Problem Solvers convention coming to Manchester in November

Margaret White is executive director of No Labels, which is working for bipartisan solutions to the country’s greatest challenges. The group’s office in Manchester is in a former runners’ store, and they’ve adapted the decor to track how many voters plan to attend the Problem Solvers Convention in November.

Tired of the divisiveness in our political system and the rancor in our civil discourse?

An organization called No Labels has just the ticket for you.

The group is again hosting its Problem Solvers Convention this fall as the primary season peaks in the Granite State. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Doubletree by Hilton Manchester Downtown, and all presidential candidates are invited to participate.

“This is going to be a forum for all of these candidates to come and present themselves to the independent-minded voters in the state,” explained Margaret White, executive director of No Labels. “And we think that’s really important, because so much of what’s happening right now in this election cycle is so partisan and it’s all so divisive.”

“It’s a unique room for these candidates to be in front of because it really is the swing voters,” said White, who was part of the bipartisan group that founded No Labels in 2010.

In January, No Labels opened an office on Manchester’s Hanover Street and staffers have been calling and knocking on the doors of voters they’ve identified as independent-minded. And what they hear from these folks, White said, are “a lot of thank yous.”

No Labels group plans November convention

Hannah Eliason, 20, of Hopkinton, an intern with No Labels, registers poll numbers for the 2020 presidential candidates. 

“It’s very energizing to hear from people that they’re glad to have this platform, and that this is where they are politically, and we’re giving them a voice again,” she said.

The big challenges facing the country, White said, will only truly be addressed if members of both parties work together. And that’s what No Labels is challenging candidates to commit to in this election: “Getting to the heart of how they’re going to bring leaders together if elected,” she said.

It’s the only way to pass legislation that can bring lasting change, she said.

“Because we know if there’s no buy-in from both sides, it’s the first legislation on the chopping block when the next party takes over,” White said.

New Hampshire should be fertile ground for this movement and message; there are far more undeclared voters here than members of either the Democratic or Republican party. As of May 21, there were 278,134 registered Democrats, 294,512 registered Republicans, and 410,389 undeclared voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Four years ago in Manchester, 1,500 people attended the first Problem Solvers convention, where eight presidential candidates participated — including the man who would become President, Donald Trump. Most observers would say that politics has only gotten more divisive and partisan since then.

No Labels plans to bring together Problem Solvers again

The downtown Manchester office of No Labels advertises its Nov. 3 Problem Solvers Convention on the storefront window.

But White sees cause for optimism.

Two years ago, the Problem Solvers Caucus formed in the U.S. House of Representatives, she said. They successfully pushed through some “Break the Gridlock” rules changes that allowed bipartisan bills to reach the House floor, including the 9/11 victim compensation measure and a humanitarian aid package, she said. On their upcoming agenda is legislation to reduce drug prices and to update NAFTA.

“The point is, it’s working,” White said. “The Problem Solvers Caucus, to us, is the first proof of concept that it’s possible.”

Shouldn’t all elected officials, by definition, be problem solvers? “You would think so, but truthfully right now, all of the incentives in Washington are the exact opposite of that,” White said.

Lawmakers who want to work with the other side of the aisle often end up getting “primaried” by the right or left, she said. “And so to say that you’re a Problem Solver is actually a very courageous thing these days,” she said.

Officials from the Democratic and Republican parties in New Hampshire said they welcome the Problem Solvers convention back to the state.

“The more opportunities Granite Staters get to hear from candidates, the better!” Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in an email.

No Labels wants to meet people in the middle

Inside the No Labels office in Manchester, voters used sticky notes to brainstorm what "unity" means as the country faces another presidential election.

“The No Labels Problem Solver convention is an opportunity for people to tackle policies in bipartisan fashion, putting the needs of the state and nation ahead of partisan pursuits,” NH GOP communications director Joe Sweeney said.

But neither could resist the chance to poke the other side.

“It is sorely needed as a reminder to New Hampshire Democrats, who continue to pursue their high-tax, unsustainable spending agenda while Governor Sununu is offering common-sense compromises in order to reach a state budget deal,” Sweeney said.

Buckley said Democrats “have proven they are willing to work with anyone to improve the lives of Granite Staters,” but added, “It’s unfortunate that some politicians like Chris Sununu will only listen to those who are writing him campaign checks.”

Politics today is about “tribalism,” White said.

“It’s us versus them, and it’s not about the country anymore,” she said.

But most voters, she said, don’t think that way.

“They’re thinking about the country that they live in, how they’re paying their bills, how they’re getting across that bridge that’s about to collapse,” she said.

No Labels has put together an election guide that presents viewpoints from the left and right on issues such as climate change, health care reform, immigration, infrastructure and the economy. It also suggests frameworks that might be acceptable to the majority of Americans.

For instance, on immigration, the guide points out the vast divide between the left and right. Then it states, “Unlike the radicals on both sides, the vast center of the country has nuanced, considerate, and sensible views on how America should fix its antiquated immigration system.”

Seeking unity on the primary trail in NH

Finding common ground to address the country's challenges is the goal of No Labels.

“They believe immigrants are good for America, but they don’t understand or agree with how or why the government lets people into our country. They want innocent people to be protected, but also for our borders to be strong and our laws to be enforced.”

The guidebook is filled with statistics, cost estimates and other data that voters can use to question candidates about their views on addressing these key issues.

“We’re not telling people how they have to solve them, but offering some idea of how to bridge the divide for some of these very big issues that have got to get fixed,” White said.

White, who lives in South Carolina and worked on Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham’s campaign early in her career, is a fan of the New Hampshire primary.

“I personally think it’s amazing,” she said. “People are so engaged, and I think that’s very refreshing to see.

“It’s real retail politics, and I think it does ensure that the candidates aren’t just running political ads and banking on that to win an election. They really have to come and explain to the voters what their positions are.”

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