With less than half of the country voting, you'd think Americans would be starving for new political parties and the media would be eager to report their new ideas.
Third-party candidates — including Greens, Libertarians, Natural Law and others — face an uphill battle of time, money and name recognition. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get on the ballot.
This year a crop of low-profile candidates — both young and old, but all passionate — are providing third and even fourth choices in Ohio and Kentucky races dominated by Republicans and Democrats. These low-budget, rookie candidates love or hate Ronald Reagan, believe government is a tool to boost equality or an instrument of power for the elite. Most important, they believe the two major parties and some of the media are stifling debate about important issues.
The Green Party, once a coalition of feminists, environmentalists and left-leaning activists, has morphed into a political movement headed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
The Libertarians, founded in the early 1970s, are by sheer numbers the nation's most successful third party. More than 300 Libertarians have won offices around the country on their less-government platform, although none have been elected to Congress or other high-ranking positions.
The Natural Law Party, an international movement founded in 1992 on the belief man-made laws should match nature's laws, has drawn supporters from Ross Perot's fractured Reform Party, the remains of which nominated conservative Pat Buchanan for president.
If history is any indication, all of the third parties face an uphill battle for national success in the American political system.
The Rough Rider tried it
Third-party activity in races for local offices isn't well-documented, but smaller parties have participated in presidential elections for decades, according to Zane Miller, a University of Cincinnati professor emeritus specializing in history in politics.
"Third parties are as American as apple pie," Miller says.
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, won a four-way race featuring a split Democratic party and the Constitutional Union Party.
The first Progressive Party split from the Republicans in 1912 to support women's right to vote and other social policies, backing former President Theodore Roosevelt against incumbent William H. Taft. The GOP split helped elect Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Perot and the late Alabama Governor George Wallace have attracted millions of popular votes, shifting the focus of presidential elections. But no third-party candidate has reached the presidency in the 20th century.
The current two-party dominance has its roots in the 1920s and 1930s, when people were losing faith in democracy, according to Miller. Both Hitler and Mussolini gained power through democratic political parties. Socialism seemed a real possibility in the United States, so the two major parties began to co-opt positions of the left and right when their ideas became popular. Since then, third parties have had a "tough row to hoe," Miller says.
But there's been a growing public sentiment against the two-party system since the 1950s, according to Miller. That's when the national political parties began to assert control over which candidates ran for office.
"The system naturally is weighted against third parties," says UC political-science professor Michael Margolis. "What would you expect?"
For example, presidential races are winner-take-all events. In every state except Maine and Nebraska, the popular-vote winner takes all the state's electoral votes. So even though Perot received roughly 20 percent of the popular vote in 1992, he didn't get any electoral votes, because he didn't win a single state.
"There's nothing in the law that says you have to do it that way," Margolis says.
The last third-party presidential candidate to get an electoral vote was George Wallace in 1968.
Third-party candidates have a slightly easier time at the local level. But there are still obstacles, according to Gene Beaupre, who managed campaigns for Democrats Jerry Springer, David Mann and Dwight Tillery. Beaupre teaches at Xavier University.
"Every candidate has two problems, name recognition and money," Beaupre says.
The dilemma faced by third-party candidates is they lack organizations to promote their messages or raise money, and the news media isn't interested in covering candidates that don't seem to have a chance.
The new Green Party
In January the Green Party of Kentucky didn't exist — at least not formally.
Ken Sain, a former Kentucky Enquirer sports editor and Green Party follower for several years, maintained a Web site to collect names of people interested in the party. But not much happened after 1996, when Sain moved here from Los Angeles and consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran a low-key race for president. Then in the fall of 1999, Nader decided to run a full-fledged campaign.
When Sain heard Nader was hitting the road, he decided to get involved. In late February, Sain met with three of the people he'd been talking to: a Northern Kentucky artist, a Northern Kentucky IRS employee and a Louisville man. Over coffee at McDonald's — three of the four are vegetarians — they named themselves party officers with the stipulation formal elections would follow later.
