Welcome to Dear Fort Collins, a podcast exploring issues in and around Fort Collins.
Our guest on this episode is Rick Hubbard, an 81-year-old activist who is on a mission to fix our broken political system. Rick is currently undertaking a cross-country walk from the West Coast to Washington, DC, to raise awareness and support for efforts to improve our democracy.
Let’s dive into Rick’s project and discuss the implications and impact of his work.
Our Broken Political System
Rick Hubbard is deeply concerned about the state of our political system. He believes that our elected representatives have lost sight of their duty to serve the interests of the people and instead prioritize their re-election and the interests of their wealthy backers.
“On my watch of 81 years, it has gotten worse and not better. We are heading in a direction that is not comfortable for the future of our country,” says Rick.
The Need for Change
To address the shortcomings of our political system, Rick has embarked on a cross-country walk, covering 50 miles a week, to raise awareness and support for activists working to fix our democracy. He emphasizes the importance of making changes at the state level, as states have the power to shape the rules for running elections.
Rick explains, “States make the rules for running elections on many fronts, not all the pieces. I want to lend a little bit of extra publicity and support to their efforts.”
Rick argues it’s not just the rules, but the incentives that need to be modified for long-lasting change. “Martin Gillins, a Princeton professor, put a book out examining the correlation between the positions on issues that citizens had and what Congress did. 90% of all Americans’ positions compared to the richest 10%. The correlation between what Congress did in the interests of the 90% over several decades was effectively zero.”
The Journey So Far
Rick has already walked over 1200 miles, covering a third of his journey. However, his walk was interrupted when his partner, Sally, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Rick suspended his walk to become her caregiver, but sadly, she passed away in April. After celebrating her life, Rick resumed his journey, but had to adjust his schedule and timing. He plans to take a four-month break during the winter and restart in April.
Fixing the Primary System
One of the key issues Rick highlights is the unfairness of the primary system, which divides us and is particularly detrimental to independent candidates. He proposes implementing an open blanket primary, where all candidates, including independents, are included in the mix with Democrats and Republicans. Rick argues that this change would encourage candidates to appeal to a broader range of voters and prioritize the interests of the majority, rather than catering to a small faction.
“In order to get into the debates, you change the criteria so that it’s the people who can reach enough voters by virtue of small donations to show their positions on issues appeal that get to the next platform in a debate so more people can hear them,” suggests Rick.
“We’re not going to like them all. And you move it that way. Now you’ve rechanged the incentives that candidates have. Instead of appealing to that tiny fraction of 2%, they have to appeal to the interests of 100% of us, or a good chunk of it.”
Publicly Funded Campaigns
Another crucial aspect of fixing our democracy, according to Rick, is addressing the issue of money in politics. Currently, only 2% of Americans contribute to political campaigns, with the majority of funding coming from a small number of wealthy individuals. Rick suggests a solution: publicly funded campaigns. He proposes funding elections through federal taxes and providing every voter with a rebate or voucher to support their preferred candidates. This would shift the incentives for candidates, forcing them to appeal to a broader base of voters and reducing the influence of big money in politics.
“Suppose we funded right out of our federal taxes and we gave a rebate in the form of a voucher to every voter.”
The Role of Media
Rick also emphasizes the role of media in shaping public discourse and influencing elections. He criticizes the media’s focus on the horse race aspect of politics, rather than delving into the substantive issues. Rick argues that media should compare candidates’ positions on key issues and highlight the ones that align with the interests of the majority. He believes that by shifting the media’s focus, we can have a more informed electorate and a healthier democracy.
“Let me use an example on [how the media covers] healthcare. If the goal of our elected reps is to come up with a health care system regardless of how we do it, whatever [solution] is most effective economically that provides good quality health care to all Americans at the least total system-wide cost in a way that is sustainable economically and socially,” says Rick.
“If you funnel a central payment, which gives lots of leverage and efficiency, through a single-payer source, you would be moving a huge amount of money off state budgets. They [currently] pay for all the health insurance of all their state employees. Now [all 50 states] also pay for the state Medicaid share. [Shifting to single-payer], that money all moves over off the state budget onto the federal. The ‘cost’ to do this is $290 billion once we’ve switched over. Compared to our present trends in 2030, the savings to the states is $800 billion. Think about that. A $500 billion savings to cover everybody in America under Medicaid. And we’re not talking about it. We don’t hear about that.”
“If a representative stands up and says, ‘This makes sense, we should be working at this!’—is that person a fiscal conservative, a liberal? Are they any other label you want to put on them? Or are they simply a rep doing the job they took the oath to do? And if that’s the case, see how the labels are totally unhelpful in that situation. Yet we use those labels in the media all the time.”
Listening To The Public
Rick uses his friend Maida Townsend’s successful run as a Vermont state representative as an example of how representatives should prioritize their constituents’ concerns.
“She was a rep, but she had been in the school system. She was a music and French teacher in a school in Vermont. She made a point to go to every house and knock on the door and do her best to meet the residents or the occupants of every house in her district. She did it twice before the election and she was elected. She continued that each two-year cycle, and I think maybe even threw in a third one. And every Saturday during the whole two years, she would show up at a nearby restaurant that was pretty central at 9 AM on a Saturday and stay until 10:30 and meet with anybody who chose to walk through the door. She set a really high bar. It was inspirational. And nobody else in Vermont that I know was doing anything quite that much. But it’s what we would ideally expect in a rep.”
Implications and Potential Impact
The issues raised by Rick Hubbard have far-reaching implications for our democracy. The broken political system, the unfairness of the primary system, and the influence of money in politics all contribute to the erosion of trust in our elected representatives. By addressing these issues, we can restore faith in our democracy and ensure that our elected officials prioritize the interests of the people.
Implementing an open blanket primary and publicly funded campaigns would level the playing field and give independent candidates a fair chance. This would encourage diverse voices and ideas in our political system, leading to better representation and more responsive governance.
Furthermore, we can foster a more informed electorate by shifting the media’s focus to substantive issues and comparing candidates’ positions. This would empower voters to make educated decisions based on the issues that matter most to them rather than relying on partisan labels.
Conclusion and Future Outlook
Rick Hubbard’s cross-country walk and his efforts to fix our democracy can inspire us all to look for positive shifts to be made. His dedication to raising awareness and supporting activists working for change is commendable. However, the work does not end with Rick. It is up to each and every one of us to engage in the democratic process, educate ourselves on the issues, and hold our elected representatives accountable.
As we move forward, we must continue to push for reforms that promote fairness, inclusivity, and transparency in our political system. By fixing the primary system, implementing publicly funded campaigns, and demanding a more substantive media coverage, we can build a stronger democracy that truly serves the interests of all Americans.
The work to fix our democracy happens one step at a time.