Category Archives: Independents and third parties

When 3 percent is a big win

Mark West is running for governor as a Libertarian.

By Steve Brawner

How can a candidate win by losing? By capturing enough of the vote to ensure his third party qualifies for the next election and has a better chance to be heard.

In Arkansas, parties must win 3 percent in gubernatorial and presidential elections to automatically qualify for the next election’s ballot, which is why the Democrats will surely find someone to run against seemingly unbeatable Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2018.

Arkansas’ most organized third party, the Libertarians, failed to reach that standard in 2016, when former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won 2.65 percent of the presidential vote despite a promising start. That meant the state party had to collect at least 10,000 signatures this year at a cost of about $30,000.

Continue reading When 3 percent is a big win

Can The Centrist Project pioneer a new way?

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Forty-four percent of Americans are independents, according to Gallup, but only 2 percent of United States senators are, and one of those is Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s really a Democrat. Could a few more independents form a decisive voting bloc that would force Republicans and Democrats to solve problems?

That’s a question Joel Searby and the other founders of The Centrist Project are trying to answer.

Searby ran the 2016 independent presidential campaign of Evan McMullen, a former Republican congressional staff member and ex-CIA officer who won 21 percent of the vote in Utah and 1 percent in Arkansas.

Now, Searby and others with The Centrist Project are trying to recruit and strategically fund credible independent candidates in 2018, with one focus being the U.S. Senate where they could make the most difference.

Congress, you may have noticed, is a partisan mess where the focus is more on scoring political points than solving problems. In the past, the two parties were each a diverse mix of conservatives, liberals and moderates who could work across party lines. But Republicans have moved right while Democrats have moved left, with few left in the center to bridge the gap.

The Centrist Project is trying to step in and find a few states where the climate is best-suited to electing independents to the Senate and elsewhere who are fiscally responsible, practical minded, problem solving, environmentally responsible and socially tolerant.

What does all that mean? Searby said it’s more about an approach to government than a set of ideological beliefs. Regarding being “socially tolerant,” he says he’s a pro-life, pro-family conservative, but the centrist approach means not vilifying the other side or holding other issues hostage.

“That’s how (parties) frame every issue is around enemies and friends, and so we’re just really trying to overcome that,” he said.

Three to five independents in the U.S. Senate could control the balance of power by voting with one party or the other based on the issue, forcing Republicans and Democrats out of their us-versus-them comfort zone. The new independents could work with current independent Sen. Angus King of Maine along with Republicans and Democrats who have independent streaks, including Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.

Searby said the Project is looking for attractive candidates with the ability to self-fund or attract a potential network of supporters – like McMullin or Greg Orman, the Kansas businessman who ran a strong but ultimately losing campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014. It is talking with potential Senate candidates in eight states where an independent might have success because of a state’s political climate and size – a small, cheap state like Maine being preferable to a big, expensive one like California. Meanwhile, it’s also targeting other races in an effort to get wins wherever it can.

Arkansas does not have a Senate race in 2018 is not a target, anyway. The state’s rapid transformation from a conservative Democratic state to a Trump-Republican stronghold makes it less likely an independent could emerge here, Searby said.

It’s going to be an uphill climb. Most Americans who tell pollsters they are independents aren’t really. The reality is, whether they admit it or not, most are reliably voting for one party or the other. Moreover, congressional gerrymandering (drawing lines to benefit a party) and Americans’ self-sorting personal decisions have made most districts reliably Republican or Democrat. In other words, we typically live amongst people who vote like us in states that are either red or blue. Meanwhile, the parties have huge, well-funded infrastructures and have written election laws to favor themselves. The system strongly encourages voters to choose one party over the other, even if it’s just to pick the lesser of two evils.

After running McMullin’s long-shot campaign, Searby believes that independents eventually will break through. He said political professionals who are fed up with the two parties seemed open to different kinds of candidates. Members of the media seemed ready to tell a new story.

“The bottom line is, we know we’re pushing against decades of trends and beliefs and partisan work and money, and it’s going to be hard, but just because something’s hard doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing, and just because something’s hard doesn’t mean that it’s not going to come,” he said. “We really believe that we are pioneering a new way in American politics.”

A husband first, and then a candidate

Frank Gilbert
Frank Gilbert
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Frank Gilbert looked kind of sheepish last Friday when I asked for his new phone number and instead he gave me his old one. I told him that when I had tried to call that one earlier, the recording had said it had been disconnected.

“The truth is, I let it lapse for a few days,” he said to the best of my recollection. “Teresa always took care of the bills.”

Frank is the jovial Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate and the former mayor of Tull. Teresa, until Aug. 15, was his wife of 45 years.

The two were not exactly the classic political power couple. She registered to vote only once – in the 1990s in order to vote for him – and then de-registered after she was called for jury duty. As a Libertarian, Frank believes in as little government as possible. Teresa was socially conservative and not afraid of government enforcing traditional behavior. She called politics Frank’s “expensive hobby.”

Yeah, there were arguments in the early years, and then they put those aside. They were too busy raising three sons and later having four grandchildren, who called her “Moomaw,” to let politics get in the way.

“You know, it’s one of those things that you figure out it’s not going to change, and it’s so unimportant in the scope of what you’re doing as a family that it became a running joke,” he said.

One other thing about Teresa was she was kind of stubborn about going to the doctor, right up until June 5 when the pain in her stomach became so unbearable that she let Frank drive her to the hospital. A CT scan at 10 p.m. that night revealed she had a golf ball-sized mass at the base of her pancreas that had metastasized to 20-30 spots on her liver. The doctor didn’t offer a prognosis, but they understood.

“Of course we all Googled it, and when you Google pancreatic cancer, you know you’re praying for a miracle,” he said.

After further tests, Frank and Teresa were told she had six months to two years to live. She actually had 10 weeks. During that time, Frank dropped off the campaign trail. About a week after she died, he was back at work at the Bauxite School District, where he’s an in-school suspension officer, and he restarted his campaign.

“That week in between made me understand that I needed some normalcy. … I’ve heard people talk about compartmentalizing, and I can’t do it,” he said. “She’s on my mind all the time.”

He and the Democratic candidate for Senate, Conner Eldridge, have debated twice. On Tuesday, Frank will take off work to participate in a third debate that will be televised that night on AETN – the only one that will include the incumbent, Republican Sen. John Boozman.

At one time, Frank was actually a Republican himself – the party’s second vice chairman. But he does not fit into that party, and he’s not a Democrat.

“The difference I saw when Republicans started winning elections was that we ran those Democrat Hogs away from the public trough and ran those Republican Hogs up there to replace them,” he said.

At the AETN debate, he’ll argue positions from a Libertarian perspective that wouldn’t always be an easy sale with voters. Because he believes in limited government, he favors privatizing Social Security and Medicare some time in the long-term future. He’d fight no drug war and very few overseas ones. In a debate with Eldridge, he asked how Americans would feel if their child were killed in a drone strike and said the United States had engaged in imperialism, adding, “When you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.”

Running for governor in 2014, Frank won less than 2 percent of the vote. He knows the best he can hope for is 3-5 percent this year. He’s running because he believes in the cause and because he’s hopeful Libertarians may have an impact on state and national politics in his grandchildren’s day.

So he’s either Abraham Lincoln helping start a movement, or he’s Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Still, he doesn’t plan to quit running for office.

“I may grab my heart and go see Teresa, but until that happened it’s physically impossible,” he said. “I enjoy it enough that I’ll keep doing it and hopefully not spend quite as much money in the future.”

Related: Libertarians, Greens better choice than death.

One way to vote your conscience

Hand with ballot and boxBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

You know how you’re always told that if you vote for a third party, you’re taking a vote from the major party candidate you’d otherwise support? Sam Husseini, a D.C.-based writer and activist, has a simple solution for that conundrum, “Vote Pact,” but it’s going to require a civil conversation with someone with whom you disagree politically.

The idea, basically, is to swap votes. Say you lean Republican but don’t want to vote for Donald Trump. You’re considering voting for the Libertarian, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, or independent candidate Evan McMullin, but you’re afraid not voting for Trump helps Hillary Clinton. Using the Vote Pact strategy, you team up with someone who feels pressured to vote for Clinton but would rather vote for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. Then you can both vote your conscience. Instead of voting for someone you don’t support, your Vote Pact took a vote from someone you completely oppose.

A group supporting Johnson is making the same argument and has created a structure, Balanced Rebellion, that will pair a Republican and a Democrat who both want to vote for Johnson.

Husseini starting pushing the idea in 2000, when the race between George Bush and Al Gore also featured two well-known third party candidates, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader. It didn’t gain much traction then. In later elections, the major parties produced relatively acceptable candidates while third parties didn’t produce many credible alternatives.

This year, Trump and Clinton have historically high unfavorable ratings, and some Americans are looking elsewhere. In Arkansas, six other candidates are on the ballot. But Husseini said voters are trapped by their own fears into voting for the lesser of two evils.

The idea resonates more in swing states than in Arkansas, where Trump seems all but certain to win the state’s six Electoral College votes.

Still, it’s not inconceivable that the race could at least become interesting here. Clinton, Arkansas’ former first lady, is competitive in some surprising states, including Georgia and Arizona. Evan McMullin, a traditional Republican, qualified for the Arkansas ballot Aug. 24 as the Better for America candidate, and he’ll pull votes from Trump, as will Johnson, who also pulls from Clinton. Two of the other candidates, the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle and America’s Party co-founder Tom Hoefling, are also more conservative than Trump and could attract unhappy Republicans.

Nahh, Trump will win here.

Here’s the thing about the Vote Pact strategy: It requires participants to step out of their comfort zones. You know that old saying, “Never talk about politics in polite company”? Unfortunately, these days it’s, “Never talk about politics unless you’re sure the other person agrees with you, and then talk a lot about it.”

The structures of American society are sowing a lot of division these days. We have significant ideological, political, religious and regional differences anyway. These are heightened by the fact that we tend to live near, work alongside, and socialize with people who look like us, believe like us, and make roughly the same amount of money. Regardless of our political beliefs, it’s easy to find media outlets to reinforce our persuasions and paint others as foolish and ill-intentioned. Others therefore become aliens.

When we express our political opinions, it’s often in completely safe situations, or online, where old rules about civility and respect don’t seem to apply. There, political arguments are so ugly and pointless that we end up “unfriending” those with whom we disagree.

This creates a destructive cycle that entrenches our beliefs and makes us more extreme. Within a cocoon of like-minded individuals, in one conversation President Obama can go from being too liberal to being a communist to purposely helping the terrorists to win, with no one ever backtracking to him just being too liberal. In somebody else’s cocoon, Republicans become the mortal enemy.

Vote Pact creates an opportunity for civil discourse and transforms opponents into allies. The other voter is no longer part of the Left or Right. They’re just a fellow human being trying to vote their conscience. And we’re going to help them do that, while they help us.

Vote Pact won’t change this election’s outcome. But elections aren’t just about picking the winner in a two-person beauty contest, or “less ugly” contest. They’re about letting voters express their beliefs. The two-party, winner-take-all system pressures voters to compromise. With Vote Pact, they can vote with no regrets while bridging the gap with someone with different beliefs but the same desire for their vote to count.

Isn’t that better than another pointless online argument?