Breaking the Duopoly: Open Debates Open Minds

Last week, I underscored recent incidents in which third party and independent candidates have been or may be excluded from debates and candidate forums either by event organizers or in accordance with the demands of participants representing the major parties. This week, for my column at CAIVN, I've taken a look at some of the earliest and most inclusive debates of the campaign season:
Jake Towne, an independent candidate for Congress in Pennslyvania's CD-15, announced late last week that he has been invited to participate in an October debate organized by the district's largest newspaper, The Morning Call. Towne had previously challenged both the Republican and Democratic candidates to public debates but received no response whatsoever. In an interview for Third Party and Independent Daily, I asked Towne how he broke through the usual Democrat-Republican filter that is so common in the political press. He responded with a description of his campaign's aggressive media strategy . . .

The effort clearly paid off. In other states, some organizations have already jump-started the campaign season by holding inclusive debates and candidate forums. In Rhode Island, the state's Latino Civic Fund sponsored a debate last week that included Democratic, Republican, Independent and Moderate Party gubernatorial candidates. Over the weekend, the North Carolina Bar Association hosted a forum for all of the state's candidates for US Senate, including Libertarian Michael Beitler. This was the first time a Libertarian Party candidate for US Senate in the state had ever debated both the Democratic and Republican nominees, though the party has had candidates on the ballot for every such election since 1992, according to Ballot Access News.

In Massachusetts, however, the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign season was a mixed bag. It included Democrat-turned-Independent Tim Cahill but excluded Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein. In a statement, Stein charged that the media outlet (WRKO radio) had done a disservice to voters:

As a result of my exclusion, WRKO listeners were left with the impression that there are very limited options for dealing with the major crises we face in terms of employment, funding services, and providing health care and education to our citizens.

The debate was hosted by Democrat Tom Finneran, the disgraced former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, who was barred from holding political office in 2007 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

Obviously, for Democrats and Republicans, the question of including or excluding third party and independent candidates in such forums is, for the most part, not a matter of political principle but rather self-serving political calculation. When a given third party or independent candidate is perceived as potentially attracting voters who would otherwise vote Republican, Democrats will often favor inclusion and Republicans will favor exclusion; on the other hand, when a given third party or independent candidate is perceived as potentially attracting voters who would otherwise vote Democrat, Republicans will favor inclusion and Democrats will favor exclusion.
To bolster their arguments in favor of exclusion Democrats and Republicans will often assert that third party and independent candidates are somehow not "serious" or "legitimate." However, if such candidates have fought their way onto the ballot, clearing the often ridiculous hurdles erected by Democratic and Republican lawmakers themselves, they can only be considered both serious and legitimate. In truth, it is the exclusionary political tactics and the absurd arguments of Democrats and Republicans that are illegitimate and deeply unserious. Indeed, to many of these people, "politics" is admittedly little more than a game in which one seeks nothing more than to "score points" as measured by their stenographers, mouthpieces and cheerleaders in the corporate press and independent media. Opening up our debates to individuals who are not beholden to the ruling political establishment and the ideology of the two-party state can go a long way toward breaking the Democratic-Republican duopoly in the media and our politics.

South Dakota's Independent Candidate for US House: "The parties are part of the problem, not the solution."

B. Thomas Marking is running as an independent candidate for the US House of Representatives in South Dakota. On the front page of his website, Marking writes: "South Dakota has but one voice in the U. S. House of Representatives. It should therefore be a truly Independent voice." Marking explicitly describes his party affiliation as "None of the Above," and explains:
In the current proclamations of both the G.O.P. and the Democrats, I find no coherent philosophy; other than whatever one is for, the other is most surely against. This relationship is as irrational and destructive as the famous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families. For many, it seems the feud has become more important than doing the people's business, sometimes more important than the objective truth.

Our major political parties are now more a part of the problem than of the solution. They routinely act irresponsibly, and consistently produce bad answers to the wrong questions. In addition, both parties have acted to further centralize power in Washington, one just a bit faster than the other. I have therefore sworn my fervent independence from both.
Over the weekend, South Dakota's Press and Dakotan published a lengthy profile of the independent following a meeting and interview with the outlet's editorial board on Friday. Randy Dockendorf reported:
U.S. House candidate B. Thomas Marking wants his fellow South Dakotans’ vote — not only in the November election but on issues after he would take office. The Custer man, who has retired from a career in federal and state service, is running as an independent candidate. He faces Democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Republican challenger Kristi Noem.

During Friday’s interview at the Press & Dakotan, Marking explained his proposal for allowing citizens to register their opinions on major policy areas. Marking said he would provide the quarterly surveys as a way for citizens to give input on issues.
Judging from the paper's description, Marking's proposal actually sounds quite similar to the "Open Office" concept developed by Jake Towne, an independent libertarian candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania. Dockendorf's article goes on to describe Marking's career and background, while elaborating his positions on a number of high-profile issues, including the wars, immigration, tax policy and even cyber-security. Marking states that he is running for the office as an independent because the major parties have become part of the problem:
Marking is running for Congress as an independent to avoid partisan labels and separate himself from the party machinery. “You saw the two parties in the past, and they were more the problem than the solution,” he said. “It seems like a matter of divide and conquer. They slap a label on the other side and describe them as evil. I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
The interview with Marking clearly left a strong impression with the folks at the paper. In a reflective editorial published today, the Press and Dakotan urges readers to consider the perspectives and positions of those who do not speak from within the framework of Democrat-Republican party government and asks: "Independent Voices: Will we ever listen?" From the editorial:
An independent candidate for South Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat stopped by the Press & Dakotan last Friday. The interview had been arranged a couple of days before that, and so we prepared to meet him for the very first time. But in the back of our minds, we couldn’t help but think that he already had two strikes against him . . .

The aforementioned two strikes arise from the deeply ingrained two-party mentality that dominates our political culture. We have become so conditioned to choose one or the other that most of us give little thought to considering any variations . . .

It’s odd to consider that when the American electorate decides it needs a change, it simply turns back to the party from which we made the change in the first place. With such a peculiar dynamic in place, the two parties often seem more interested in working to pry the other from power, as opposed to working to solve the laundry list of problems this nation always faces . . .

This is not an endorsement of Marking or any other independent candidate. Instead, we’re merely pointing out that the two major political parties do not have a monopoly on ideas and solutions for this nation. There are other ideas that lurk outside the two-party mainstream who have a few ideas, too. Listening to them does not mean you embrace them or endorse them. They won’t infect you or destroy you. But they just may make you think about other answers to the questions we face and about just how limiting and self-serving our two-party institution seems to have become. [Emphases added.]
Of course, there is no question as to just how limiting and self-serving our two-party institution has in fact become, except, perhaps, for the most ardent partisans of the ruling political class. The American declaration of independence from Democrat-Republican party government is long overdue.

The G8/G20 Summit: Martial Law, Political Violence and the Washington Consensus against Free Trade

As is the annual tradition, this year's G8/G20 summit in Toronto was met with violent protests. This is only to be expected when world leaders meet with global loan sharks and trade organizations to talk finance, trade, energy and security, especially given the fact that developing nations, regional interest groups and non-governmental organizations remain marginalized in the talks and negotiations. As the Christian Science Monitor reported:

With developed countries focusing on – and arguing about – stimulus spending vs. austerity measures and whether to impose a global bank tax, the summit is unlikely to meaningfully address the priorities of least-developed countries: reforming the governance of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund to give them more of a say; loosening requirements for IMF loans; ensuring predictable aid flows; and open trade access to developed markets.

The summit took place in the city's center, fortified by a billion dollar security operation that would be difficult to distinguish from the implementation of martial law – police had even been secretly granted special arrest powers for the duration of the summit. Business Week described the security situation:

A 12-block section of the central core is surrounded by concrete barriers and three-meter (10-foot) high metal fencing, part of Canada’s largest-ever security operation with 20,000 police and security guards. Canada is spending as much as C$1.2 billion ($1.16 billion) for the meetings to host world leaders, including C$930 million on security. . . .

