A new group, No Labels, is forming to try to organize the pragmatic center of American politics. Acccording to a Wall Street Journal story, the group wants to be a centrists/independents equivalent of the tea party movement on the right and MoveOn on the left. Its organizational launch will be a meeting in New York City on Dec. 13. A meeting is set for Seattle on Jan. 13. Details on their website.
Some of the better-known names behind the movement are Joel Klein, the outgoing chief of New York City Schools, David Frum, the conservative-turned-critic, and Matt Miller, columnist of the "radical center." I looked through the list of 30 or so luminaries who have endorsed the effort and couldn't find a single figure from Seattle or the Northwest. Take a look and see if you can spot any local ties.
The group is savvy, and has been testing concepts in some living-room meetings. (The slickness and poll-testing aspects of No Labels may be its biggest liability, since it doesn't seem to arise from genuine public anger.) Republican strategist Mark McKinnon is one of the leaders, matched by Democratic fundraising star Nancy Jacobson, and there is careful balancing of names from both parties.
No Labels tells prospective members that they can keep their labels, but need to set them aside to solve some key problems that must come from the pragmatic center. Whether the group will get behind an independent candidate for the presidency, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is an open question. For what it's worth (not much), Bloomberg has said he has no interest in running for president, but he approves of the search for nonpartisan solutions. Uh-huh.
The Seattle meeting in January may be joined by one in Bellevue. I suspect this idea will have more traction in the new-economy burbs than in liberal echo-chambers like Seattle and Portland. Many of the instigators of No Labels come from the venture-capital firms and other places noted for disruptive thinking about implacable problems. The group also hopes to be a home for displaced liberal Republicans and toppled moderate Democrats, both of whom tend to come from close-in swing districts. If Congress, as expected, moves further into armed camps focusing only on winning in 2012, the appetite for No Labels will only go up.
A local factor that might give this idea a boost is the 2012 governor's race, likely to be an open race with Gov. Gregoire expected to decline to seek a third term. The likely finalists are Attorney General Rob McKenna, currently in the soft-launch, media-heavy phase of his unannounced campaign, and First District Congressman Jay Inslee, who will lock up big portions of unions and greens.
Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, a moderate Republican in his past, might challenge McKenna (no easy task) from his left, or even look at an independent candidacy. Among Democrats there is a lot of pressure on King County Executive Dow Constantine, currently riding high, to challenge Inslee and present a more open-to-compromise persona while still holding lots of labor and environmentalist support. Constantine is probably well advised to run for statewide office sooner rather than later, given the insoluble problems of King County.
Any ambitious politician who wants to tap the energies of a disenfranchised, nonpartisan "center," could do worse than to flirt with the No Labels crowd — doubtless dancing away from them later. For now, there's harmless independent cred to be had from a dalliance.