Editor’s note: This is an installment in an occasional series of columns on business and politics by writers who are not affiliated with a major party.

When former Sen. Olympia J. Snowe retired from the U.S. Senate, she said ours had become a system where “everyone simply votes with their party and those in charge employ every possible tactic to block the other side.”

The polarization of our politics has caused so much dysfunction that this smart, committed, caring leader with four decades of experience as a public servant didn’t feel like she could realize her potential as a member of the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Like me, I bet she remains overwhelmed and concerned about the state of our country and may even believe as I do that a radical course correction is needed. My understanding is that she continues to work seven days a week outside the U.S. Senate to help fix our political system and break partisan gridlock.

This is no doubt why she agreed last year to accept an appointment to the 17-member board of directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”).

The CPD makes all the rules for who gets to participate in the general election debates every four years. While she might not yet realize it, former Sen. Snowe has at this very moment an incredible opportunity to impact and influence the whole country with her gifts and her voice and her unique brand of leadership.


She can make a commitment to persuade Mike McCurry and Frank Fahrenkopf, and the 14 other directors of the CPD, to reform the flawed status quo and create a new, more democratic 2016 election that breaks free of our current tired and failing politics.

She can join Sen. Angus S. King Jr., former Sen. William S. Cohen, Eliot R. Cutler, and a growing list of other current and former elected officials, four-star generals, admirals, federal judges, leading academics, and Americans just like me who support the efforts of “Change the Rule” to open up the general election presidential debates to allow a third participant on the stage.

Americans are clearly saying that they want a more open and competitive political system.

 62 percent of Americans do not think the federal government has the consent of the governed.

 86 percent feel the political system is broken and does not serve the interests of the American people.

 81 percent believe that it is important to have independent candidates run for office, and 62 percent say they would vote for an independent for president in 2016. It is a violation of federal law for debate sponsors to use nonobjective, biased rules designed to exclude independent candidates from the debates.


Even so, since 2000, the CPD has used a rule for getting into the debates that affords independent candidates (like our very own Angus King) no chance to get in. The commission will only invite candidates to participate in the debates if they poll at 15 percent or higher in mid-September.

This rule dissuades men and women with extraordinary records of service from running for President. This rule relies on polls that are biased against third party and independent candidates and are grossly inaccurate in predicting a three-way race. Furthermore, the selection and timing of each poll used in calculating the average is easily subject to manipulation. The rule requires a non-major party candidate to spend an incremental amount of money that no independent candidate has ever raised nor any billionaire has ever spent.

This offending rule is why since 1960 not one American (who had not participated in a major party primary) has ever polled over 15 percent less than seven weeks before the debates.

As long as this rule is allowed to remain, it will lead to the exclusion of all Americans other than the Democratic and Republican nominees into the presidential debates for as long as I live, and as long as my children live.

By determining the rules of candidates’ access to the debates, Olympia Snowe and her fellow directors on the CPD effectively determine who has a credible chance to become president of the United States. That is a solemn and historic responsibility, and I strongly urge her to support our initiative and encourage her fellow directors on the CPD to open up the debates and allow more choices for the American people.

The American people have both the desire and the right to hear from and choose a presidential candidate unaffiliated with the two major parties in 2016. One of the things I have always admired about Olympia Snowe is her willingness to break with her party to do what she thinks is right for Maine and for the nation.

It is my sincere hope that in this instance she has the courage to stand up to both major parties and in so doing, improve the quality of our democracy.

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