Police set up two lines to block the crowd, first with a group of officers on bicycles to turn the demonstrators away from the security zone. A block further south, police in riot gear and on horseback or with police dogs blocked an intersection. The Toronto Transit Commission closed subway, bus and streetcar service in the downtown core of Canada’s biggest city. Regional train service into downtown was also halted and buildings including Brookfield Place on Bay Street were locked down.

However, this did not stop hundreds of people from breaking with the officially permitted protest march on Saturday, in order to attempt a breach of the security perimeter that had been set up by police. A clearly well-organized Black Bloc launched attacks against symbols of state and corporate power: police cars were set on fire, windows of banks and prominent multi-national corporations were smashed, even mainstream media outlets were targeted for aggression. Responding to the violence at a press conference on Saturday, Toronto Mayor David Miller stated: "This isn't our Toronto and my response is anger." Ironically, this statement likely also captures the sentiment of the summit's most violent opponents, whose actions were unimpeded, and perhaps even stoked, by the billion dollar security operation. In response, riot police escalated their tactics leading to assaults against journalists reporting on the protests. From the NYT:

As the police escalated their tactics, reporters were often kept at bay. Steve Paikin, a prominent Toronto journalist, said that he was escorted away by two police officers who saw his media credentials just before they moved to arrest a large number of demonstrators who were protesting the city’s temporary restrictions on civil liberties.

Mr. Paikin said he saw another journalist, Jesse Rosenfeld, a contributor to Web site of The Guardian, the British newspaper, being held by two police officers while a third punched the reporter in the stomach. After Mr. Rosenfeld fell to the ground, the third officer jabbed an elbow into his back, Mr. Paikin said.

Violence perpetrated by Black Bloc anarchists was denounced by protest groups seeking to influence leaders at the summit. At The Green Market, Richard Matthews wrote last week, before Saturday's protest:

Although the UN chief has voiced his support for the green economy, security concerns for the G20 meetings in Toronto have forced the cancellation of the "Greening the Supply Chain" event. . . . The security presence is not only to ensure that foreign terrorists cannot use the event to attack the world's economic leaders, it is also in place to protect against domestic militants whose tactics have earned them the name Black Bloc. The self-described anarchists have declared war against capitalism and they seek violent confrontation with the authorities. . . .

Events were being cancelled days before the start of the G20. On Tuesday June 22, 2010, Green Enterprise Ontario and Live Green Toronto were prepared to present an event titled "Greening the supply chain - an eco-opportunity." However, instead of discussing ways of developing a green purchasing strategy, Toronto is closed for business.

This marks a familiar bifurcation among protest groups – distinguishing between those who peaceably assemble to petition leaders for the redress of grievances and those who seek violent confrontation with authorities – and shows the relation and disconnect between the wholesome face and the violent underbelly of the public body politic. However, this distinction also perfectly mirrors the disconnect that is constitutive of the global political establishment itself: world leaders put on a show of confidence, cooperation and goodwill toward all in front of the cameras while their policies result in the violent disruption and even destruction of the lives of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide.

Ironically, while many protest groups at the G8/G20 summit can be characterized as left-wing and far-left-wing organizations, among their most prominent goals is the reform of subsidy and export policy in industrialized nations, along lines that would please hard-line libertarians and even conservative Republicans. From the CS Monitor:

A leaked draft (pdf) of the final declaration of the summit, dated June 11, renews the G20’s commitment to “refrain from raising new barriers to investment or trade” until 2013. But it fails to set a strict deadline for the conclusion of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round of negotiations. This has been a sticking point between developed and developing countries, mostly over agricultural exports and subsidies.

The "sticking point" can be summed up in just a few lines. Developing nations demand restrictions on agricultural subsidies like those handed out in the United States and France, arguing that they act as a barrier to free trade and provide an unfair advantage to concerns from industrialized nations; and so they call for a "level playing field." Ironically, industrialized nations like the United States and France argue that the subsidies are necessary to ensure a "level playing field," since American and French farmers would simply not be able to compete on the global market and be driven out of business were it not for their massive subsidies. In other words, on this issue the consensus among Democrats and Republicans is that the United States should not have to conform to the strictures of the Washington Consensus. Mark Tapscott reported last month at The Washington Examiner:

Remember Scotty Pippen, the former NBA star? He was also a farmer. That's right, a real hayseed, who was so good at it that the federal government paid him $130,000 over a five-year period not to grow crops. I was able to report that fact back in 2002 because of the work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in posting on its web site a massive database of federal farm subsidy recipients maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture . . .

you can forget about updating that story any time soon because USDA is no longer updating the database. Seems that the Democratic Congress in 2008 changed the law that previously required the department to maintain the database to say that doing so was merely optional. The federal farm bureaucrats naturally opted out of disclosing how much they were paying people like former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson and multi-millionaire David Rockefeller not to grow crops. No doubt the decision was made to "save tax dollars."

As you can see from my 2002 column, the action in 2008 by Congress culminated efforts that stretched back at least to the days in 2001 and 2002 when the Democrats controlled the Senate under then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, was chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Now, the Center for Public Integrity reports that USDA paid nearly $16 billion in such subsidies in 2009, but finding out who got those billions will be all but impossible in the future, thanks to the decision against updating the database. What was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise in 2006 about the most honest and transparent Congress ever? [Emphases added.]
This action on the part of the Democratic congress was not enough to spare Republicans the embarrassment of revelations that they and their districts are among the most prominent beneficiaries of agricultural socialism. Late last year it was reported that outspoken Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's family had received a quarter of a million dollars in government handouts, and that the four districts receiving the largest payouts were all represented by supposedly conservative Republicans. From Politico:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) — so fond of accusing the Obama administration of foisting socialism on an unwilling America — has apparently been the recipient of about a quarter of million bucks in government handouts.

Liberal site Truthdig links to an Environmental Working Group analysis of federal agricultural subsidies and found that the Bachmann family farm, managed by her father-in-law until his recent death, received $251,000 in farm payments between 1995 and 2006.

Bachmann’s financial disclosure forms indicate her stake in the Wisconsin farm is worth up to $250,000. Her income from the farm has grown from $2,000 a year a few years back to as much as $50,000 for 2008 . . .

EWG found that the top four districts receiving the largest AG payments are represented by conservative Republicans: [emphasis added] • 1.) 3rd district of Nebraska (Rep. Adrian Smith - Republican) - $1,736,923,011 in subsidies go to 51,702 recipients. • 2.) 1st district of Kansas (Rep. Jerry Moran - Republican) - $1,315,979,151 in subsidies go to 75,802 recipients. •3.) 4th district of Iowa (Rep. Tom Latham - Republican) - $1,288,622,912 in subsidies go to 35,696 recipients. • 4.) 9th district of Texas (Rep. Randy Neugebauer - Republican) - $1,227,192,312 in subsidies go to 21,290 recipients.

This issue continues to dog supposedly conservative, free-market Republicans seeking office this November. As David Weigel reported in April:

Last week, Amy Gardner reported on the Tea Party flak faced by Tennessee congressional candidate Stephen Fincher over the roughly $200,000 per year he receives in federal farm subsidies. The size of Fincher's subsidies put him in a class of his own, but he's not alone in receiving such subsidies. According to USDA records downloaded by the Environmental Working Group, Indiana State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who is running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, received a total of $156,907.54 in subsidies from 1997 to 2006.

Confronted with the contradiction between favoring the free market while receiving massive government subsidies, Stutzman parroted the "level playing field" talking point while asserting that he wanted to "phase out" the program:

When asked about the subsides, Stutzman said that he hadn't taken too much heat -- "most people in Indiana respect the farmer" and confirmed that he'd promised Tea Partiers that he wanted to phase out the program.

"I do believe we should get out of the subsidy business," said Stutzman. "We should let free markets work. A permanent subsidy creates a permanent distortion of the market and right now farmers have to work within this system."

