As three national political third parties proceed with a merger they announced last week, several independent state-legislative candidates are seeking approval to run under the Forward Party banner in Pennsylvania.
The expanding centrist political organization includes the Forward Party, founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang; the Renew America Movement, founded by several former Republican public officials; and the Serve America Movement (SAM), currently led by former Republican Florida Congressman David Jolly. Yang and former Republican New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman will co-chair the newly consolidated party.
Ethan Demme, a supervisor in Lancaster County’s East Lampeter Township who currently chairs the state’s SAM Party chapter, told The Pennsylvania Daily Star that Forward expects to run many races in the Keystone State’s municipal election in 2023 but may also endorse some nonpartisan hopefuls for the General Assembly this year.
Monday, August 1, is the last day for candidates other than Republicans and Democrats to file nomination papers, so Forward and SAM will determine this week if these candidates have qualified for the ballot and, if so, schedule discussions with them about backing them.
“We’ve got a couple State House candidates we’re talking to who are in that independent space,” Demme, a former Republican, said. “But the big focus as we merge the three organizations over the next six months is then going to be a heavy push on local races in the next cycle … . The new organization’s objective is to build a true bottom-up, people-based political movement.”
He said the purpose in focusing on such offices as municipal and school boards is “rebuilding the civil engagement of our country one community at a time” insofar as local elections often draw meager turnout. That’s particularly true in primaries, which often play a more determinative role in deciding which candidates accede to public office than general elections do.
Demme cites his own initial election in East Lampeter as an example. He won the contested race with the votes of only 250 residents, despite 17,000 people living in the Lancaster suburb.
“Should 250 people be deciding who runs your local town?” he said. “I don’t think anyone would come outright and say ‘yes.’”
Forward supports various government reforms its leaders believe will stimulate grassroots democratic activity and weaken the grip of career politicians on government institutions. Such policies include open primaries (i.e., nomination contests any voter can participate in regardless of political affiliation), term limits for legislators and other state officials, and an overhauled redistricting process. The party plans to deploy volunteers during this fall elections to generate support for open primaries.
Demme said Forward wants to back candidates who not only embrace its legislative platform but who will commit to strong public engagement while campaigning, e.g., via debates and town hall meetings.
Demme and other third-party leaders will soon decide among themselves who will occupy which leadership role in the commonwealth’s new Forward Party. Meanwhile, he said, he and other movement leaders in Pennsylvania are excitedly managing a groundswell of new interest in the organization, including from current and former elected officials and candidates who have expressed a desire to come aboard the effort.
“Since we’ve kicked off in the last two days, it’s been like a firehose,” he said. “We’re getting hundreds of requests for information. I mean, my email is just blowing up right now.”
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