In March, Chaz Martin, a junior English and history major at the University of Kentucky, was watching C-SPAN when its coverage shifted to Ralph Nader and his fledgling campaign.
"And all of a sudden I felt like there was somebody who was not afraid to speak the truth," Martin says.
The Greens' social-justice platform attracted Martin; the platform is anti-sprawl and anti-death penalty and in favor of marijuana legalization, universal health care, campaign-finance reform, public transportation and a living wage.
If marijuana were legalized, Kentucky would be the "richest state in a week," Martin says.
Martin contacted the Kentucky Green Party through a Web site and learned a Greens chapter had started at UK about one week earlier. Within a month, Nader visited Lexington, and Martin was the co-chair of the Kentucky Green Party. At the party's Denver convention, he cast the state delegation's votes to nominate Nader.
"It was probably the high point of my life for me," Martin says.
He hasn't slowed since then, organizing a drive that collected 8,000 signatures to put Nader on Kentucky's ballot. He also was a main organizer of protests against third-party exclusion at the vice presidential debates in Danville, Ky. on Oct. 5. A few hundred people, mostly young Greens, marched down the middle of downtown Danville, chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" and "Bush and Gore, corporate whores!" Although demonstrators only had permits to march on sidewalks, police not only let them pass, but even blocked traffic for them. Surprised Democrats and Republicans looked on, some amused, puzzled or agitated.
A slow grass-roots movement preceded the recent surge in Green political activity, according to Brian Hagemann, 37, who advises three UC student groups and is a Web designer for UC's department of student life.
By the early 1990s, a coalition of activists with backgrounds in the environment, workers' rights, feminism and other causes united to form a national Green Party. The party didn't promote candidates, but instead served as an information clearinghouse for dozens of local affiliates, such as the Ohio Valley Greens in Cincinnati. In 1995, a dozen Green groups were active in Ohio. When a group wanted to put on a seminar on global warming, locals called the national Greens for advice.
The local Greens peaked, Hagemann says, in December 1994 or 1995 with a forum on hate crimes and Cincinnati's Issue 3, which about 100 people attended. Then more politically minded Greens proposed backing Nader for president in 1996. The idealists in the party, including Hagemann, wanted nothing to do with electoral politics. They wanted to change the middle class' perspective on issues instead of using issues to attract votes.
The same split happened in Green parties all over Europe, Hagemann says. Some European countries have multiple Green parties, one backed by idealists and another by the electorally oriented.
In 1996 the political Greens formed a state association of Green parties and began a petition drive to place Nader on the ballot. The idealists dropped out.
"A lot of people that spent 10 or 15 years building the Green Party in this country have totally disappeared," Hagemann says.
The original national Green Party maintains a Web site, but has no high-profile links to the Nader campaign or the state Greens' Web sites. Each state Green party even has its own platform.
By the summer Sain had decided to run for Congress in Kentucky's 4th district, becoming the state's first Green Party candidate. Sain's candidacy forced him to leave his newspaper job and allowed him to become the head of Nader's campaign in Kentucky.
Sain and his tiny but diligent campaign staff have spent most of the past several weekends on the road all over the 22 counties in the 4th Congressional district, from public-housing projects in Newport to rural Vanceburg in north-central Kentucky. Most of the time, they drive into town, check for festivals or public gatherings and start meeting people. Sain campaigns in a low-pressure, low-speed, one-to-one style. He knocks on doors, but worries he'll bother people by doing so.
Although most Kentuckians haven't heard of the Greens or Nader, they're respectful, Sain says. About one in 20 people spend more than a passing moment talking issues with him, Sain says. Others politely refuse Green Party fliers. Sometimes Nader fans stop Sain and enthusiastically ask for Green Party bumper stickers and buttons.
But getting national attention has been tough. Nader and his running mate, Winona LaDuke, among other third-party candidates, were excluded from the presidential debates because none received 15 percent in six national polls, a standard created in 1988. Nader and LaDuke have polled an average of three to five percent for several weeks.
