The Star invited Arizona's three U.S. Senate candidates to answer that question, based on the following background:
Since this Senate seat was last open in 2006, the percentage of Arizonans who are registered independents has increased by 360,322 voters, or 54 percent. That compares with growth of 176,945 voters, or 9 percent, for all parties combined. There are now 1 million Arizona voters who identify with no party and 2 million who are party-affiliated.
How do you explain this trend toward rejection of organized political parties?
This is the last of three Sundays of guest commentaries by the Senate candidates. You can read previous stories at azstarnet.com/opinion
The latest Gallup congressional job approval rating is 12 percent. Traveling around the state the last two years, I can say that I've yet to met one of the 12 percent that think Congress is doing a good job. Clearly, a dysfunctional Congress and unending petty partisan politics have turned off many voters. Nowhere is that more evident than Arizona, where independent voters make up nearly a third of all voters.
Congress' inability to complete some of its most basic functions has no doubt contributed to this trend. It's been well over three years since the Senate passed a budget. When the Senate fails to pass a budget, not only does it fail to set spending priorities but it empowers federal bureaucrats to set policy and promulgate regulations. Needless to say, it's a bad way to run a government.
There are serious and stark differences between the two parties about the role and level of government, and those differences ought to be the focus of rigorous and thorough debate. However, Congress can do without the petty politics than serves as fodder for the cable news networks and online fundraising appeals. While I may not always agree with my colleagues in the other party on policy, I don't question their sincerity, patriotism or passion for their beliefs.
During my time in Congress I've done my best to work with both parties on common-sense solutions. But I've also worked to hold both accountable when they've strayed off the path of fiscal responsibility. My efforts to end the corrupt practice of earmark spending even resulted in my party's leadership punishing me for openly criticizing it. Ultimately, they saw the error of their way and earmarks are no more in Congress, but it took a lot of work to get there.
I've also worked with Democrats on issues like ending farm subsidies, expanding free trade, and guarding our civil liberties. Some of these efforts were successful and some not, but regardless of what you may see or read in the media, there are many issues where Republicans and Democrats can work together.
In the end, I don't know that a functioning Congress free of petty politics will move independent voters into one party or the other. But it would give all voters confidence that they can be proud of their government, and hopefully their representatives in government.
Republican Jeff Flake has been a congressman since 2001, representing the 6th District, which includes much of the East Valley area in metro Phoenix.