When David Nevins explains his affiliation with No Labels, a nonpartisan, grass-roots movement to reform Congress and promote bipartisanship, his golf buddies respond with skepticism.
Yet Nevins, an Estero real estate businessman, holds out hope that No Labels can bring together both major political parties, even in today's polarized climate.
“We can really impact the way Congress works. It's totally dysfunctional right now,” Nevins said. “My old friends say it can't work, but they don't understand the power of the digital age and the passion that's out there.”
Nevins and other No Labels backers tried Sunday to rally local support for the apolitical campaign to stop the gridlock of an unpopular Congress. Formed in late 2010, No Labels organizers boast half a million supporters nationwide, including some members of Congress and many former legislators. The platform centers on requiring Congress to pass timely budgets, reforming the Senate filibuster and encouraging fraternization between the parties. No Labels doesn't back particular candidates.
About 125 locals populated a hall at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, peppering Nevins, former U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., and former Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders with questions about the organization. Most expressed frustration with congressional adherence to party lines, straying into complaints about campaign finance, lobbyist influence and the density of legislation.
“We are very divided right now in this country, and anything we can do to bring both parties together and work things out is important,” said Shari Monetta, founding vice president of the Collier Republican Club. “We need to be able to discuss issues without bringing up parties.”
Nevins and the speakers solicited leaders for No Labels. While most in the crowd appeared invigorated by the nonpartisan message, some remained skeptical that No Labels could find a voice amid the shouting of other political grass-roots movements.
“I'm more guarded,” said Murray Newton of Fort Myers. “The system just seems to be so frozen. I think it's worth trying to make things better, but it's hard to be too optimistic.”
Edwards, the former Oklahoma congressman, encouraged the crowd to embrace the limited message of legislative reform and bipartisanship, with the hope that No Labels could branch into other political territory once it gained its national footing.
“We've got our starting point, just to get this movement going,” Edwards said.
For Monetta, a former centrist turned Tea Party activist, the fear is that local No Labels chapters become susceptible to political bias.
“Here in Collier County, or Southwest Florida for that matter, it's going to be difficult to have it nonpartisan,” Monetta said. “But I'm going to take back to the Republican Club that we need to start working together.”