All four debates were run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private organization whose members are appointed by the two major parties. Nader had a ticket to attend, but the committee didn't even allow him to watch the debates in Boston and St. Louis. Nader has filed suit, vowing to end the committee's control over the debates.
Nader brought his world-trade views to Cincinnati Oct. 26, at the invitation of the Skeptics, a UC student group. Although his speech wasn't cast as a campaign appearance, Nader wove in occasional jabs at Al Gore for not opposing the World Trade Organization and North American Free Trade Agreement, which Nader said are generating a "slow-motion coup d'etat," overriding the country's labor, consumer and environmental laws.
After the speech, Nader went to a small, bare classroom and sat in a student chair, eyes closed, looking tired. A UC cop stood by the door, and Nader's young-looking campaign coordinator hovered nearby, saying Nader only had time for a few questions.
Nader says the two Green parties have been working together lately — and must, if they want to succeed.
"They gotta go both arm in arm," Nader says.
What people don't understand about the campaign, he says, is that his goal isn't winning the White House, but rather returning the government to American citizens. Many Americans feel powerless, he says. They think they can't do anything about health care, workers' rights, corporate power or other important national issues.
The Green movement is building both from the grassroots up and from the top down, via the national attention he's attracting, Nader says — not like Perot's top-down organization, which ran virtually no local candidates.
"Election day is just the first leap forward ... you can't analyze this like any other third party," Nader says.
Hagemann hopes Nader and LaDuke get 5 percent of the national vote to qualify for matching federal campaign money — but without putting George W. Bush in office. But Hagemann wonders what the party will do with millions of dollars. Will it split and end up in a lawsuit over who gets the money, as the Reform Party did?
"How do we tell people what the Green Party stands for after Nader leaves?" Hagemann says.
Free markets and social freedoms
Fear of lawsuits inhibits community pools from having high diving boards and retailers from selling lawn darts. The consumer world is full of products with labels saying what seems obvious, such as hair dryers labeled, "Do not use near water." Unlicensed cab drivers in Cincinnati face fines for providing a desired service. The same goes for unlicensed hair-braiders in Washington, D.C. and casket-sellers in Tennessee. This makes no sense to Libertarians, who believe in both the free markets Republicans covet and the personal and social freedoms Democrats hold dear.
The party's roots run back to the early 1970s. Inflation was rampant, and President Richard Nixon enacted wage and price controls. That spurred a group of citizens to form the Libertarians, whose core belief is people are better off with less government interference.
The movement gradually filtered into the local level. Cleveland Libertarians founded the Ohio chapter in 1976, and in 1982 the party gathered more than 34,000 signatures, putting the party name on the state ballot. Without the party designation, each Libertarian candidate would need to collect 5,000 signatures. With it, each candidate needs only 25 or 50.
"And that's how the two old parties keep competitors out," says Steve Schulte, an environmental engineer and member of the Southwest Ohio Libertarians.
In 1982 Libertarian candidates failed to net five percent of the statewide vote, forcing the party's name back off the Ohio ballot. This year the Libertarians have returned. Nine months of effort netted the Ohio Libertarians more than 40,000 signatures, putting the party back on the ballot, with 73 candidates in Ohio, from U.S. President to school-board president.
Libertarians on Ohio ballots include Paul Naberhaus, a first-time candidate for the Hamilton County Commission; and David Groshoff, a first-timer running for Congress in the 1st District in Cincinnati.
Groshoff and Naberhaus share most of their platforms, but differ slightly on gun control, drug laws and tort reform.
Naberhaus, like most middle-aged Americans, grew up during the Cold War. The threat of nuclear annihilation hung in the air for decades. Living in Philadelphia, he watched U.S. Army bombers take off from the city's commercial airport during the Cuban missile crisis.
"So from an early age I didn't like communism," Naberhaus says.
He still distrusts strong government. While the Greens direct their criticism of corporate-managed global trade at both government and corporations, the Libertarians believe shrinking government would also reduce corporate power. It's not possible to have a government unaffected by wealthy, elite people, they argue.
