My Turn: Republicans have walked away from Sen. Jeff Flake's conservative values
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake has always been his own man — someone who will not let others tell him what to do. His independence is a major reason why I voted for him, and it’s why I’ll continue to vote for other independent-minded candidates for office, regardless of their party affiliation.
Yet even as Flake has remained true to Arizona’s conservative values, the Republican Party has walked away from those ideals. Because of that, Flake should make his independence official by running for the U.S. Senate in 2018 as an independent.
The pundits say that would be political suicide. But if 2016 proved anything, it is that we should stop listening to the pundits and start listening to the voters. Instead of doubling down on blind partisanship, elected officials should speak from the heart and put the public interest ahead of party demands.
He's always been independent
Sen. Jeff Flake says conservatives have gotten woefully off track in his new book, "Conscience of a Conservative." Here are two key passages I find insightful:
That conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces — nationalism, populism, xenophobia, extreme partisanship, even celebrity — explains part of how and why we lost our way.
Politicians can be herdlike creatures, too often prone to taking the path of least resistance. I understand the impulse and have often sought that well-trodden path myself.
As soon as Flake arrived in Washington as a young congressman, he made a name for himself as a voice of independence. He routinely stood up to not only House leadership, but also to President George W. Bush, voting against major initiatives such as Medicare Part D because they were fiscally irresponsible.
Voters are increasingly interested in rewarding this kind of independence, especially the nearly 1.3 million Arizonans who are registered as independents as of July — that figure is only 20,000 fewer than registered Republicans.
But independence is hardly tolerated these days within the Republican Party. President Trump is trying to purge Flake from the party. His political operation is actively seeking a primary challenger for Flake. They want to replace him with someone who will be loyal to the president, not to Arizona voters or conservative principles.
The Republican Party that Flake joined, the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, has faded into memory. Republicans who consistently championed limited government, individual liberty, states’ rights, and basic human decency are finding themselves marginalized, even publicly ridiculed, not by Democrats, but by members of their own party.
Independent voters are skyrocketing
Arizona’s voters, no doubt, recognize that blind partisanship is a big problem. And the proof is in the numbers.
In the 2000 general election, Republicans made up 43 percent of Arizona’s electorate, Democrats 38 percent and “other” made up 17.6 percent. The latest figures, updated in July, show Republicans with 34.6 percent, Democrats with 30.2 percent and “other” with 34.0 percent.
In 17 years, the two major parties have each lost roughly 8 percentage points while the percentage of independents nearly doubled.
As an independent, untethered to either party, Flake could be even more influential in Washington –– as both parties would be forced to aggressively court his vote. That would be good for Arizona.
In fact, if Flake were to join forces with the Centrist Project and its effort to elect a slate of independent candidates in 2018, he could become one of the most powerful senators in the closely divided Senate.
Ultimately, Flake could forge common ground between Democrats and Republicans, and he’d be better positioned to help Washington make progress on our most pressing problems. That is what our country needs.
Do it for Arizona, Flake. Do it for America.
Christopher Leone of Scottsdale is a founding member of The Centrist Project, a national grassroots organization dedicated to organizing, recruiting and electing independent candidates for public office. He is a candidate for state Senate District 23. Email him at email@example.com; on Twitter, @cbleone.