No Labels’ Fight Against Partisanship

By Alex Gangitano – 09/24/19

Political partisanship is at an all-time high, but No Labels founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson says there’s still plenty of time before next year’s election to draw attention to issues of common ground — and her women-led team is trying to show the way.

“What’s interesting is in Washington, this is sort of a very strange concept. In Washington, the whole town is divided, the red team and the blue team,” Jacobson told The Hill recently. “The people out there in the country, [No Labels] makes so much sense to.”

In 2010, she said she noticed there was a growing liberal movement and a growing conservative movement, but nobody had figured out how to attract the people in the middle. Nearly 10 years later, Jacobson has turned her vision into an organization that works toward political reform and combating partisan dysfunction.

In their office in D.C., her largely female team looks like a mix between a technology startup and a political campaign. They describe themselves as a campaign without a candidate, a sisterhood and a political home for people who are looking for one.

“The women factor here, I think it’s part of our secret sauce,” Jacobson said. “At a time of such bravado that we see all over the place, part of this glue and part of the secret sauce is a bunch of women.”

The group counts among its biggest victories the creation of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, which was established in January 2017 out of informal meetings organized by No Labels. Problem Solvers, which is currently co-chaired by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), includes the same number of Republicans and Democrats, working together on some of the most divisive issues.

“Nobody’s ever going to ask you to compromise your principles. This is what’s great about this country, having diversity and people being able to have their own political thoughts and beliefs. We don’t want to ever stifle that,” Jacobson said. “It’s almost in our ethos of being American is to not sort of disparage people or exclude people because of their beliefs.”

No Labels, which hopes to see a Problem Solvers caucus in the Senate, too, says lawmakers don’t have to be centrists to reach centrist answers.

“What was interesting is they were finding that they could get agreement within their caucus on a lot of different issues. Like health care, they were the only people to put forward a proposal on health care in a bipartisan way,” Margaret White, a No Labels senior adviser, told The Hill. “They came up with and were tackling the really tough issues, which was great to see, but they weren’t getting the air space on the floor and actually been taken up for a vote.”

Jacobson worked on former President Clinton’s 1992 White House campaign, served as finance director of the Democratic National Committee and worked for former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). White met Jacobson while working on senatorial and gubernatorial elections.

Megan Shannon, a No Labels vice president, travels to the Midwest to talk to voters about issues that matter to them.

“They’re surprised and delighted that something like this even exists, that the Problem Solvers Caucus exists, because all they hear on cable and all they see on social media are people sniping at each other,” Shannon said.

Liz Morrison, also a vice president, works with business leaders, mostly in the Northeast, to help elevate their work.

“A lot of folks will say once they realize there is an organization like No Labels, they feel that there’s a home where they can go. They don’t necessarily maybe 100 percent agree with one party or the other and then they get kind of lost and say, ‘well how can I still be engaged?’ ” Morrison said.

On Nov. 3, a year ahead of the election, No Labels is holding its Problem Solvers Convention in Manchester, N.H., bringing together some 1,800 independent-minded voters. The group’s pre-2016 convention was also held in Manchester, in the nation’s first primary state.

“New Hampshire, as you can imagine, is one of those states that loves this type of politics,” Jacobson said. “It’s really an opportunity for the New Hampshire citizens to stand up and carry this message nationwide, that we demand our leaders to work together and solve problems.”

Jacobson spends a lot of her time fundraising and recruiting people so No Labels can expand across the country. Her goal is to make appearances in 15 U.S. cities this year.

Last week, No Labels released a report of “bold ideas to rebuild our Democracy,” including proposals for allowing the return of earmarks and term-limiting Supreme Court justices.

And White co-wrote a book, “The Ultimate Guide to the 2020 Election: 101 Nonpartisan Solutions to All the Issues that Matter,” with fellow senior adviser Ryan Clancy, to be released next month. It seeks to provide nonpartisan education on key issues including health care, climate change, infrastructure and gun reform.

The handbook is part of No Labels’ efforts to engage with a wider swath of voters — and it says it reaches more every year.

“The truth is, it’s hard to keep up with the type of interest that’s out there,” Jacobson said.

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