"Why are powerful people corrupting our system? Because that's where the money is," Naberhaus says.
As a child growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, Naberhaus hunted squirrel with a .22-caliber rifle. A member of the National Rifle Association, he opposes gun regulation.
"Criminals don't have any restrictions on guns," Naberhaus says.
He believes the ability to carry concealed weapons would reduce crime.
Groshoff, a 28-year-old lawyer who manages institutional investments for a living, has been a Libertarian since the mid-1990s. He voted for Libertarian Presidential candidate Harry Browne in 1996. In January the local Libertarians asked Groshoff to run for Congress.
"I'm running because I think it's important to talk about the liberties that are being lost every day," Groshoff says.
For example, a recent federal proposal would have required banks to provide lists of accounts containing more than $5,000. Federal law enforcement wanted the information to track drug dealers. That sort of wide-ranging program, Groshoff says, harks back to the federal government's use of census data to round up Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Groshoff doesn't follow a straight Libertarian platform. He opposes limits on lawsuits and would entertain some gun-control measures, such as instant background checks. He also favors gradually replacing social security with personal retirement accounts allowing Americans to save up to 12 percent of their incomes tax-free.
With his opponents crowding the conservative side of the district, Groshoff has emphasized the pro-choice, socially liberal side of the Libertarian platform, netting an endorsement from Stonewall Cincinnati, a local gay-rights organization.
Naberhaus and Groshoff share one other experience: They say they received more phone calls from the Enquirer advertising staff than from the paper's reporters. Despite a more than two-hour interview by the Enquirer's editorial board, the paper has barely mentioned Naberhaus, he says. Groshoff didn't even get an interview.
"The goal has never been to win this election," Groshoff says. "It's an impossibility. The goal is to let (voters) know we exist."
A Natural man
Richard Stevenson is full of frenetic energy. The stocky 58-year-old's mouth can barely keep pace with his brain, which produces a steady stream of reasons the two-party system needs reform.
Born in Louisville in 1942, Stevenson was a U.S. Army intelligence agent in Vietnam. A former insurance-claim investigator, he is a machine draftsman with degrees in biology and chemistry from Murray State University in western Kentucky.
After a divorce in the mid-1970s, Stevenson joined Fathers for Equal Rights, a successful Ohio effort to promote shared custody between divorcees.
"That's how I got involved in politics," Stevenson says. "I'm not a political person."
Stevenson says he has supported or sympathized with third-party candidates his entire life. In 1980 he voted for Reagan, because he thought the U.S. Supreme Court was too liberal. Stevenson says he wanted to vote for John Anderson, an Illinois Congressman who attracted 6 million votes as an independent presidential candidate. Stevenson says he regrets not following his instincts, believing Reagan was bad for the country in part because Reagan knew little about science.
"All he knew was money and business," Stevenson says.
In the 1990s Stevenson dove into politics, concluding the two major parties are only interested in maintaining control.
"That's really the basis of my philosophy," he says.
Stevenson says the country needs a constitutional amendment declaring corporations are not people — a distinction the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized. Another amendment should declare that money is not legally equivalent to free speech, he says.
In 1993 Stevenson joined United We Stand America, the Perot movement. He worked for the Reform Party until about a year ago, when it fractured into two groups, one for Pat Buchanan and one for John Hagelin. Both are running for president; but Hagelin, who lost the battle over $12 million in federal campaign funds, is the Natural Law candidate.
Stevenson and many others left the party after Perot said he could tell Clinton was a drug addict. Stevenson found a new home in the Natural Law Party, whose philosophy is human laws and policies shouldn't conflict with nature's laws. The international party leaders emphasize transcendental meditation as a way of solving conflicts, but that isn't part of Stevenson's platform.
A self-described fiscal conservative and social moderate, Stevenson believes we should put more than one percent of health-care resources into prevention, because 70 percent of diseases are preventable. He also argues genetically engineered food should be banned until proven safe, and milk from cows given hormones should be labeled as such.
"That's something everybody in the country should be madder than hell about," Stevenson says.