If elected, Stutzman said he would take a hard look at farm bills -- he pointed out that his Republican rivals, both congressional veterans, used to support them flat-out. [Emphasis added.]

"I make more off of crop insurance in a bad year that subsidy will ever pay. But we have to keep a level playing field globally," he said.

Does that mean radical left-wing groups at the G8 are in fact libertarian or conservative? Or does it make this conservative Republican a radical leftist?

American Centrist Party Merges with the Modern Whigs

I don't know how I missed this story earlier this week, but the American Centrist Party has merged with the Modern Whig Party. From an announcement at the Modern Whig Party:
We are pleased to announce that one of the largest moderate political movements in the nation has unanimously voted to merge with the Modern Whig Party. This means that we are being joined by a list of about 16,000 Americans who had initially signed on in support of the American Centrist Party. This merger is a natural fit as we both have been working toward a viable, mainstream and non-fringe political movement that values common sense, rational solutions ahead of partisan bickering and ideology.

On a practical level, we are receiving an infusion of a new core of moderate leaders throughout the nation. While the Modern Whig Party was revived by post-9/11 veterans, the effects of this merger further demonstrates the diverse makeup of this political movement. Work is now underway in other areas to expand our reach and maximize our potential while maintaining a foot in reality in terms of the continuing difficult task ahead.
NJ Centrist wrote on the merger:

In a time of such frustration with the American political system, there is a glimmer of hope, a sprout that needs nourishment to be sure, but a movement that is indeed germinating. Two of the largest moderate political movements, the American Centrist Party and the Modern Whig Party have decided to merge.

Mergers are not easy, but in the name of centrist progress, these two champions have put the American people first. Over 46,000 centrists and moderates are uniting under the Modern Whig Party banner. Additional members expected to join this energized movement.

As the Democrats and Republicans continue their polarized rhetoric designed to damage one another, some patriotic Americans are dedicated to finding another way. Many moderate parties have smaller infrastructures, yet are expanding, as the dissatisfaction with the Washington “blame game” grows.

Why is this merger important? With a National Debt that has escalated under both major parties, Americans must find another party to bring common sense and fiscal restraint to government. With special interests legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, Americans must find a party that demonstrates a higher integrity. Uniting centrists and moderates is essential to bringing the United States back from the partisan tribal warfare that has afflicted our country.

Established in 1833, the Whigs are one of America’s oldest mainstream political parties. They were the original party of Abraham Lincoln and four other U.S. Presidents. Revived by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the grassroots movement has quickly attracted tens of thousands of members. They represent moderate voters from all walks of life that cherry-pick between traditional Democratic and Republican ideals, or can choose another path, in what has been called the Modern Whig Philosophy.

Septimus writes at The Whig:
This is good news. This is something that has been in the works for several months, and it is good to see it happen. The Modern Whig Party is becoming the undisputed home of moderate, common-sense politial efforts. Welcome, members from the American Centrist Party!

48% See Government as Threat to Rights, 52% are Willing to Dispense With Them

A Rasmussen survey finds that 48% of Americans see government as a threat to individual rights. Via The Whig:

Nearly half of American Adults see the government today as a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Adults see the government today as a threat to rights. Thirty-seven percent (37%) hold the opposite view. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.
Unfortunately, this threat is all too real. Just last month, a WSJ/NBC poll found that 52% of Americans are willing to give up freedoms and liberties in the name of security theater:

How willing are you to give up personal freedoms and civil liberties to prevent another terrorist attack?

Very willing – 18%
Somewhat willing – 34%
Somewhat unwilling – 21%
Very unwilling – 23%
Not sure – 4%

Absolute Majorities Oppose Generic Democratic and Republican Candidates for Congress, 46% Open to Independent and Third Party Challengers

Among the most deceptive and self-serving myths perpetuated by the ideologues of the two-party state in the corporate commentariat and the ruling political class is the assertion that the American people are, as it were, split down the middle in their support for the Democratic and Republican parties. In reality, there are more registered voters who opt not to vote rather than throw their votes away in support of a Republican or a Democrat, as voter turnout statistics from the last forty years clearly demonstrate. Even in presidential election years, the candidates of the major parties barely garner the support of a majority of registered voters when their votes are tallied together! A new poll commissioned by NBC/WSJ (pdf) queried respondents specifically about their attitudes toward third party and independent candidates, rather than maintain the fiction that there are no alternatives to the corporatist stooges of the Democratic-Republican two-party state. Among the findings, via Ballot Access News:
Would you be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate for Congress, a Democratic candidate for Congress or for an independent or third party candidate for Congress?

Republican candidate – 31%
Democrat candidate – 34%
Independent or third party candidate – 25%
Not sure – 10%
Additionally, 46% of respondents stated that they would be enthusiastic or comfortable with an independent or third party candidate, while only 23% stated that they would have reservations or be uncomfortable about the prospect. Perhaps what is most instructive about these results is not the fact that such a large portion of the public is willing to consider a third party or independent candidate for Congress, but rather that the generic Democratic and Republican candidates are each opposed by an absolute majority of registered voters. Though the dead-enders of the duopoly parties may be willing to follow the Democrats and Republicans off the proverbial cliff, that doesn't mean we have to let them take the whole country with them.

On the Necessity of Opening Up Our Duopolized Debates to Third Party and Independent Voices

A dynamic three or four-person race looks to be developing in Virginia's fifth congressional district, for the seat currently held by Democrat Tom Perriello. Republicans have nominated careerist politician Robert Hurt, a move that grassroots conservatives promised to oppose by supporting an independent candidate for the office on the grounds that the likes of Hurt would not represent the people of the district but rather the interests of the Republican Party's political establishment. Tea party groups that have not sold their souls to the Republican party machine are now beginning to rally behind independent candidate Jeff Clark. An editorial in the Charlottesville Daily Progress criticizes the Republican's self-serving attempt to keep the independent out of any and all debates, and calls for his inclusion in such forums:
Is a political debate supposed to be for the benefit of the voters — or the politicians? Both, or else the politicians wouldn’t submit themselves to the process; after all, they want to win votes, not risk losing them.

But for the benefit of democracy, voters should come first. And for that reason, they should get the chance to hear all the candidates on the ballot, so they are better prepared to cast an intelligent vote.

State Sen. Robert Hurt, Republican, is currently locked in a debate about a debate: whether he is willing to allow third-party candidate Jeffrey C. Clark to join a session with himself and Democrat Rep. Tom Perriello, the incumbent. Mr. Perriello has agreed to Mr. Clark’s participation. Late last week, Mr. Hurt said that, no, he does not want a three-way debate. “We cannot allow the important debate in this election to be sidetracked by a candidate who is not serious about his campaign or his ability to win,” he said in a written statement. [Emphasis added.]

Mr. Clark was serious enough to get the requisite number of signatures on a petition to place his name on the ballot. He is a legitimate candidate. His ability to win? Doubtful. His Tea Party candidacy — if it runs true to the form demonstrated by previous third-party efforts — might be expected to pull no more than 3 percent of the vote.

But that doesn’t mean a third-party candidacy is valueless. If a third party can make a decent showing — even at just a few percentage points — it can send a real message to the winning side. Voters can register a strong statement even if their candidate doesn’t win. Thus they can affect, if not the election, then the direction of governance that follows the election.

But mainstream politicians often refuse to debate third-party contenders. They fear risking the chance that votes that might have been theirs would instead be transferred to the “nonviable” candidate. Because Mr. Hurt and Mr. Clark are both seeking conservatives’ votes, Mr. Hurt is perceived as protecting his own interests by refusing to let the Tea Partyer in on a three-way debate. In addition, he is embroiled in a further debate over whether he backtracked on an earlier statement that he would be willing to debate Mr. Clark. He was quoted as saying, “Absolutely.”

