By Patrick Newton
My parents instilled in me a sense of community service. My dad, or ‘pop’ as we called him, had a million life-lesson one-liners. “I cried because I had no shoes, and then I saw a man who had no feet” was one of his favorites. My mom was a nurse and mother of seven, so putting others before self was clearly part of her DNA.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember watching the Army-Navy game, and at half time they did a feature on the United States Naval Academy (USNA). As the youngest among seven siblings and mindful of our family’s financial situation, I developed a keen interest in colleges offering tuition-free options. It became apparent that the military could provide the means to achieve this goal. Moreover, a familial tradition of military service emerged, with pop in the Navy and two uncles serving in the Army and Marine Corps. Thus, maintaining this sense of family tradition became a significant aspect of my aspirations. I spent the next 18 months focused on one thing, getting a Congressional Appointment to the USNA. Fortunately, Congressman Robert Roe appointed me, and I was on my way to serve my country for the next 20 years.
As fate would have it, one fine day in Boot Camp, I blew out my knee. About 48 hours later, I received an Honorable Medical Discharge from the USNA and found myself on a train back to my hometown in Butler, NJ.
I went on to earn a degree in Political Science from Quincy University. If I couldn’t serve my country in the Navy, I thought politics was the next best thing. I became the Republican Party’s dream. I worked on elections locally, nationally, and everywhere in between. I was sent to Kansas City and certified as a campaign manager by the RNC. I even spent a few months working for a Congressional office in Washington, D.C.
Sadly, it was during this time that I saw how the system truly worked. I learned that with a two-party system, lobbyists, and all the problems I now understood, REAL change would be next to impossible. It would be a constant tug-of-war with the white flag in the middle drifting a little left and a little right, but with no real results.
Coupled with the fact that political jobs—the real ones, the staffers, the volunteers, those doing the actual work—don’t pay well, and if your boss loses an election, you’re out of a job, I left politics and ventured into sales. I’ve worked with many different people in various industries, offering me a lifelong learning experience. In 2007, my wife, two kids, and I moved to Raleigh, NC, and we have been here ever since.
While I’ve kept an eye on politics, I’ve directed my time, talent, and treasure toward supporting and working with non-profits. I’ve been involved in various areas, but my focus has been on serving the homeless, veterans, and the developmentally disabled. I realized that trying to impact a system I knew was so crippled it would never truly serve the citizens was a waste of resources. Spending a few hours at a soup kitchen is far more productive than sitting through a political meeting, attempting to craft a campaign message about how the “other side” is the problem.
Then, around September 2022, I heard Christie Todd Whitman (CTW), the former Governor of the state I grew up in, New Jersey, announcing she was starting a new political party with Andrew Yang. I know CTW is a Republican because I voted for her back in the day when I lived in NJ, and I know Andrew Yang was a Democrat when he ran for President. Could this work? Could two leaders from different points of the political/ideological spectrum come together and find a way to actually fix this system I had given up on 35 years ago?
Of course, my initial response was, “No. Of course not.” But I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out. I joined my first NC Forward Party Zoom call in November of 2022, and the rest is history.
For me, it’s about hope. Engaging in this work has revealed to me how many people, like myself, believe we can accomplish our goal of better politics if we work together. This includes not only the remarkable individuals I’ve met serving as Forward Party leaders but also those in various other groups.
One of the organizations I’ve come to appreciate during my time as a Forwardist is Braver Angels. Their mission is to “Bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.” They provide the tools and resources necessary to teach us how to communicate with each other in a productive and respectful manner, even when we disagree. Having taken their courses, I’ve witnessed in my own life—both politically and otherwise—how I can improve my communication with others.
I’ve also learned that the most significant challenge lies in getting people engaged. Notice I didn’t say “getting people to care.” People do care. Almost everyone I speak to (okay, there are the one in ten who seem to find a way to disagree with anything, but) agrees that our current system is failing us. However, the real magic is in getting people to both care and engage. Taking the time to send an email to your elected official or look up who your elected officials are!
Local election turnouts are often less than 20%, yet these elections determine the officials who dictate how money is spent and decisions are made in our communities. Until we can get ALL (okay, most of) our citizens to engage in this process, we will never have true representation.
The good news is there are ways to fix it. Ways we can regain our trust in our government. Ending gerrymandering, implementing truly open primaries with instant run-off elections (RCV), imposing term limits, using citizen’s assemblies, and getting money out of politics are all ways we can start to modernize our election process and the resulting elected officials/government.
The bad news? The number of people still continuing to read this article just dropped in half. The ideas to modernize our government and truly fix the system are not sexy. “Fixing Gerrymandering” just isn’t great click-bait. So, it’s a matter of creating awareness and providing information. Making people aware that there ARE solutions. Even with a degree in Political Science, I can’t begin to describe how much I have learned about so many new and exciting solutions as a direct result of working with the Forward Party and the dozens of powerful coalition partners we have developed.
So, we have found with this movement, as with so many things in life, it all starts with education. We need to educate the electorate, the average voter, on how our current system works, or more accurately, how it doesn’t work. We believe that once voters understand the situation we are in and how we can fix it, they will feel compelled—almost obligated, as a sense of civic duty—to join in the work it will take to make this happen.
One of the main objectives of the Forward Party is to provide information, resources, learning tools, and engagement opportunities for all citizens to take advantage of. My personal goal as a Forwardist is to help citizens become more educated and engaged voters. I’m proud to be a part of the North Carolina Forward Party. It’s not just a party—it’s a movement.
Pat currently serves as the Vice-Chair and Director of Candidate Recruitment and Development of the North Carolina Forward Party. Click HERE to read his bio.