Linda Killian at Jenkins' ranch near Callaway.
Photo by Joe Chitwood
National columnist, author and commentator Linda Killian recently came to Nebraska for a week to accompany Independent candidate Jim Jenkins on the campaign trail.
Jenkins, Dave Domina, Ben Sasse as well as Independent candidate Todd Watson will take the stage at 7 p.m. Sunday (tonight) at the North Platte High School to debate the issues in a forum hosted by Nebraska Educational Television. We will publish a report after the debate. - Editor.
Killian, a confirmed independent, called Jenkins from her home near Washington D.C. to talk about his campaign, and he invited to take a first hand look. She accepted. Together they went to Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha as well as the State Fair.
Killian said Jenkins -- a motivated, qualified candidate for an open Senate seat -- warmed her political spirit. He is running in Nebraska, a state known for its independence.
With Sen. Mike Johanns retiring, Jenkins faces Republican Ben Sasse, Democrat Dave Domina and a lesser-known independent, Todd Watson.
Killian thinks Jenkins has a good chance of winning. She said the vast majority of voters are sick of partisan politics and don't even vote. The time has come for independent minded voters to take their government back.
Like most people, she is increasingly concerned with the dysfunction, polarization and the inability in Washington to govern.
“I’m concerned about the disenfranchisement of independent voters,” she said, “even though the Republican and Democrat parties are shrinking in numbers and the numbers of registered independents is increasing -- now about 40 percent.”
“The centrist voters are not well represented,” she said. “The R. and D. parties certainly don’t represent them.”
Killian, a former news editor and journalism professor, has a book called The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents (St. Martin’s Press). She interviewed citizens, activists and public officials around the country, especially in four swing states -- Colorado, Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia – that play a big role in who gets elected and goes to Washington.
Killian identified four swing demographic groups that she calls 1) NPR (National Public Radio) Republicans, 2) America First Democrats, 3) the Facebook Generation and 4) Starbucks Moms and Dads.
She describes the intense disappointment and frustration these voters have with the two parties. She calls to Independents to bring America back into balance.
“Political reform is not going to come from the two parties,” she said. “It’s not going to come from within the system. It has to come from grassroots citizens, from centrist independents who are not represented in the system.”
“If we elect a few independents to Congress, it would put some pressure on the system to perform,” she told the Bulletin.
“Voters feel disillusioned all over the country,” she said. “There is an incredible amount of dysfunction, gamesmanship and influence from big money.”
For instance, Killian said the Republican National Committee is going to spend $100 million this election cycle on the Senate races.
“There are vital issues that our country needs to deal with – economic issues, aging infrastructure, the Islamic state – really serious issues,” she said. “People are asking, ‘why are we wasting that kind of money on a power struggle over who is going to hold the Senate?’” she said.
Killian says people can reclaim government if they are engaged and they simply turn out to vote.
“The people own the political system,” she said. “The parties don’t own the system, yet they somehow make us think that they do. People cannot get disgusted and just say ‘there’s nothing I can do,’ and not show up.”
“That’s just wrong,” she said.
Killian said Nebraska is a prime spot for an Independent victory. First, there is the Unicameral legislature, with just one set of state lawmakers who are elected after indendent, non-partisan races.
“Nebraskans are used to non-partisan politics,” she said. “They tend to be centrists and they have a common sense perspective. As a state, Nebraska is probably center-right, but certainly not far left or far right.”
And she said Jenkins is an excellent candidate.
“He’s very smart, very well-informed on the issues,” she said. “He is respected by the people who know him through his restaurant businesses and his ranch, as well as his community and state service, plus the campaign.”
“He cares about this country. He thinks the system is broken. He’d like to focus on problem solving, not partisan posturing. He cares about trying to make a difference. I think people are responding to him,” she said. “The question is: can he raise enough money to get his message to Lincoln and Omaha?”
In early June, Killian looked at how many voters are staying home. California had a mere 24% turnout in the primary election – the worst in state history. In Texas, the turnout was even lower -- a meager 14%. The turnout in North Carolina was 16%. Ohio was 17%. Georgia was under 20%. Pennsylvania was just over 20%.
“We are talking about registered voters,” she said. “These are just dismal turnouts.”
But Killian points to a few strong stirrings of independence.
In Kansas, polls show an independent candidate would be ahead of incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, if the race were just between the two of them.
In Massachusetts, two independents are running for governor. They are both fairly wealthy and are investing heavily in their campaigns (seven figure sums), she said. Unfortunately for the Independent cause, they are fighting each other.
Currently in the Alaska governor’s race, the Democrat has dropped out of the race to run on a fusion ticket with a Republican challenger against the incumbent Republican.
California created a citizens’ commission to draw up legislative districts because of shifts in population. The commission is one-third Republicans, one-third Democrats and one-third independents.
“They are doing a good job of being fair and making sure races will be competitive,” she said.
She loves that.
“We need to try something new,” she said. “We need new approaches.”
She said Independent candidates always have to prove themselves. They have to work twice as hard in an election.
She said Jenkins is doing that and he is well-motivated.
“We spent a lot of time in the same rooms,” she said. “I saw him in candid unguarded moments. He is doing it for all the right reasons.”
This report was first published in the Bulletin's Sept. 3 print edition.