Innovation is good for business and for politics

Competent business leaders know that to improve, the status quo can never be acceptable. Continuous improvement requires innovation, an exchange of ideas, and healthy competition. For Arkansas to grow, to be a place where more businesses invest in our people, we must have a political climate that embraces these values as well.

For too many years now, we’ve had conversations with fellow leaders of companies and business-friendly organizations about the frustration with the lack of pragmatism in our government. Not that long ago, there were very few elected extremists on both sides, and common-sense legislation would get passed that was good for Arkansans and for business.

When we evaluate the political environment now, this isn’t what we see. Due to an election system that stifles competition, we find a government in perpetual left- and right-wing ideological warfare. Our government is gridlocked. On both sides of the aisle, pragmatic solutions have been exchanged for towing the party line.

The candidate who receives the majority of the vote should be declared the winner. Our election process now is skewed towards political insiders who have more say than voters in who is elected. Open Primaries Arkansas will make sure our votes matter and put the power where it belongs – with voters – so we can elect leaders who will work together to fix our state’s problems.

We know that healthy competition is good for business, and we believe it’s good for politics too. Arkansas voters are proudly independent, but the two-party primary system has kept independently minded candidates from having a fair shot for too long. There is too much power in the hands of special interests and not enough power with voters, who should have the freedom to choose the best person to represent them, regardless of party.

Having healthy competition in elections starts with the primaries. Time and time again, legislators won’t support common-sense legislation or attempt to build a bipartisan coalition for legislation out of fear of “being primaried.” They worry that if they don’t appeal to the extreme fringes of their parties, that left- and right-wing special interests will support someone running against them in the primaries. With no incentive to appeal to their broader constituency and pragmatic voters, legislators champion right- and left-wing issues that do nothing to help the State of Arkansas, and often hurt us in recruiting businesses and talent.

Arkansans have very little choice at the ballot box: From 2006 through 2018, 68% of all state legislators went unchallenged. The situation is even worse in party primaries. More than 80% of all state legislative races are uncontested in the primary. When serious potential candidates know the rules are rigged against them, they don’t bother running. Without competition, voters have no voice, and politicians have no accountability.

Rather than sit by and watch this partisan primary system drive our political climate too far to the left and right, we are leading an initiative to address the source of the problem instead of perpetually, unproductively complaining about it. Open Primaries Arkansas is a logical solution to ensure that candidates who appeal to the majority of voters win. And a recent poll by the League of Women Voters shows that 89% of voters want the opportunity to have their say on this important issue on the November ballot.

Open primaries put power in the hands of the people, not political insiders. All candidates will appear on a single ballot in the primaries – voters no longer will be forced to select either a Democratic or Republican ballot. They will have the freedom to vote for their preferred candidate in each race. This also means that candidates will have to appeal to all of their constituents, not only to the extremists on both sides.

The top four candidates in each race will move onto the general election in November. Voters will have real choices, and the candidate supported by the majority of voters wins.

Just as businesses must adapt to remain competitive and best serve its customers and clients, so should our government. We invite our fellow business leaders across the state to join us in calling for the Open Primaries Arkansas initiative to appear on the ballot and working toward pragmatic political innovation that ultimately will benefit businesses and our fellow Arkansans.

Editor’s note: Sam Sicard is President and CEO of First National Bank in Fort Smith. Davy Carter is a former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, representing District 43 from 2009 to 2015. He served as Speaker of the House from 2013 to 2014. The opinions expressed are those of the authors. This guest commentary first appeared in the Arkansas Trucking Report.