Katherine Gehl says, “I like to say I’m politically homeless.” It was clear at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Wednesday that she does not use that label because she is not involved. In fact, the opposite is true: She is deeply involved.
Her sense of “homelessness” comes from her frustration with what she calls “the political-industry complex.” The two major parties, Congress, the executive branch, Washington lobbyists, and the national media are all thriving, but they are not producing solutions to the nation’s problems, Gehl said. And while Washington thrives, problems go unsolved and people grow increasingly dissatisfied. She said the system and particularly the two major political parties do not have the incentives businesses have to respond constructively to competition. “Two parties equals zero results,” she said.
Gehl (pronounced Gayle) is a former Democrat who describes herself now as “a proud independent, a centrist, a pro-problem-solving, non-ideological citizen who wants to see government deliver on its promise to the citizens.” She adds, “That is not an ideology that fits with either of the parties.”
Gehl was the fourth generation CEO and president of Gehl Foods, a large business based in Germantown, until selling it to a private equity firm in 2015. Her focus now is on advocating changes “at the intersection of powerful and achievable” in the way the political system operates. She told Gousha such steps would include switching from partisan to non-partisan political primaries and to drawing boundaries for districts for elective office in ways that are strictly non-partisan.
Partisan primaries serve to all-but ensure that only candidates from the two major parties are elected to office, while Gehl would like to see more independents or people affiliated with other parties get a chance.
Gehl told Gousha a core duty of the federal government is to create a foundation on which both businesses and employees can succeed. She said a report developed by a group at Harvard identified eight policies that would help accomplish this. The report said that, behind closed doors, there was wide agreement on the policies. But little action results.
One example: “We are not fiscally responsible,” and the federal debt is too high, Gehl said. “Fundamentally we are weakening our opportunity to create future opportunities for our citizens if we are that much in debt,” she said.
Gehl said her focus is on changing the system and not on specific issues because the system needs to be changed to allow issues to be dealt with.
One idea that interests her: If four centrist independents could be elected to the US Senate, they could become a block of swing votes that would advocate for solutions on major issues.
Gehl said the political success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2016 showed that there was strong public support for a political system that produces results. But she said the fact that both operated within the two-party system meant they did not represent the kind of changes she wants. She called Trump “disruptive, but not transformational to the industry I’ve described.”
Is she interested in running for office herself? “I might run,” she said, an answer that brought applause from some in the audience. “I’m all in for this state, for his country,” Gehl said. But when Gousha asked if she was considering running for either the Senate or for governor in Wisconsin in 2018, she said no.
To watch video of the one-hour program, click here.