“Millions of Americans right now are in despair,” said Yang. “They know there’s a problem and they’re not sure what to do. Our job today is to come together and start to build a solution. If we can provide a real alternative, Americans will embrace it.”
Calling the dominance of the two main political parties “the worst design flaw in the history of the world,” Yang asserted there is more “that unites us than divides us,” comparing his efforts to the 1850s Republican Party formed in opposition to slavery.
Eschewing a clearly articulated party platform, Forward Party leaders say they would instead choose candidates based on “values” and find “common sense” solutions to a variety of issues.
While speakers at Saturday’s event did not define values beyond seeking compromise agreements between polarized groups, the only policy issue actively promoted was ranked-choice voting (RCV).
With RCV, voters rank candidates in order, and if no candidate claims over 50 percent of the first choice, the lowest-ranked candidate is dropped and the second choice of his or her voters are counted and added to the tallies for the higher ranked candidates.
Proponents say RCV empowers voters over parties, but critics say the system allows progressive voters to “vote twice – once for show and once for real.”
Alaskan voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 implementing RCV for state and federal elections, and in a special state election last month, although 60 percent of voters chose one of two Republicans, Democrat Mary Peltola was declared the winner.
RCV has withstood legal challenges in both Alaska and Maine, where the new procedure resulted in Democrats winning in the predominantly “red” states. Now considered a “toss-up” state, Nevada is asking voters to approve RCV on this year’s ballot.
In addition to Yang, the Forward Party is co-chaired by former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former Florida Congressman David Jolly, both former Republicans.
The two joined Yang in decrying media criticism of the Forward Party, with Whitman suggesting critics were merely afraid of losing power and influence. Jolly, a contributor to MSNBC, added, “When they go overboard on their criticism, they’re criticizing you,” in reference to the audience.
Former Democrats in attendance included former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (D-TX-25) and former Houston Independent School District trustee Paula Arnold, who also served as a campaign manager to Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
Arnold said she was angry with state Republicans over 2021 legislation on abortion and election reform, but also furious with Democrats who broke quorum in an attempt to thwart the GOP proposals.
“I truly believe…even on issues like abortion, reproductive rights, if we could sit down and really listen to each other, we could come to a place that does the most good for the most people,” said Arnold.
Audience members expressed curiosity about RCV. Faelyn Jones, who traveled to the Forward event from San Antonio along with her mother Cheryl, told The Texan she was not really sure how it would work and had concerns after reading about results in Alaska.
“We have our two parties that are so powerful,” said Jones. “I’m really tired of the rhetoric, but I need to learn more about the ranked choice system.”
Both women said they would be voting for Gov. Greg Abbott in this year’s election largely due to his recent actions on immigration.
Another former Republican in the audience, Jimmy Sherman, said he was frustrated with Abbott over abortion and school vouchers and would be voting for Beto O’Rourke. Sherman said he was interested in the Forward Party but wanted to know more about its policy positions.
Referring to a since-removed Forward Party plank supporting universal basic income, Sherman said, “Well, if it’s just a welfare handout, I don’t support that.”
In his comments, Bell told attendees, “We don’t need a platform,” and Yang said “Policy stances are designed to separate us.” Yang accused politicians in the main political parties of keeping issues alive for re-election purposes and said there needs to be more compromise.
The Forward Party does not have any candidates running in Texas this year and will need to deliver 90,000 validated voter signatures to place any on the ballot in 2024. While some attendees asked about endorsing Democrats or Republicans this year, group leaders declined to do so.
“If we did, we would be endorsing straight ticket Democrats, so we’re not going to do that,” Arnold told a group of Harris County attendees.
“There’s no way I’m supporting Lina Hidalgo [for Harris County Judge], so forget it,” one man retorted.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Jolly as a co-founder of The Lincoln Project. We regret the error.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.