In 2020, I wrote in Harvard Business Reviewthat, “There is no greater threat to American economic competitiveness and social progress—no greater threat to the combination of free-market economies and liberal democracies that has delivered more human advancements than any other system—than our passive acceptance of a failed political system. Business leaders would not tolerate such performance in any of their organizations. Rather, they would diagnose the problem, design a solution, take action, and fix it.”
The big idea is that it doesn’t have to be this way, and Wisconsin can lead the way to a better Congress.
The answer to our political dysfunction lies in the simple, commonplace and time-tested in the business world: healthy competition. While I was running Gehl Foods, I was also deeply engaged in — and increasingly frustrated with — politics. The more frustrated I got, the more I wondered why competition in politics didn’t deliver the same kind of win-win results competition delivers in other industries. This led me to apply competition theory to diagnose our political system’s problems and create innovative solutions likeFinal-Five Voting. Then, in 2016, my colleague Austin Ramirez of Husco was serving as a White House Fellow where he saw firsthand that policymakers often agree on solutions and yet nothing happens because politics gets in the way. We co-founded Democracy Foundto support Final-Five Voting in Wisconsin to change that dynamic.
Today’s elections incentivize politicians to prioritize the narrow swath of highly ideological voters in low-turnout primaries over the basic interests shared by the broad majority of their constituents. Article One in the Constitution gives all states the power to set election rules and thus the power to realign these incentives.
Business leaders from across the political spectrum and across Wisconsin have come together to support Final-Five Voting to do just that. This electoral system eliminates our party primaries in favor of a single-ballot primary where the top-five finishers advance to the general election and uses instant runoff voting in the general election.
With Final-Five Voting, partisan gridlock in Congress is replaced with accountable governing. General elections are no longer about which of two candidates you dislike less; they are opportunities for real choice and healthy competition. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the goal of Final-Five Voting is not to change who wins but to change what the winners are incented to do.
My goal is for Wisconsin to be a leader and pave the way for this kind of political innovation in states across the country. Bipartisan leaders in our state legislature – Senators Dale Kooyenga and Jeff Smith, and Representatives Tony Kurtz and Daniel Riemer – have introduced a bill to modernize our federal elections with Final-Five Voting. We’re thrilled to be on our way to that future.
A functional, representative and accountable democracy is essential. It allows all the other big ideas we care about to thrive. Delivering on the promise of electoral innovation is the big idea.
This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas