Third party candidates seek to change political system

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    By Ethan Scott

    While Utah’s third parties may not agree on gun rights, environmental policies or what to do about illicit drugs, they all have one belief in common – the two-party system dominated by Democrats and Republicans is in need of an overhaul.

    “Many of them have the same essential ideas. Who are you going to throw the bums out in favor of – the other bums?” said Dave Rowland, Utah Green Party co-chair.

    The two big parties aren’t exactly waiting in line to welcome their new competitors, either.

    Many third party members believe the Democrats and Republicans are shutting out other parties from the debate process.

    “They do not want a Libertarian or any third party candidate in the debates because it will force them to take a stand,” said Andrew Howard, chair of the Utah County Libertarian Party.

    Third party presidential candidates Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan cried foul earlier this year when they were shut out of the presidential debates.

    The issue is playing out not only on the national level, but on the state level as well. Jeremy Friedbaum, the Independent American candidate for Utah governor, went on a hunger strike until he was allowed to debate with Republican Mike Leavitt and Democrat Bill Orton.

    In light of the uphill battle they face, leaders for Utah’s third parties are pragmatic about their goals for this election. Even they realize it would take a major miracle to be swept into power.

    “We don’t have a lot of illusions that we will win major races this year,” Howard said. “Eventually we will.”

    But the success that some third party candidates have seen in recent years gives party leaders hope, said Bruce Bangerter, a U.S. House candidate for the Independent American Party.

    “Jesse Ventura really broke ground for us. We don’t agree with his views, but he really broke ground for third parties,” Bangerter said. “We kind of look at him as an icon.”

    Utah’s third parties have found that breaking into the political limelight is like trying to compete with a pair 300-pound gorillas for attention.

    Just getting the word out about candidates and platforms can be a struggle for third parties. Mainstream news organizations tend to focus their political stories on Democratic and Republican candidates.

    “One of the biggest problems we’ve had is getting press coverage. The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune are giving us very little coverage,” said Bangerter, the national chairman of the Independent American Party, a title that even Bangerter is somewhat hesitant to use.

    The only state with a fully functioning party is Utah, although members in half dozen states are working to organize.

    The third parties have tried different ways to get out the message despite the big media cold shoulder. The Green Party’s Rowland has had success with local magazines, weekly newspapers and community radio. Bangerter hopes the Internet will propel the Independent American Party to new heights.

    Yet serious political parties are going to have to fight to stand out on the Internet. Web sites like politics1.com and dcpoliticalreports.com that track third parties list Web sites for dozens of parties.

    Interspersed among sites for parties intent on fielding candidates and debating policies are sites for groups like the Reform Silly Party of Florida, a party whose platform includes a proposal to end national hunger and the pet overpopulation problem in one fell swoop. Remarkably enough, the group is officially registered.

    “There are a lot of third parties. That makes it harder,” Bangerter said.

    The Independent American Party has not won an election yet, but Bangerter hopes increasing the number of candidates on the ballot will change the political landscape in his party’s favor.

    Since the last election, Bangerter has been busy recruiting higher profile candidates to the party.

    “We look at the Republican Party and sometimes the Democratic Party and recruit some candidates who we think should be in our party,” Bangerter said.

    A prime example is Friedbaum, the Independent American candidate for governor. Friedbaum ran as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in 1998.

    Third parties generally find it easy to get registered and stay registered in Utah. The state requires only 2,000 voter signatures to get on the ballot.

    From there the state adds up all the votes cast for U.S. House candidates and makes 2 percent of that figure the baseline for remaining on the ballot. Each party’s candidates must garner at least that many votes (9,417 votes in 1998) to remain on the ballot.

    Because the vote totals for each party’s candidates are added together, parties like the Libertarians and the Independent Americans that run candidates statewide have little trouble keeping their ballot status.

    Registration is more of an ordeal for parties that only tend to run national candidates. The Prohibition Party holds its nominating convention a year early so party members have time to gather enough signatures to get on states’ ballots.

    Third parties have historically had difficulties gaining hold at the national level. The last time a third party was swept to national power was prior to the Civil War, when the Republican Party’s Abraham Lincoln won the presidency.

    Since that time, no third party candidate has won the presidency, but several elections have been heavily influenced by third parties.

    Ross Perot was widely credited with tilting the 1992 election in favor of Bill Clinton and away from incumbent George Bush. George Wallace won the electoral votes from most of the South when he ran as a third party candidate in 1968.

    Teddy Roosevelt split the Republican vote with incumbent William Howard Taft when he ran as the Bull Moose candidate, vaulting Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.

    Green Party candidate Ralph Nader could be this year’s spoiler. Campaign staff for Al Gore have accused Nader of stealing part of the Democratic vote and giving Republican George Bush a boost.

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