One of Stevenson's heroes is Doris Haddock, better known as Granny D, who walked across the country in support of campaign-finance reform. How does Stevenson promote his message? The same way as Granny D.
"Shaking hands," Stevenson says. "I don't have any money."
A third party reformed Cincinnati
Political patronage dominated Cincinnati until the 1920s. Republican Party bosses controlled who worked for the city, who contracted with the city and who ran for office. It had been that way for 50 years, and city services weren't very good. You should have seen the potholes in streets back then, says former City Councilwoman Bobbie Sterne.
"It was the worst-governed city in the U.S. in the 1920s," Sterne says.
Then someone intercepted a telegram from a party boss about what rates the city should charge for utilities. A collection of disgusted Republicans joined with others, including many women, and organized a complete reform of city government through the Charter Committee.
A new city-manager position replaced the mayor as the chief executive officer of city government. Civil-service testing screened job applicants. A new nine-member, at-large council replaced the system of 32 council members elected mostly by ward.
But perhaps the most significant Charter contribution was proportional representation. Instead of citizens simply picking nine candidates, voters ranked their top nine choices in order. To illustrate, imagine giving your favorite candidate nine points, your second favorite eight and so on. Whoever receives the most points wins.
"In proportional representation, every vote counts," Sterne says.
That method elected a city council very representative of residents, Sterne says. Under that system, the late Theodore Berry became the first black city councilman in 1949. For a few decades the Democrats and Charterites ran candidates together, setting the agenda in Cincinnati.
"Well, the Republicans didn't like (proportional representation) because you can't control it, of course," Sterne says.
After four attempts to repeal proportional voting, Republicans succeeded in 1957, labeling it too complicated. The impact was immediate: Berry lost his re-election bid, and the Democrats began running their own candidates. A Charter/Democrat alliance won a majority of council seats in 1971, but for the most part the two parties were going their own way.
Many well-known politicians won council seats as Charterites, including Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Councilman Tyrone Yates and Charles Taft. Today only one Charterite sits on city council — Jim Tarbell.
Although the committee attracted civic-minded, intellectual types concerned about government, anyone who wanted to run for higher office had to leave the committee for a new political-support system — the Republicans or Democrats. If the councilmember switched parties in office, the Charterites couldn't appoint a replacement.
"So you lose a seat, and that's not easy to regain," Sterne says.
As for proportional representation, voters rejected it last time it reached the ballot in the 1980s.
"I think people have settled into the system," Sterne says.
Both Republicans and Democrats would have to buy the idea, which seems unlikely. Then again, the Republicans are steadily losing voters in the city and ought to consider it, Sterne says.
A third future?
Will these parties have any staying power? That really isn'
Third-party Web sites
·National Green Party — www.greenparty.org
·Association of state Green Parties — www.greenparties.org
·Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader — www.votenader.org
·Ken Sain, Green Party candidate in Kentucky's 4th Congressional district — www.kensain.com
·International Natural Law Party — www.natural-law-party.org
·John Hagelin, Natural Law Party presidential candidate — www.hagelin.org
·Rich Stevenson, Natural Law candidate in Ohio's 1st Congressional district — members.aol.com/rlsacad/event/index2.htm
·Libertarian Party — www.lp.org
·Harry Browne, Libertarian candidate for president — www.harrybrowne2000.org
·David Groshoff, Libertarian candidate for Congress in Ohio's 1st district — www.dave2000.org
·Paul Naberhaus, Libertarian candidate for Hamilton County Commission — www.nabercommish.homestead.com
·Granny D, walking around America for campaign-finance reform — www.GrannyD.com
t up to the candidates. No amount of door-to-door campaigning, dollar-by-dollar fundraising or die-hard believing by a core group of supporters will turn a political party into a mass movement, unless people buy into their philosophies.
If that happens, will the two center-oriented major parties remain flexible enough to adopt new ideas? Or will the two-party system finally give way to a third or fourth way?
Don't expect anything to happen overnight, says UC's Margolis.
"Our political system is basically designed to slow down change," he says.©