His campaign later said his answer was not meant to be a direct reply about whether he would allow Mr. Clark to debate, and that in fact he is not willing to debate him.
The statement also suggested that Mr. Perriello’s motivations for allowing Mr. Clark to debate were less than altruistic. If Mr. Clark’s presence could pull votes from Mr. Hurt, then that vote loss could help Mr. Perriello — and so it is to the incumbent’s advantage to allow the Tea Party candidate on stage.

This is an interesting sub-debate, but it is not the main issue. The main issue is the voters. And the voters would be best served by seeing and hearing all three candidates debate. All three will be on the ballot in November. Before they pull that lever, voters should be as well-informed as possible, and a three-way debate could be an immediate and effective form of political education.
This editorial is, of course, noteworthy for the fact that it calls for the inclusion of the independent candidate in the debate. More often than not, the mainstream media willingly collude with the ideologues of the two-party state in their efforts to ensure that as few people as possible realize there are alternatives to the stooges of the Democratic and Republican parties. Consider a recent example from Florida, which happened to be the subject for my most recent column at CAIVN:
Last week, the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors held their annual convention, where they hosted a forum for the Sunshine State's candidates for US Senate. Four candidates were invited, Republican-turned-Independent Charlie Crist, Republican Marco Rubio, and two Democrats, Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene. One would not know it from this line-up, but there are more than seven declared third party and independent candidates for the office, including Libertarian Alex Snitker and Constitution Party candidate Bernie DeCastro, both of whom have qualified for ballot access.

Snitker attended the forum to protest his exclusion from the event. According to a press release, the Libertarian stepped up to the floor microphone and asked to be included in the forum, but the request was denied by FPA President Dean Ridings who called for security to escort Snitker from the room.

The organization's justification for excluding Snitker from the event reveals how the media actively support the ruling political establishment in the guise of impartial objectivity. Only candidates who had received 10% support in a major poll were invited to participate in the forum. This sounds reasonable enough at first. However, third party and independent candidates are rarely, if ever, included in any major polls! The majority of such polls, many of them commissioned by major media outlets themselves, allow respondents to choose between Democrats and Republicans by name, but only offer the choice of "some other candidate" as an alternative.

The Florida Senate race is admittedly something of an exception. Crist's independent candidacy simply cannot be ignored since he is the state's governor. Nonetheless, if inclusion in a forum is conditional upon demonstration of support in major polls, but candidates are excluded by name from those very polls, then this seemingly "objective" criterion of support is nothing more than a fraud by means of which independent and third party candidates are barred from consideration as viable or legitimate alternatives to their Democratic and Republican counterparts.

The article goes on to list a number of such incidents from recent years. In the comments, however, Richard Winger responded by arguing that the overall impression of the piece is "too gloomy," stating: "In 2002, at least one minor party or independent candidate for Governor, US Senator, or US House-at-large did debate his or her major party opponents in 30 states. In 2006, that was true in 19 states." Fair enough. But still, third party and independent candidates for office should demand that they be included in every possible candidate forum. Their explicit exclusion from such events reinforces the impression that they are not "serious" candidates, while protesting such exclusions can go a long way toward demonstrating that they are indeed "serious" candidates.

The Only Wasted Vote is a Vote for a Republican or a Democrat

Rob McNealy is a Libertarian running for Congress in Colorado's sixth congressional district, which is currently represented by Republican Mike Coffman. On his campaign blog, McNealy relays a commentary by Alexander Massa arguing that the so-called "wasted vote theory" is in fact little more than a fallacy of duopoly ideology:
the wasted vote theory, of course, is the idea that by voting for a third party, you are “throwing your vote away”, or, as many conservatives would have you believe, that “a vote for a third party is a vote for the Democrats.”

Neither of those two absurd assertions are true, regardless of how many times they are repeated through the mainstream media or echo throughout the solemn halls of Congress. Voting for a third party is the only way to free America from the two party system that is strangling our country to death, burdening us with an utterly impossible national debt to pay off, skyrocketing crime and illegal immigration, and military adventurism across the globe. The fact is, the men behind the curtain pulling the strings of our political duopoly do not want you to break free from the chains of the two party system and find true freedom . . .

if the two major parties, the Republican and Democrat Parties, who have held power for about two centuries, are failing to do their duties to the American people as the parties in charge of this country, it is only logical that the American people would start to look elsewhere for new ideals and political leadership. It is wholly illogical to continue to choose the two same options over and over, hoping for a different outcome, when history has shown that you will only continue to get the same mediocre leadership over and over again. Indeed, many people would say that that fits the definition of insanity. . . .

Therefore, the only “wasted vote” is one cast for either of the two major parties. A vote cast for a third party would neither be wasted nor foolish. Instead, it would be one more vote towards freedom – true freedom, free of the left-right paradigm and the two-party system.

A Declaration of Independents in Washington State

Back in April, I wrote a number of posts on the Independent Network, a UK umbrella group dedicated to networking and facilitating the campaigns of independent candidates for public office. At the time, I noted that there seem to be few, if any, such organizations here in the United States. In Washington State, a group of five independent candidates for the state legislature have banded together to create the Washington Independents. The West Seattle Herald has just published a profile of the group:

Ask Independent 34th District House of Representatives candidate Geoffrey "Mac" McElroy about Democrats and Republicans and he will tell you, "The party's over." McElroy has networked with four other Independent candidates running for the same office, but in different districts. The result is their "Declaration of Independents" website. While they have disparate views on some political issues, they are unified in what they cite as "special interest politics and the failure of the two-party system to represent voters."

In addition to McElroy, the others are Craig Mayberry of the 42nd District which includes Bellingham and rural areas eastward and north to the Canadian border, Ken Nichols of the 27th District, in Tacoma, Tim Sutinen of the 19th District with the Columbia River as its southern border, and the Pacific Ocean on its Western edge, and Rich Carson of the 18th District, just east of the 19th District. It includes Columbia, Clark, and Cowlitz counties. There are 98 races for House seats in Washington State.

In their "Declaration of Independents" the candidates write:

We, the Independent candidates of the state of Washington, hereby proclaim that we are united in our belief that the political parties serve special interest money and do not represent the voters, and we want to get the special interest money and influence out of the government process and let citizens have a voice.

As Independents we don't want to create a new party. We also recognize that we have different ideas and political issues we are passionate about – so we don't always agree on specific issues. However, we want to create a dialogue in Olympia that is rational and productive when it comes to creating fiscally and socially responsible legislation that better serves Washingtonians.

Political freedom and independence today begins with freedom and independence from the Democratic and Republican parties, from the tyranny of the two-party state and duopoly system of government.

Flip-Flopping the Bums: the Case Against Reactionary Voting

From a letter to the editor of the Washington Olympian:

We hear a lot these days from citizens who want to throw the bums out by voting for the opposing political party. I wonder if they have really given thought to the effectiveness of their plan.

One of the biggest setbacks of our era is the two-party system. Whichever party is in power, the other party makes it their primary focus to stall, accuse, antagonize, belittle and hate them. Very little regard is given to the people they represent or the current crisis at hand.

It’s all about the party. Their energies go into fighting the other party rather than working to repair our broken nation. If you think your party doesn’t do this then you need take a closer and perhaps more honest look.

Voting for the other party does nothing but flip-flop the “bums.” This country is never going to heal itself until the voters strip away these two parties completely and vote in candidates who have no affiliation with any party, person or corporation and are free to actually represent the people.

How many times have we voted some new, fresh and uncorrupted candidate into office only to have them stymied until they agree to play ball with the good ol’ boys and stop meddling with the status quo.

I do not believe our usual house cleaning is in the best interest of our country. We need to build a new house – from the ground up.

Vote smart, not angry.


The Florida Tea Party, Republican Conspiracy Theory and the Loyalists of the Ruling Establishment

The Florida TEA Party has officially nominated twenty candidates for the state legislature. From a press release published at Third Party and Independent Daily:
Florida TEA Party Chairman Fred O'Neal announced that twenty (20) candidates for the Florida legislature met qualifying deadline today to qualify for the November general election. All would have the word 'TEA' appear on the ballot next to their name and are the official nominees of the TEA party.

