Can you vote for someone you despise simply because of his or her party affiliation?
Junior Jackson Puckey asked himself this question around the time of the 2016 presidential election – his answer was no.
This question, along with his dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump, sparked Puckey’s interest in bipartisanship, despite his historically unwavering party-affiliated past.
“I’ve been a conservative Republican since I’ve been aware of politics,” Puckey said.
Puckey’s shift away from partisanship led him to become the first president of the University of Richmond’s chapter of Unite America – College Independents.
The chapter held its launch party on Nov. 28 in Whitehurst and presented its interim leadership board, made up of Puckey as president, junior Connor Frascati as campus director and junior Max Coleman as treasurer.
Frascati spearheaded the organization. As a political associate for Unite America, Frascati acts as a direct liaison between Unite America and UR’s College Independents.
Unite America is a movement of Republicans, Democrats and Independents committed to bridging the growing partisan divide, according to its website. The organization pulls from a nationwide network of small-dollar donors to help independent candidates run winning campaigns.
As a chapter for this organization, UR’s College Independents will canvass, phone bank, raise awareness and seek structural reform in order to support independent candidates and grow the Unite America movement.
Frascati and Puckey cited increasing distrust in the government in Washington, D.C., as a reason for the viability of successful independent candidates and the necessity for the movement. Frascati also said the Democrats and the Republicans were both moving in opposite directions toward the more extreme sides of their parties. Frascati believes this hyper-partisanship is not where the majority of people truly identify, thus creating the importance of bridging the gap, he said.
“We are in a dangerous spot right now,” Frascati said. “The immediacy of the club could not be put forth any more than we are trying.”
Frascati also said independent candidates could be successful if people knew the plausibility of the movement.
“What people are sometimes caught off guard by is the amount of people who identify as independents,” Frascati said. “[The movement] makes intuitive sense.”
Matthew Scoble is the Virginia political director for Unite America. He came to the club’s debut event to share further information about Unite America and answer questions.
One of Unite America’s goals is to increase political competition during races by offering independent candidates for more vulnerable races, or races that do not have clear-cut winners – particularly races in which there are uncontested runners. Scoble said increased competition in these races would hold uncontested runners accountable for answering hard questions and give independents a shot at winning.
“It’s historic what we’re doing,” Scoble said. “We’re being an innovative disruptor.”
This disruption would not only make other candidates rise to the challenge and give independents a chance at success, but also allow winning independents to force conversations about issues that are being ignored by government officials for fear of losing their seats, Scoble said.
“People are more worried about winning than doing what’s right,” Scoble said.
Scoble and the leadership of the club left the attendees of the event with plentiful information and pizza-filled stomachs.
Frascati said the event was the club’s first step. Raising awareness for the movement and increasing involvement in the club would be the next.
College Independents is currently looking to engage with younger students and, more immediately, find a vice president.
“We want to make sure this club is sustainable,” Frascati said.
Puckey will be studying abroad in Spain next semester, but he plans to maintain his role as president and communicate with other members as effectively as he can. The club intends to meet at least once a month and to rely heavily on email communication.
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