Gehl co-au­thors study on com­pe­ti­tion in U.S. pol­i­tics

For­mer food CEO is on board of Cen­trist Project

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN - BILL GLAUBER

Wis­con­sin’s Kather­ine Gehl has taken her drive to re­form Amer­i­can pol­i­tics to Har­vard Busi­ness School.

Gehl, the for­mer CEO of her fam­ily’s food busi­ness, has co-au­thored a re­port with econ­o­mist Michael Porter that dis­sects “Why Com­pe­ti­tion In the Pol­i­tics In­dus­try is Fail­ing Amer­ica.”

“We didn’t write this re­port to add to the de­press­ing com­men­tary,” Gehl said of the pa­per re­leased late Wed­nes­day by the In­sti­tute for Strat­egy and Com­pet­i­tive­ness at Har­vard Busi­ness School.

“We wanted to use it to de­ter­mine what could be done to sub­stan­tively change the sys­tem for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple,” she said. “What we wanted to see come out of it is an un­der­stand­ing that Wash­ing­ton isn’t bro­ken. It’s do­ing what it’s de­signed to. It’s not de­signed for the cit­i­zen.”

Gehl and Porter are not dis­in­ter­ested ob­servers.

Gehl is on the board of the Cen­trist Project, which aims to en­cour­age in­de­pen­dents to run for of­fice, and Porter has hosted a fundraiser for the group. She also do­nated and raised funds for the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter for its law­suit against re­dis­trict­ing in Wis­con­sin.

“The re­port is about pol­i­tics but it’s not po­lit­i­cal,” Gehl said in an in­ter­view. “In fact, we are not tak­ing stances that are sup­port­ing Repub­li­cans vs. Democrats or Democrats vs. Repub­li­cans.”

The au­thors viewed pol­i­tics through a lens com­monly used to an­a­lyze in­dus­tries. They main­tain the prob­lem in pol­i­tics isn’t Democrats or Repub­li­cans or the ex­is­tence of the par­ties.

“The real prob­lem is the na­ture of po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion that the cur­rent du­op­oly has cre­ated, their fail­ure to de­liver so­lu­tions that work, and the ar­ti­fi­cial bar­ri­ers that are prevent­ing new com­pe­ti­tion that might bet­ter serve the pub­lic in­ter­est,” they write.

Par­tic­i­pants in the pol­i­tics in­dus­try “con­trol the rules of com­pe­ti­tion,” in­clud­ing ac­cess to the bal­lot and set­ting elec­toral dis­tricts and leg­isla­tive rules. As a re­sult, there has been a sharp de­cline in leg­is­la­tion passed in Congress and “the near ex­tinc­tion of mod­er­ates” in the House and Se­nate.

The au­thors say the “in­dus­try of pol­i­tics is thriv­ing,” point­ing to bil­lions of dol­lars spent over the last fed­eral elec­tion cy­cle.

They say the two ma­jor par­ties “com­pete to cre­ate and re­in­force partisan di­vi­sions, not de­liver prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions. The du­op­oly ap­peals to its partisan sup­port­ers based on ide­ol­ogy, not poli­cies that work.”

Among the so­lu­tions of­fered by the au­thors is non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing and non­par­ti­san pri­maries. The top-four can­di­dates would move to the gen­eral elec­tion, where vot­ers would rank the can­di­dates in or­der of pref­er­ence.

The au­thors also sug­gest “elim­i­nat­ing partisan con­trol of House and Se­nate rules and pro­cesses,” and re­form­ing money in pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing greater trans­parency in fundrais­ing and spend­ing.

They also call for open­ing up com­pe­ti­tion while wait­ing for struc­tural re­form, in­clud­ing elect­ing three to five cen­trist, in­de­pen­dent U.S. sen­a­tors “to act as a swing coali­tion.”

Porter said pol­i­tics need to be “work­ing in a more con­struc­tive way,” to help the coun­try thrive so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally.

“What we’ve got now is grid­lock,” he said. “We’ve got lots of block­ers but no­body is solv­ing any­thing.”

Michael Porter and Kather­ine Gehl

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