The following is an open letter from former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who has been rumored to be on the verge of launching a new political party:
I changed my voting registration from ‘Democrat’ to ‘Independent’ today. It was a strangely emotional experience.
I registered as a Democrat back in 1995 when I was 20 years old to vote for Bill Clinton’s re-election. It was a no-brainer for me. I went to a college that was very liberal. I lived in New York City. Everyone around me was a Democrat. Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole? Clinton was one of the youngest presidents when he was elected and seemed more in tune to me, as a 20 year old.
Keep in mind that I grew up the son of immigrants and my family did not talk about politics at all growing up. I still have no idea how or even if my parents voted. I have a vague recollection of my Mom watching a debate and saying, “I don’t like him” but I can’t remember who she was referring to. She doesn’t remember either.
Throughout my twenties I remained a staunch Democrat, though like many others I was drawn primarily to national races. I co-hosted a small fundraiser for John Kerry’s campaign at a bar when I was 29 – I think we raised maybe $3,000. I thrilled to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 and, to a lesser extent, his re-election in 2012. Around this time I was invited to the White House to receive recognition by the Obama White House as both a Champion of Change and a Presidential Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship as the founder of a non-profit, Venture for America that helped create hundreds of jobs in the Midwest and the South. Bringing Evelyn to meet the President was a lot of fun.
In 2016, I donated to Bernie Sanders’ campaign – everything he said struck me as true – but then voted for Hillary Clinton against Trump.
When Trump won, I was surprised and took it as a red flag and call to action. Having spent six years working in the Midwest and the South I believed I had some insight as to what had driven Trump’s victory. I spent several years making the case for what I believed was the major policy that could address it – Universal Basic Income.
As you’d imagine, as a Democratic presidential candidate, I met a lot of Democrats around the country. Literally thousands. At first, many didn’t know what to make of the odd Asian candidate talking about giving everyone money. But over time I established deep relationships with some of the local leaders who have worked in party politics for years. Al Womble in Iowa, Steve Marchand in New Hampshire, Jermaine Johnson in South Carolina and others.
I also became friends with some of the other candidates out in the field. Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke are people I’d consider friends who are motivated by the right things. As I’ve become more of a household name, I’ve worked with many senior officials. I headlined several fundraisers for the DNC and participated in fundraising appeals. I was a surrogate for Joe for months.
I spent weeks in Georgia trying to help win the seats for Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, helping raise millions to do so. I’m proud of helping to activate Asian American voters in what I believed were historic races.
And running for mayor, I similarly met and became friends with activists and elected officials who are longtime public servants on the Democratic side. People like Grace Meng, Ritchie Torres, John Liu, Carlos Menchaca, Kenny Burgos, Vanessa Gibson and Dan Rosenthal are excellent.
Again, I have at this point dozens of friends and confidantes who are entrenched in the Democratic Party. I’ve been a Democrat my entire adult life.
And yet, I’m confident that no longer being a Democrat is the right thing.
Please, keep in mind that I am NOT suggesting that you also change your voter registration to Independent, as I have done. Doing so could disenfranchise you if you live in the 83% of the country that is very blue or very red. For this reason, I considered either not making this change or not talking about it.
So why do I feel in my heart that this is the right move?
While it was simply a small piece of paperwork, I genuinely felt a shift in my mindset as soon as I signed it.
My goal is to do as much as I can to advance our society. There are phenomenal public servants doing great work every day – but our system is stuck. It is stuck in part because polarization is getting worse than ever. Many of the people I know are doing all of the good they can – but their impact is constrained. Now that I’m not a member of one party or another, I feel like I can be even more honest about both the system and the people in it.
The key reform that is necessary to help unlock our system is a combination of Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting, which will give voters more genuine choice and our system more dynamism. It will also prevent the spoiler effect that so many Democrats are concerned about, which is a byproduct of a two party system with a binary contest and simple plurality voting.
I believe I can reach people who are outside the system more effectively. I feel more . . . independent.
Also, on a personal level, I’ll admit there has always been something of an odd fit between me and the Democratic Party. I’m not very ideological. I’m practical. Making partisan arguments – particularly expressing what I often see as performative sentiment – is sometimes uncomfortable for me. I often think, “Okay, what can we actually do to solve the problem?” I’m pretty sure there are others who feel the same way I do.
I’ve seen politicians publicly eviscerate each other and then act collegial or friendly backstage a few minutes later. A lot of it is theatre.
I’ve also had people publicly attack me and then text or call me privately to make sure that we were still cool. It just had to be done for appearances.
Perhaps it’s the nature of my upbringing, but I’m actually more comfortable trying to fix the system than being a part of it.
One very senior Democrat member of Congress texted me to say, “I’m sorry to see you go. But I know you’ll do as much good as you can from the outside. And eventually, remember the outsiders become the insiders.”
I’ve got to say it feels really good to be building my own team. This is where I’m most at home.
Recently, in an interview I commented that I wasn’t particularly driven by a desire to hold office. I’m working for impact.
Breaking up with the Democratic Party feels like the right thing to do because I believe I can have a greater impact this way.
Am I right? Let’s find out. Together.