"We promised months ago that Republicans that merely talked about lower taxes but then voted for bigger government would be targeted. Today, incoming Florida Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, incoming Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and Democrat leader Ron Saunders all have Florida TEA Party opponents," said O'Neal.

"We will expose these RINO Republicans as the frauds that they are. Taxpayers have a right to a real choice and the TEA Party will give it to them."
This news will come as no surprise to regular readers of Poli-Tea and TPID. Darcy Richardson stated as much in a commentary published at TPID almost three weeks ago, in which he considered the prospects for third party and independent candidates for office this November: "The party's best showings, however, might take place in some of the state legislative races, where the Tea Party could end up with as many as twenty-five candidates." Not surprisingly, Republicans have responded to the official announcement by asserting that the Florida TEA Party is part of an elaborate Democratic conspiracy, aided by the help of the liberal media and the forces of darkness. From the Buzz Blog via Independent Political Report:

As election qualifying ended Friday, the dust settled with a dozen or more tea party candidates challenging state lawmakers in contested races.

Republicans see a conspiracy theory: a number of the tea party candidates are former Democrats, some appear financially strapped to pay the $1,800 filing and others are filing to run in districts far away from their listed address. A number of the seats are also targeted by Democrats for takeover.

"The recent flurry of last minute filings by so –called “tea party candidates” looks awfully suspicious," said GOP Chairman John Thrasher in a statement. "While a few tea-party candidates across the state do have ties to the tea party movement, in the majority of instances, it appears that the Democrats have coordinated a dishonest attempt to hide phony candidates behind the name “tea party” and to confuse voters who may be supportive of the tea party movement, effectively stealing votes from true conservative candidates and injuring the grassroots tea party movement as a whole."

Of course, Republicans seek to pretend that the only legitimate "tea party" activists are tea party activists who support the Republican Party. But any self-described "tea party activist" who is not an advocate of political independence but rather just one more mouthpiece for the two-party establishment is effectively a traitor to the revolution. As I wrote back in February:
Tea party activists who advocate infiltration of the Democratic-Republican Party rather than independent and third party opposition to the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government would do well to re-open their history books. Imagine if, in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, colonists had not maintained their determination to achieve political independence, but rather sought accommodation with the British parliament and crown. Imagine if these colonists argued that the best way forward was not opposition to and confrontation with the ruling political establishment, but rather that the best strategy was to join with the Tories and Whigs in the British Parliament under the heel of the King to cement the relations of power that led to the groundswell of political discontent in the first place. Of course, there were such colonists. They sided with the crown against the revolutionaries and were derided as Loyalists by the Patriots of the American revolution. Sadly, in today's tea party movement, true patriots can be difficult to find while loyalists are a dime a dozen. Worse yet, the latter are even celebrated for their political cowardice and their reactionary support for the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government.

On Eliot Cutler's Independent Candidacy for Governor of Maine

My most recent piece at CAIVN is on the Maine gubernatorial race and focuses on the prospects of Eliot Cutler's independent candidacy following the Democratic and Republican primaries earlier this month:

The Maine gubernatorial race took its final shape last week following the Democratic and Republican party primaries. With the nominations of Democrat Libby Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage, Maine voters will choose from a field of at least five candidates for governor. In addition to Eliot Cutler, there are two more Independent candidates for the office who qualified for ballot access by petition: Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott.

However, among the Independent candidates, the Cutler campaign is widely viewed to have the best chance of giving the Democrat and Republican a run for their money. Indeed, as of February, Cutler had raised more money than both Libby Mitchell and Paul LePage, according to a report at the Augusta Insider.

Strategically, the nominations of Mitchell and LePage are said to bode well for Cutler, who is running on a moderate centrist platform. One commentator at the Portland Press Herald has suggested that the Democrats and Republicans have nominated "fringe candidates" who are "not up to the challenges ahead." At Pine Tree Politics, Clark Phinney agrees, writing, "LePage has the far right lane and Mitchell has the far left lane. That leaves the middle lanes wide open for Cutler to travel through, and, if he plays his cards right, cruise to victory."

Cutler also has recent history and current partisan trends on his side. Two of Maine's last five governors were Independents, and 37% of Maine voters identify themselves as Independents, outnumbering Democrats and Republicans by a comfortable margin (32% and 27% respectively).

However, in one of the few polls measuring public opinion in this race, Rasmussen found 7% support for Cutler, with 46% stating they were "not sure" about their impression of the Independent candidate. This may change relatively quickly as the Cutler camp appears to be preparing an aggressive media campaign, having released a major television spot just days after the primary election.

The Engaged Citizen vs. the Passive Consumer: Media Malpractice and the Illinois Senate Race

Among the most debilitating effects of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government is the transformation of an ideally engaged citizenry into passive consumers of political infotainment and pliant objects of ideological manipulation. Yesterday, I noted that discontent with the Democratic and Republican candidates for US Senate in Illinois has led to a spike in support for Green Party Senate candidate LeAlan Jones (14% according to a recent poll). Support for the Green Party's gubernatorial candidate, Rich Whitney, is also now approaching double-digits (9%). Ross Levin writes at Independent Political Report:
Interestingly, Whitney was only seen favorably by 5 percent of those polled, much as Senate candidate LeAlan Jones only had 2 percent say they had a favorable opinion of him. For both Greens, 80 percent or more of the respondents didn’t have an opinion one way or the other, showing that the biggest challenge in their campaigns might simply be making the Illinois electorate aware that they exist as an option.
Ross is right on the mark here, but, as with so many things, this is easier said than done. Consider the following lines from a commentary by Chicago area columnist and radio host Ray Hanania. Hanania states that the choice between the Democratic and Republican candidates, Giannoulias and Kirk, constitute a "sad situation" for voters and then writes:
So what do we do as voters? We could vote for one of the Third Party candidates, but I really don’t know too much about them because they can’t seem to raise the funds to pay for the literature to tell me who they are. While they think it is the responsibility of the media to publicize their candidacies, it is their responsibility to win over the hearts and minds of the voters and get their support and campaign contributions. That is not going to happen. So, we’re stuck with Giannoulias and Kirk.
At the dawn of the so-called information age, it is difficult to imagine a more pathetic excuse to remain ignorant of the full range of choices one is afforded in the voting booth. Hanania's position effectively amounts to the following: "I am not going to consider voting for any third party candidates because they haven't sent me any junk mail yet." Hanania could have chosen to do a bit of work and read up on the third party candidates for US Senate in Illinois so as to inform his readers of alternatives to the stooges of the Democratic and Republican party machines. Instead, in the remainder of his column, he opted to regurgitate the sort of boilerplate that passes for "strategic" advice in Democratic and Republican circles.

If, as Hanania claims, it is not the media's responsibility to publicize the candidacies of third party political hopefuls, then it is also not the media's responsibility to publicize the candidacies of any political hopefuls, and so he probably should not have written the column at all. But this is absolute nonsense. Arguably, if a media organization is not simply an explicitly partisan political outlet, and at least pretends to some form of journalistic objectivity, then it has a clear and distinct responsibility to publicize the candidacies of all ballot qualified candidates for a given office. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, an informed citizenry is the bulwark of democracy. However, the ideology of the two-party state promulgated by the corporate media would have us believe that journalistic objectivity consists in nothing more than ensuring one queries a Democratic and a Republican source, whatever the issue at hand may be, as if every issue is exhausted once a Democrat and Republican come to an agreement or a disagreement, and as if no other perspective on the matter is possible.

In case folks like Ray Hanania are unaware, "literature" of all sorts can now be found on the internet, and indeed, candidates for public office have entire websites devoted to their campaigns where they explain who they are and what they stand for to anyone who's interested in finding out. There are at least seven third party and independent candidates for US Senate in Illinois:
Randy Stufflebeam, Constitution Party
LeAlan Jones, Green Party
Michael Labno, Libertarian Party
John Blyth, Independent
Will Boyd, Independent
Michael Dorsey, Independent
Stan Jagla, Independent
In future posts, I'll take a closer look at a number of these candidates. Perhaps one or two would be interested in an interview.

