Jefferson City -- The two-party system has been a foundation of U.S. government just a few decades after the nation was founded.
Supporters argue the two-party system also ensures that both the Republican and Democrat points of view are accommodated. Through this political system, moderation is achieved—one party being able to check and balance the other’s proposal, thus avoiding extreme positions.
In recent deliberations in the Missouri House of Representatives, some lawmakers argue the process of checks and balances of the parties has become more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, observed that during hearings in recent years, the legislators from both parties would not easily give in to the other party’s proposal unless they fully agreed with all the elements of the bill. Consequently, that often led to a deadlock.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, echoes Engler’s perceptions. He said the political polarization in the House of Representatives has worsened in recent years, mainly because of the influence of the parties.
“They’re more concerned about whether they’d win or lose more seats. So, Republicans tend to support Republican bills regardless of their merit and Democrats tend to support Democrat bills regardless of their merit,” Kelly said.
Throughout much of U.S. history, there have been occasional third-party efforts, such as Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Party, better known today as the Bull Moose Party.
Missouri also has third parties, the Libertarian Party and Constitution Party which put candidates up for some state offices in 2012. While Missouri has had an occasional independent legislator, no third-party candidate as been elected to the General Assembly since the Civil War.
“I think it’s very difficult to do that because in our system, we have two parties and in order to be elected, you almost got to be in one of them. So, if you have a third party… you don’t have any infrastructures, you don’t have any campaign workers, you don’t have anybody that identifies as an Independent,” Engler said.
Kelly said that he would be more than willing to support a third party that would embody a rational center. The question, however, according to him is, the ‘how’.
“Politicians are reluctant to make a break, because it is politically unknown… ‘A bird may love a fish, but where do they live?’ There is no place for the moderate to live in our political set-up,” he said.
The two Representatives, although coming from opposing parties, agree on one thing—the better solution is not a third party, but addressing the restriction of having very short term limits in the House of Representatives.
“People wouldn't be that divisive on the floor if you had to work with them for the next 20 years. But, since they will be gone in the next two years, and you know that they will be gone, you can say whatever you want against them. They are only going to be enemies for two years,” Engler said.
Kelly, while holding the same position, has a different explanation as to why short-term limits are the problem. He points out that the two-year term limit for the House of Representatives means legislators just don’t know enough.
“It’s the classic, ‘who wants the incompetent?’ The legislators are that incompetent because when you’re short termed, you're new. You just don’t know as much yet. Young people, when they are learning, make mistakes. And that is OK. We all do and we learn from them. But it is not a desirable situation to have the world run by young people who are going to make the same mistakes over and over again, because they keep being new,” Kelly said.
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