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Interview with Jon Barnhart, spokesperson, National Centrist Party

The National Centrist Party is a fledgling political organization formed in 2010 with the intent “to act pragmatically according to the will of the informed, political center” and “to replace dirty, hyper-partisan, money-centric politics with civil, professional, moderate politics you can actually trust.” The foundational assumption of the NCP is that the center, rather than the “extremes” of left or right, represents the will of the majority of Americans. The NCP has an interesting interactive web site complete with an oath to be taken by all NCP candidates, representatives and officials.  Jon Barnhart is the press spokesperson for the party, and he agreed to answer these questions for us.

POLITICALCONTEXT.ORG: Is your party running candidates in the 2012 elections?

JON BARNHART: We’re currently looking for candidates interested in running under our banner for 2012. We’re taking a “build it and they’ll come” approach. The kind of people we’re looking for are successful, recently retired people who are ready to give something back and have the time on their hands and their financial futures locked up. We’re looking for the kind of people who are essentially over qualified for any position they might run for.

PC: What’s the process for choosing and nominating your candidates? Do you have a general convention? Where and when will it be held?

JB: There is no convention as yet. When we do have one it very likely will be an e-convention held over the Internet. We’ll be lucky to get any candidates so I don’t think we’ll need to choose between two in any case. If we do, we’ll get the two candidates together and let them figure out who should run and who should support the other.

PC: What are the demographics of your existing base?

JB: The base is actually quite wide from self-proclaimed progressives to libertarians. That’s because we offer a new “political process” instead of an ideology or position on the issues.

PC: What is your strategy for deepening your base within your existing demographic, and broadening your reach to other demographics?

JB: The strategy is that we have a process for arriving at a platform. So whether you lean left or right on a given issue, you can rest easy that the process has helped the party arrive at an issue position that is supported by a wide base of fellow citizens. In this way, even if a member isn’t happy about the resulting issue position, they are still satisfied with how that position was arrived at.

PC: In your opinion, what are the chief barriers to the viability and success of third parties in the United States?

JB: There are many barriers facing third parties in the US, the largest of which is voters continued tolerance of the two major parties. Rather than voting for the candidates that align most closely with their views, voters tend to vote for the candidate that they disagree with least often. Our system of elections has become a selection of the “lesser of two evils”. Aside from this factor, many states have strict election laws regarding the regulation of a third party. These can be anything from requiring that the party re-register every year to closing them out of primaries altogether. In addition, people simply don’t think a third party is viable and they aren’t willing to contribute time or money to ideas they don’t think can be successful. The outer parties have existed for the lifetimes of every single voter. They have never known anything different and they have a hard time imagining that something better is within easy reach, if only they would demand it by taking easy steps such as “signing up” and contributing a trivial but crucial amount of $10/month to finance it.

PC: Does your party make the opening of space to alternative candidates a major part of your public message? Do you have a strategy for the opening of political space which you have laid out for voters and activists?

JB: In a way, yes. We feel that the space we occupy is already open to voters and activists and has been for some time. Many polls have shown that nearly 40% of Americans are now registered Independents or unaffiliated. What we wanted to do was channel the energy that exists in the informed political center and harness it to propel pragmatic-minded candidates into office.

PC: Do you work in solidarity with other political parties? If so, which ones? If not, why not?

JB: We do. We’re actually a founding member of the Centrist Alliance, a PAC created to support centrist-minded political parties and help them be successful. And while this PAC is just getting underway, we’ve noticed no shortage of feuds in the center of the political spectrum. This is understandable; of course everyone believes their organization is the correct solution to America’s problems. But when these disagreements lead to an overabundance of parties in the center, it downplays the entire process and ultimately hurts the brand of centrist politics.

PC: How do you raise funds for your operations? What methods of fundraising have proven to be most successful for your party in the past?

JB: How we do it is by asking and being perfectly honest about how we spend it. Thus far, we’ve been asking members who are able to contribute $10 a month to the party. These gifts are then matched by several major donors each month. This money goes to pay for the wage of our fulltime staff member, a recent college graduate. We haven’t launched any major capital campaigns it would be tough to say what methods have proven successful. Basically, we’ve asked and a few have delivered.

PC: A broad, philosophical question: Why does your party exist?

JB: To fill a void where the majority of Americans have identified themselves politically. Our founders were not political activists or strategists, not heavy contributors to either political party, just loose affiliates of both the outer parties. As tensions in Washington grew and the parties grew further and further apart, our founders decided to start their own party based on the notion of pragmatism and civility as the lead focus of politics. To do this, a centrist candidate would use the best options from all angles of the political spectrum to come to the most beneficial solutions to all Americans. We also wanted to create a party that was based on a few fundamental principles that we believe any honest and solutions-focused elected official would want to adhere to. For instance, we would not want our candidates taking PAC money or taking “issue pledges”. Cut the backdoor special interests from politics and you begin to clean up a very dirty process that ultimately has not been focused on the good of the American people.

PC: May we have a copy of your most recent national platform–either as a word document, or the link to where it can be found on the web?

JB: We believe the current political process is hindered by wedge issues. As such, one of our principles is to focus attention on just 1-4 issues that members themselves define as being the most important issues to be addressed by the next Congress. In 2012, the economy and the budget deficit and national debt are so large and pervasive and involve such a profound debate over the size and role of the government that we really only need one issue: How do we balance the budget. For this we’ve essentially adopted the Simpson-Bowles plan as well as our own version of a balanced budget amendment. But I would add that we are also bound to tightly to reform of the political process. We can’t change the outcome our government produces until we change the process. Our site will be undergoing changes in the near future so we don’t want to provide links that will soon break.

PC: What else would you like our readers to know about your party?

JB: It is very much bottom up instead of top down in nature. We are not offering an ideology for people to sign on to our not. We offer a political process that should lead to the kind of resulting government that we can all be proud of even though of course we won’t agree with the result on every issue.

PC: In what city and state is the national party headquarters located?

JB: Des Moines, Iowa.

PC: What year was the party founded?

JB: November 2010.

PC: Who were the leaders that founded the party?

JB: The National Centrist Party filed its Statement of Organization with the FEC in November 2010. Its founding members are Scott Ehredt, who also serves as treasurer, and Brad Schabel. It is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. As of early 2011 the party’s membership is doubling each month. Scott Ehredt and Brad Schabel have business experience in large corporations. Ehredt, a former Republican, and Schabel, a former Democrat, grew frustrated with the gridlock and inefficiency of the current system of federal government and have provided a practical philosophy and model through the National Centrist Party. Their belief is that most citizens (up to 70 percent) hold a moderate point of view on legislative issues (neither extremely conservative nor liberal) and the traditional two-party system no longer represents the majority.

PC: Any significant “firsts” for the party–Who was your first candidate on a ballot, who (if any) was your first candidate elected to office?

JB: We’re the only party calling for rebuilding of the political process from the ground up as it should exist, instead of as it actually exists today. Sometimes we call this an evolutionary step so people aren’t afraid that we are proposing too much change. But we really are trying to replace the existing political process with one engineered to serve governments customers (i.e. citizens).

The Context2012 project is designed to build public awareness of all third parties in the United States, to raise consciousness of the alternatives to what Ralph Nader has called the “two party elected dictatorship.” Recently, we sent out questionnaires to over thirty of these parties, from the Freedom Socialist Party to the Constitution Party, from the Libertarians to (believe it or not) the Whigs. Responses are coming in with impressive speed, and we will run new interviews every day for as long as we continue to receive them.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.