Illinois Greening: the Green Party is Positioned to Make a Significant Impact in Midterm Elections

The US Senate race in Illinois perfectly illustrates the dysfunctionality of Democratic-Republican party politics and government. While Republican Mark Kirk continues to paint Democrat Alexi Giannoulias as a "mob banker" and Giannoulias continues to highlight every instance in which Kirk has "misremembered" the details of his military career, Illinois voters have begun to seek out viable alternatives. In a new survey from Public Policy Polling, the Democrat and Republican together only garner the support of 61% of respondents, with 14% in favor of Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones and 24% undecided. From the PPP blog:
Our newest poll in the state finds the unpopular Mark Kirk and the unpopular Alexi Giannoulias combining for a paltry 61% of the vote with 14% of voters going to Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones and 24% undecided. . . . The beneficiary of the voter disgust with both Giannoulias and Kirk is Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones. Despite being viewed favorably by only 2% of voters in the state he's pulling 14% in the horse race. Posing a particular problem for Giannoulias is that Jones is getting a remarkable 26% of the black vote right now.
These results have already begun to generate positive press for Jones. Charles Thomas writes for a local ABC News affiliate in Illinois:

According to an independent poll released today, the major party candidates in the race, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, are losing support, perhaps opening the door to some unexpected contenders.

One is LeAlan Jones, the assistant football coach at Simeon High School. He has focused on helping young people as a journalist and television producer, and now as Green Party candidate to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.

"These issues that I'm talking about are not new," said Jones. "These are issues I've been consistent with over the last 18 years even though I'm only a 31-year-old.". . . "You have two candidates that are talking about each other as opposed to the issues that matter to the people," said Jones. . . .

The fact that LeAlan Jones polled 14 percent would seem to make him eligible to be included in debates. [Emphasis added.]

Given that the Illinois Green Party just officially kicked off its 2010 campaign last Saturday, Jones is off to a promising start. Though it has a number of primary planks, Jones's platform remains somewhat sparse by design. On the issues page of his website, we read:
My platform is your platform. Over the coming months, I plan to hold listening sessions in every county in Illinois and expand this platform so that it represents the collective wisdom, passion and vision of those determined to make America and Illinois as good as they can be.
Perhaps he will take a page out of a fellow Green's playbook. The Green Party's gubernatorial candidate in Illinois, Rich Whitney, has already generated a number of positive stories in local news outlets while traveling the state by train and bicycle to call attention to the importance of "sustainable transportation." By building off of one another's successes and capitalizing on the failings and weaknesses of the major party candidates, the Green Party's candidates have a chance to make some real gains in Illinois this November.

Democracy in America: All Parties are Minor Parties

In his classic study of Democracy in America from 1835, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville did not fail to consider the nature and character of political parties in the United States. Writing in the midst of what is now sometimes called the second party system, Tocqueville draws a distinction between what he calls "great parties" and "minor parties." He writes:

The political parties that I style great are those which cling to principles rather than to their consequences; to general and not to special cases; to ideas and not to men. These parties are usually distinguished by nobler features, more generous passions, more genuine convictions, and a more bold and open conduct than the others. In them private interest, which always plays the chief part in political passions, is more studiously veiled under the pretext of the public good; and it may even be sometimes concealed from the eyes of the very persons whom it excites and impels.

Minor parties, on the other hand, are generally deficient in political good faith. As they are not sustained or dignified by lofty purposes, they ostensibly display the selfishness of their character in their actions. They glow with a factitious zeal; their language is vehement, but their conduct is timid and irresolute. The means which they employ are as wretched as the end at which they aim. Hence it happens that when a calm state succeeds a violent revolution, great men seem suddenly to disappear and the powers of the human mind to lie concealed. Society is convulsed by great parties, it is only agitated by minor ones; it is torn by the former, by the latter it is degraded; and if the first sometimes save it by a salutary perturbation, the last invariably disturb it to no good end.

On the basis of this distinction, one can easily conclude that there are no "great parties" in the United States today: the smallness of Democratic-Republican party politics and government forces us, paradoxically, to place the major parties among the ranks of the minor parties. Tocqueville himself drew the very same conclusion. He continues:

America has had great parties, but has them no longer; and if her happiness is thereby considerably increased, her morality has suffered.

Tocqueville effectively argues that the Federalist and Anti-Federalist associations of the country's foundational years constituted something like a grand dyad, in comparison with which succeeding parties could only pale in comparison:

When the War of Independence was terminated and the foundations of the new government were to be laid down, the nation was divided between two opinions--two opinions which are as old as the world and which are perpetually to be met with, under different forms and various names, in all free communities, the one tending to limit, the other to extend indefinitely, the power of the people.
Tocqueville then goes on to consider the means and effects of the politics propagated by the dominance of minor parties:
Great political parties, then, are not to be met with in the United States at the present time. Parties, indeed, may be found which threaten the future of the Union; but there is none which seems to contest the present form of government or the present course of society. The parties by which the Union is menaced do not rest upon principles, but upon material interests. These interests constitute, in the different provinces of so vast an empire, rival nations rather than parties. . . .

In the absence of great parties the United States swarms with lesser controversies, and public opinion is divided into a thousand minute shades of difference upon questions of detail. The pains that are taken to create parties are inconceivable, and at the present day it is no easy task . . . Nevertheless, ambitious men will succeed in creating parties, since it is difficult to eject a person from authority upon the mere ground that this place is coveted by others. All the skill of the actors in the political world lies in the art of creating parties. A political aspirant in the United States begins by discerning his own interest, and discovering those other interests which may be collected around and amalgamated with it. He then contrives to find out some doctrine or principle that may suit the purposes of this new association, which he adopts in order to bring forward his party and secure its popularity.

However, Tocqueville perceives an echo of the –now, as then, extinct– great parties in everyday American politics, and, in a quasi-metaphysical affirmation, states that aristocratic or democratic impulses are a motivating factor in all American political parties because they are a motivating factor in all political parties:

The deeper we penetrate into the inmost thought of these parties, the more we perceive that the object of the one is to limit and that of the other to extend the authority of the people. I do not assert that the ostensible purpose or even that the secret aim of American parties is to promote the rule of aristocracy or democracy in the country; but I affirm that aristocratic or democratic passions may easily be detected at the bottom of all parties, and that, although they escape a superficial observation, they are the main point and soul of every faction in the United States.
And today? Is there really any question whether the so-called "major parties" serve to extend or limit the authority of the people? whether they are motivated by democratic or aristocratic aims and impulses? To extend the authority of the people is to limit the power of the ruling political class. To expand the authority of the ruling political class, one must appear to extend that of the people. This is the art of politics under the conditions of the contemporary two-party state: the partisan, populist rhetoric of the ruling factions serves primarily to conceal the common oligarchical agenda of the ruling political class.

The Spirit of (Anti-)Party and the Two-Party State

A number of recent posts here have focused on what we might call the spirit of anti-party. In a similar vein, a piece at magaliwitz makes "the case for a zero party system," promising to expand upon the topic in future articles:
We operate our government through two political parties who, rather than being beholden to their constituents, are beholden to their corporate and special interest masters. Rather than being beholden to the core philosophies that they purport to espouse, their primary focus is to gain power and maintain and increase the power they get. . . .

Our parties don’t stand for anything anymore. They pretend to stand for substantive things, but they really don’t. They’re doing what George Washington said they would do-they “agitate the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms” in attempting to cling to power. That’s their sole function. They ceased to govern and began to rule. After all, governing demands accountability to those being governed, while ruling requires only propaganda and servitude by those being ruled. . . .

I keep hearing that we need a third party in this country. What the hell for? Typical American reaction, you see two bad things, now let’s add another bad thing to it in the hope that things will improve. All I need is another group of boobs that play slave to corporate America. All I need is another party that advertises a philosophy and abandons it to hold on to power. That’ll fix things all right! . . .

