.

And we think now is the time to get this process started.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gov. Boren, who will the candidates be?

DAVID BOREN: I think it’s too early to tell.

I’m listening to Christie Whitman in this broadcast, and I’m thinking to myself, now, there’s a person I could vote for, for — even though I’m a Democrat and she’s a Republican. There’s a person I could vote for as part of a bipartisan ticket for president or vice president of the United States.

There are people like Bill Cohen who have been mentioned also. By the way, he and I worked together as chair and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. Senate for four years. And during that four years, we didn’t have a single divided partisan vote. In fact, most things were passed by unanimous consent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gov. Whitman, there is a lot of criticism, money washing around in the system. How is Americans Elect raising money? And there has been criticism of not enough disclosure of who your donors are.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN: Right.

We’re a 501(c)(4), which is a charitable donation, so you don’t have to reveal your donors. We encourage the donors to allow us to release their names.

But, Judy, this is taking on your party. So, it started with a few who have given quite a bit. But one of the things that we have is to ensure that no one person can give more than 20 percent. We don’t take any PAC money. We don’t take any money from corporations. We don’t take — it’s all individuals.

And now the money is coming in through the Internet. I think we have several thousand donors at this point in time. I’m not sure of the exact number. But we’re continuing to fund it that way. And we hope that all the donors who have given in the past will feel comfortable at some point in saying, you know what, I’m not ashamed to be associated with this, I do think it’s time, and not fear the retribution of their party.

But, frankly, that’s part of the concern, is getting the right candidates, as President Boren has talked about. We have to see who the candidates are going to be. But it means they’re going to stand up and say, we’re not happy with what we see. We’re willing to stand now for the betterment of this country. And we’ve got to move forward. This is the time.

And we will see as we continue to move forward on this. But we’re now widening the base every day with the number of contributions we’re getting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Gov. Christie Whitman, former Gov. David Boren, we thank you both for talking with us.

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN: A pleasure. Thank you.

DAVID BOREN: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can join us online Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time for a live video chat about the Americans Elect concept. Details about how to participate can be found at NewsHour.PBS.org.