by San Francisco Chronicle
April 28, 2019

JOHN WILDERMUTH

David Blake wants voters, not the presidential candidates, to choose the country’s next vice president. He’s put up $1 million of his own money to try to make that happen.

The San Francisco tech executive’s Vice.run website went live in March, and his team already is collecting signatures to change the way Americans pick the country’s presidential backup.

“The vice president was supposed to be an independent leader, not the president’s lapdog,” Blake said in an interview. “As the only official in the nation to serve in two branches of government as vice president and president of the Senate … the vice president is in a unique position to bridge the gap between the two and serve as a domestic diplomat and unifier in chief.”

That’s a tall order for a job that John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president for two terms, supposedly once described as “not worth a bucket of warm spit,” complaining that he gave up his job as House speaker to spend “eight long years as Mr. Roosevelt’s spare tire.”

That’s not the way it was supposed to be, Blake said. The vice president has an important job, especially when the country is as ideologically split as it is today.

As president of the Senate, for example, the vice president breaks any ties. Since he took office in January 2017, Vice President Mike Pence has cast the tie-breaking vote 13 times, the most of anyone in the job since 1841. By contrast, Joe Biden, President Barack Obama’s vice president, didn’t cast a single vote in his eight years in office.

The best example of how the skills of a vice president are wasted came in December, Blake said, when President Trump argued on camera with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York over the president’s proposed border wall and the pending government shutdown.

“As they were arguing, Pence sat in a chair and said absolutely nothing,” he said. “He was the only one in the room with an official role in each branch (of government) and was uniquely situated to be a bridge between the two.”

Blake, 35, was born in Utah and graduated with an economics degree from Brigham Young University. With an interest in both education and the workforce, he co-founded Degreed, which works with companies and individuals to provide lifelong learning opportunities, in 2012.

While he had always had an interest in politics, it was his 10-year-old daughter who steered his life on a new course.

“At some point, my daughter asked if Americans hated each other this much when I was a kid,” Blake said. “I began to believe that our hyper-partisanship was going to hurt us over time. We need to govern by consensus and compromise if we’re going to solve the problems facing us.”

In 2018, he and his wife, Mikel Blake, started Americans for Common Ground, which focuses on revising the vice presidency as a way to make the country less partisan.

Allowing a separate vote on candidates for vice president could attract people who know they can’t get elected president, such as Republicans unwilling to challenge Trump but ready to take on Pence, Blake said.

“The job also is well situated for an independent, which the presidency isn’t,” he said. “It would eliminate questions about a spoiler’s role and provide a candidate with an independent platform.”

Changing the election rules isn’t nearly as complicated as the effort to eliminate or bypass the Electoral College, because the 12th Amendment already provides for independently selecting a vice president, although it’s never been done.

“In 2016, people just checked a box on the ballot for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine or for Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” Blake said. “We want to change those two boxes to four boxes and hopefully even more.”

Blake’s group is collecting signatures in every state from people pledging to support a separate vice presidential vote. They will use those signatures to try to persuade the individual secretaries of state that there’s a demand for change. Secretaries of state can break out the vice presidential race as a separate contest on the ballot if they choose.

Now, the effort is focused on states including Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Tennessee, where only a small number of signatures are needed to put a candidate on the ballot. In Tennessee, for example, only 275 signatures are required to put even an unaffiliated candidate on the ballot, compared with 178,000 in California.

Blake doesn’t shy away from the likely problems. No president, for example, is going to want a vice president who not only may not agree with him, but also could be from a different party and actively work against him.

An independently elected vice president could find himself frozen out of all but the most modest ceremonial duties and forced to check the internet in the morning to learn what the president is doing that day.

That could become less of a concern if voters can be educated on the need for an independent vice president and what it could mean for them and the country, Blake said.

The vice president is the highest elected official in the country who doesn’t face the voters directly, he noted.

“Once the office is allowed to be sought directly, it will have its own candidates” who will better represent the public, Blake said.

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