There are practical considerations to make when abandoning the party structure of government to be sure, but other countries have done it. Future articles will explore how that can be accomplished.

Political Independence: the Anti-Party

The Republican Herald reports on the independent candidacy of Dennis Baylor, who is running for the Pennsylvania state legislature as an independent under the banner of the "No-Party Party":

The field of candidates seeking the state 125th Legislative District seat grew this week. Dennis Baylor, running under the No-Party Party banner, got the required 308 signatures to appear on the General Election ballot. He'll challenge incumbent Democrat Tim Seip and Republican Ettore G. DiCasimirro in November. . . .

The 60-year-old retired engineer, who resides in Tilden Township, also said he sees "systematic" problems in Harrisburg, with pressing issues often overshadowed by partisan bickering. He said he has watched major national debates continue to go without resolutions as Republicans and Democrats spend the vast majority of their time fighting with one another. "I think we're getting to that point in Pennsylvania," he said.

Specifically, Baylor stressed cutting state spending. He supports the downsizing or outright elimination of some programs, including pre-kindergarten programs paid for with taxpayer money. He said such programs aim "to turn government into some ad hoc babysitter."

Baylor also supports major overhauls to Pennsylvania's criminal justice system, which has become the third-largest expense to taxpayers. "There are some issues in this country that have gotten to the point that they aren't even topics of discussion anymore. That is one of them," he said.

Baylor's campaign slogan, featured at his website: "Stop the most extravagant state government in America."

Ballot Access Law, Political Sock-Puppetry and a Suggestion for a Divide and Conquer Third Party Fundraising Strategy

The ballot access regime that has been constructed in the United States over the last century aims primarily at keeping alternatives to the corporatist stooges of the Democratic and Republican parties off the ballot at all costs. In order to ensure the reproduction of the two-party state and duopoly system of government, the Democratic and Republican parties must keep political competition to an absolute minimum. Indeed, the logical conclusion of the political strategies that have come to characterize Democratic-Republican party government is the abolition of competitive elections as such.

However, it is also in the immediate interests of each ruling party if the other is forced to compete with third party challengers. Thus, Democrats should be among the staunchest supporters of libertarian and conservative alternatives to the Republican wing of the global warfare and corporate welfare state, just as Republicans should be among the staunchest supporters of liberal and progressive alternatives to the Democratic wing of the global warfare and corporate welfare state. The fact that this is not the case just goes to show how deeply invested Republicans and Democrats are in the reproduction of the duopoly system of government, and of the global warfare and corporate welfare state. But there are always noteworthy exceptions.

The Green Party of Texas is currently embroiled in something of a scandal following revelations that a Republican consultant from out of state organized a ballot access petition drive that will ensure they remain on the ballot through 2012. The Republican's logic is simple to discern: if Greens are on the ballot, they will take votes away from Democrats, thus aiding Republican victory. In accepting such a "gift" the Green Party's logic is equally easy to discern: if Greens are not on the ballot, they cannot compete; but if they are on the ballot, they intend to win, defeating both Republican and Democratic opponents. A lengthy editorial at Green Party Watch provides background and discusses the matter in some depth:

This week it was revealed that: a) a Republican consultant in Arizona arranged for… b) a non-profit corporation in Missouri to pay $200,000 for… c) a petitioning company “Free & Equal” to collect 92,000 signatures and… d) give them as a gift to the Green Party of Texas to get a slate of candidates on the ballot.

Are Democrats pissed? You betcha. They are suing the Texas Green Party, Free & Equal, and “Take Initiative America” to delay the balloting of Green Party candidates until they can determine the source of the funding, and they are pointing fingers at Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The Green Party of Texas is cooperating by agreeing to delay submitting their slate of candidates until the courts rule on the matter. kat swift, State Coordinator of the Green Party of Texas, has been reported saying that they believe the petition drive was legal, but will wait for written assurance of that fact. swift also said that once the petition drive is determined to be legal, the Green Party of Texas will field a slate of candidates regardless of what individual funded the petition drive . . .

This is not the first time that Republicans have “conspired” to help Green Party candidates to surpass ballot access barriers that they themselves have created. Republicans are accused of financially assisting Ralph Nader’s Independent campaigns for President in 2004 and 2008, neither of which tipped the election . . .

Each time there is outrage that Greens would accept Republican money to surpass ballot access barriers set by Democrats, but no efforts by Democrats to establish fair and equal access to the ballot. For Democrats and Republicans it is all about winning, not “principles”, but for the Green Party it is only about having an opportunity to appear on the ballot and appeal to the electorate. [Emphases added.]
While there seems to be no dispute regarding just who funded the Green Party petition effort in Texas, the same cannot be said of the Michigan Tea Party. Last month it was reported that Democratic party groups were likely behind efforts to gain ballot access for third party Tea Party candidates for public office. From the Detroit Free Press:
Michigan Tea Party activists were agitated Monday, convinced that a shadowy group of left-wingers was trying to hijack their identity and run faux Tea Party candidates for office to siphon votes from authentic, limited-government conservatives.

The fears were aroused by an apparent petition drive in southeast Michigan aimed at qualifying the candidates for the Michigan ballot under an official Tea Party banner. Leaders in the state's Tea Party movement said Monday they knew of no connection between actual Tea Party activists and the petition circulators. Backers of the petition drive have so far chosen to obscure their identity, declining to respond to news media inquiries or file paperwork with the state Bureau of Elections.
At least one of the activists behind the effort was revealed a few weeks later. Also from the Detroit Free Press:
A Tuscola County man unknown to local Tea Party activists has been identified as a contact person for the mysterious petition drive to qualify a Tea Party party for the Michigan ballot. . . .

Mark Steffek of Reese filed incorporation documents in April, registering the Tea Party name in Michigan. Last week, Steffek registered the Tea Party as political party with state elections officials. Mark Graham, who heads the Tea Party movement in Tuscola County, said this morning he’s not met or heard of Steffek . . .

Steffek’s political activity in the past appears to be limited to contributions to UAW and Farm Bureau PACs, and to the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of former Democratic Congressman David Bonior, of Mt. Clemens.
While such efforts are looked down upon in many quarters, they should not be dismissed out of hand. It is no secret that minor parties and their candidates for office face an uphill fund-raising battle against Democrats and Republicans. Why not openly pursue a divide and conquer strategy? Why shouldn't the Green party openly court top contributors to the Republican Party? Why shouldn't the Libertarian Party seek out contributions from leading Democratic campaign contributors? The fund-raising letters write themselves: help us defeat your enemy.

The Independent Party of Oregon is a Force to be Reckoned with in the State's New Fusion Voting System

Third party voters and activists disappointed by the passage of Proposition 14 in California may be heartened by consideration of the new electoral fusion system that has gone into effect this year in Oregon. Passed in 2009, Oregon SB 326 effectively created an aggregated fusion voting system in the Beaver State, allowing candidates for partisan public office to obtain the nominations of up to three political parties. The relatively young Independent Party of Oregon appears to be the most immediate beneficiary of the new system. Founded in 2007, the IPO is already the state's third largest party, with over 50,000 registered voters. It is thus no surprise that over 80 candidates for public office are currently seeking the party's official endorsement. From an announcement on June 3rd:
77 candidates are seeking the party's nomination for state legislative office, including 39 Democrats, 32 Republicans, 5 Independents, and a Libertarian. Of these 77 candidates, 60 of them already won their their own major party primaries. 36 of them are incumbent legislators. The party expects to have 20 contested races for its nominations, including 9 in the Oregon Senate and 11 in the Oregon House.
From an announcement on June 4th:
The Party qualified 3 candidates for Governor and 6 candidates for U.S. Representative. In addition to the contested primary race for Governor, there will be contested races for the Independent Party nomination in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Congressional Districts.
The IPO does not have a platform, per se, but rather supports a series of political, structural and electoral reforms. Among other things, the party calls for: campaign finance reform aimed at limiting the power of corporations to influence elections; the institution of a unicameral state legislature; the easing of ballot access restrictions; and the empowerment of citizens through a voter initiative process. Thus, if the party's nomination is conditional upon a candidate's support for any number of these issues, electoral fusion in Oregon will likely lead to significant reforms aimed at empowering citizens over and against corporate interests typically represented by the Democratic and Republican political establishment.

