In this July 18, 2011, file photo, people with the group No Labels hold signs during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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Justin Schair is national state chair of No Labels Maine. 

Last month, 18 innocent Mainers were gunned down. It was heartbreaking, and their deaths didn’t have to happen.  

Our state is a big small town, and terror like this affects us all. We’ve seen in the weeks since this tragedy the spirit of community, decency and trust that uniquely define Maine. But why is that same spirit consistently lacking in our politics? 

Mainers and Americans aren’t nearly as divided as some imagine; we have a political system that divides us. Voters find themselves helpless, unable to ally with a political party that enables them to advocate for fiscal restraint while championing environmental stewardship at once; uphold women’s rights while supporting robust defense spending; or support immigration reform while insisting on strong border security.  

As citizens, we can support low taxes and also commit to protecting our natural resources; we can believe in gun rights and support a ban on assault weapons. No party has a monopoly on the best ideas, and choosing a set of policies from one bucket or the other is a race to the bottom.  

As a democracy, we often find ourselves living in a partisan absolutism where the extremes fight over narrow policy issues that rely on small group politics, not common sense. Today, Americans find themselves living through shelter-in-place orders and palpable fear for parents dropping their children off at school.  

This is not freedom; it’s a tyranny of the minority. 

After the tragedy in Lewiston, Maine 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, a longtime gun rights advocate, said it well: “I’ve come to believe that the easiest step we can take is the simplest solution: we should remove these deadliest of rifles from the equation.” 

The simplest solutions evade us even though, in this case, more than half of Americans want assault weapons banned, according to Gallup polling

Foreign threats are heightened today, but so, too, are the domestic ones. We can diminish the forces of extremism by being less factional and take our democracy back. The common-sense majorities of both parties are the backbone, the moral compass and the promise of America. But we have allowed party politics, closed primaries and the forces opposed to reform to divide us. Instead of competing globally, we allow the parties to exploit every narrow issue that can generate the most conflict possible. 

Although political pundits say our nation is hopelessly divided on the issues, that’s not true. No Labels has surveyed over tens of thousands of voters these past two years and found a surprising amount of consensus on even the most contentious issues. It’s what inspired us this summer to reach our Common Sense policy booklet, which features 30 separate ideas — on issues ranging from the budget and immigration to education, energy and climate change — we know most America can rally around. Now, we just need leaders to catch up to where the public is and to recognize that passing laws with broad bipartisan support leads to smarter and more durable policy. 

This is why we need a Unity presidential ticket by No Labels, a national movement that is getting on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to give common-sense Americans another choice in the 2024 presidential race, beyond the two political parties. 

Despite our division, America is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but we cannot take that for granted. Americans and the world depend on a strong United States as our prosperity has not only made us one of the greatest political experiments in history, but it’s made the rest of the world a safer place. When America thrives, so does the world. Nothing pleases our enemies more than to watch — or even foment — the partisan combat that makes us less competitive. 

We should not need tragedies to unite and remind us of what’s at stake. To those who argue the time isn’t now, the data could not be clearer: 63 percent of Americans are open to voting for an alternative if faced with a Trump/Biden rematch. 

If we can avoid dividing into factions, we can take our democracy back. Now is the time to support a national Unity ticket that expresses the voices of most Mainers — and most Americans — in the middle, putting people ahead of politics.