The two-party establishment clearly recognizes the threat posed to them by the Independent Party's new-found influence. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have filed complaints against the Independent Party in the last two weeks questioning the group's legitimacy as well as its fund-raising practices. The Independent Party has called the accusations "baseless" and "without merit." In a guest column at Oregon Live, the party's secretary, Sal Peralta defends the IPO and the state's new fusion voting system, writing:
This will be the most open and inclusive primary election in Oregon's history. For the first time, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and Greens -- more than 80 candidates in all -- will compete head-to-head for the nomination of the Independent Party. Every member of the party will have the opportunity to vote. Voters will see the winners of these races designated as "Independent" in November because under Oregon's new fusion voting law, every candidate may now list the names of up to three nominating parties on the general election ballot (for example, "Connie Candidate -- Democrat, Independent" or "Sammy Citizen -- Republican, Independent"). . . .

I hope that these candidates will spend the next few months talking to voters about the need for increased cooperation, transparency and bipartisanship in government, and about reducing special-interest influence in politics through comprehensive campaign finance reform . . .

The Independent Party can be a new kind of force in Oregon politics, a party that seeks to reward people for working collaboratively to solve the major issues of the day rather than simply toeing the caucus line.

I see the Independent Party as a tool that can help bring together a coalition of legislators and officeholders from across the political spectrum in service to a moderate, bipartisan, public interest center that is underserved in politics today.

Who's with us?
For more on fusion voting in the United States, see also my recent column at CAIVN, entitled, "Fusion Voting and Independent Politics."

Ballot Access and California's Proposition 14

Yesterday, I wrote that since California's "top two" primary will basically create a run-off style election system, the primary ballot access question will be what the rules are governing access to the primary ballot. In a lengthy article at The Moderate Voice, Nick Riviera sums up the state's new ballot access regime, and argues that it is "bad news" for independents:

Per Section 5100 of the California Election Code, ballot access for existing political parties (as opposed to proposed political parties) requires one of the two conditions below to be met:

(a) If at the last preceding gubernatorial election there was polled for any one of its candidates for any office voted on throughout the state, at least 2 percent of the entire vote of the state.

(b) If on or before the 135th day before any primary election, it appears to the Secretary of State, as a result of examining and totaling the statement of voters and their political affiliations transmitted to him or her by the county elections officials, that voters equal in number to at least 1 percent of the entire vote of the state at the last preceding gubernatorial election have declared their intention to affiliate with that party.

Both options (a) and (b) tend to be difficult for third party candidates. Third party candidates rarely manage to obtain more than 2% of the vote for governor (this was accomplished by the Greens in the 2006 Gubernatorial Election and by the Greens & Libertarians in the 2002 Gubernatorial Election), but they tend to do much better in other statewide elections such as Lieutenant Governor, State Controller, and Insurance Commissioner).

On the other hand, third party candidates almost always fail to garner enough signatures from a number of registered voters equal to 1% of the statewide vote in the preceding gubernatorial election, as required by option (b). Therefore, as a general rule, it is easier for a third party to achieve ballot access in California via option (a) than via option (b).

With Proposition 14, only two candidates will advance to the November general election, and when it comes to statewide elections such as governor, lieutenant governor, state controller, you had better believe that those two candidates will be the top Democratic candidate and the top Republican candidate.

Proposition 14 supporters will point out that third party candidates will still have the option of fielding candidates in the June primary. The problem, however, is that under Section 5100 of the California Election Code, option (a) (attaining ballot access by obtaining at least 2% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election) can only be obtained during the general election–not the primary election.

Opponents of Proposition 14 voiced this concern in hopes that the crafters of Proposition 14 would amend the law to make it easier for third party candidates to achieve ballot access (this was done for 2004’s Proposition 62, which was defeated by Californians). However, the crafters of Proposition 14 were unwilling to amend the law (as Proposition 62 would have done, had it passed).

If third party candidates fail to make it to the November general election, option (a) no longer becomes an option for them. Therefore, Proposition 14, as it is currently written, makes it virtually impossible for most of California’s recognized third parties to maintain ballot access given that third parties are rarely able to qualify via option (b).

Voters Pass Proposition 14 in California: the Spirit of (Anti-)Party

According to the results from the California Secretary of State's office, California voters have passed Proposition 14 (54.2% to 45.8%), thus instituting a so-called "top two" primary system. It is highly ironic – or is it rather fitting? – that the ballot measure went before voters on primary day rather than on the day of the general election. Supporters of the proposition argued that the existing primary system depresses voter turnout by disenfranchising millions of voters in the first round of the election process. Let's look at the numbers then. California has 16,897,383 registered voters. Of them, 3,838,510 voted on Proposition 14, for a grand total of 23% voter turnout on the measure. 2,077,100 supported it and 1,761,410 voted against it. So Proposition 14 was passed into law with the support of just 12% of registered voters.

Given that the proposition was opposed by all six ballot qualified parties in the state –an unusual coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Peace and Freedom and the American Independent Party– there are sure to be numerous legal challenges to the measure. Indeed, the CA Secretary of State stated that an "army of lawyers" would be looking into the constitutionality of the new system if it was passed by voters.

Unless any such challenge is successful, beginning next year California will effectively have a run-off style election system, in which all candidates for partisan public office (presidential contests excluded) will be listed on the same primary election ballot, and the "top-two" vote-getters across the board will proceed to the general election. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, a staunch opponent of the measure, writes:
California now has the most restrictive general election ballot access in the nation. Even Georgia always has three candidates on the November ballot for statewide office. Even Oklahoma typically has three candidates on the November ballot for Congress, as does North Carolina.
However, if we understand "top-two" as a form of run-off system, the primary ballot access question will be what the rules are governing access to the primary ballot. Nonetheless, the logic behind the structure of "top two" clearly rests almost entirely on the form of binary duopolist thinking with which we are already quite familiar; but, curiously, advocates of the Democratic and Republican Parties –and indeed of all parties– were among the staunchest opponents of the measure. Perhaps this, more than anything else, tipped the scales in favor of the proposition. One can easily imagine voters reasoning that if the parties are so strongly opposed to it, it must be good. That is the spirit of (anti-)party. Maybe they are right. What's the worst that could happen? California would end up with a dysfunctional government?

Update: The New York Times Room for Debate blog is currently carrying on a discussion of Proposition 14 by individuals both for and against the measure, including a third party advocate and an observer from Washington State, where a form of top-two was instituted a few years ago.

Is Maine a Bellwether State for Independent Politics? An Interview with Eliot Cutler, Independent Candidate for Governor of Maine

Primary elections are being held in eleven states today, as the New York Times reports. Among them is Maine, which has a wide-open race for governor, for which three independent candidates have already qualified. In preparation for a post on the final shape of the Maine gubernatorial election, I contacted the campaign of independent candidate Eliot Cutler over the weekend, and was kindly granted an interview via email. Though you wouldn't exactly know it from the corporate media, two of Maine's last five governors have been independents, Angus King and James Longley. As stated in the interview, Eliot Cutler believes "voters will make it three for six this fall." Asked why he is running outside the two-party system, Cutler states:
I am running as an Independent because I am one. When I worked for Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party was the party of reform. I believe that at least in Maine, it no longer is. I left the Democratic Party in 2005 . . . I supported a moderate Republican who lost his party's primary to a social conservative in the 2006 governor's race. I have since concluded that the leadership of both parties has become captive to the various special interests that control them and that they are both incapable to governing from the moderate center. I am committed to doing that and to giving voice and representation to what I believe is an overwhelming majority of independent and moderate Maine voters who want to see Maine government work again.
Head over to Third Party and Independent Daily to read the whole interview with Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor of Maine.