Category Archives: Independents and third parties

One of us for president?

Elections aheadBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

What would happen if the president were an average person, not a member of the country’s political and wealthy elite? Matthew O’Connor would like to give Americans a chance to find out.

The Ohioan is trying to mount an independent presidential campaign and wrote me recently looking for someone in Arkansas to collect signatures. Prospective presidential candidates in this state must collect only 1,000, which is pretty doable, but the deadline is August 1.

What led a father of three with no real political experience, no support and no name recognition to run for president? His big issues are corruption, the national debt, and the failure of the country to produce the right kind of candidate. His website is

“I just felt like no one was doing it for the right reason,” he told me. “I felt that a lot of people felt like … either they deserved it, or it was their turn, or they could buy it, and I thought it was about time that somebody did it because they wanted to serve the country and serve the people.”

A lot of Americans are looking for the same thing right now, considering the two major party nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have historically high unfavorable ratings. It seems the current system is not producing humble, service-oriented candidates like the famed Cincinnatus, who in 458 B.C. left his small farm to lead Rome through a crisis and then returned to the farm.

O’Connor won’t get very far in 2016. While the bar for making the ballot in Arkansas and some other states is low, in many states it is impossibly high for all but the best-connected candidates.

Maybe it should be. Every walk of life includes a system for winnowing out the wannabes. In business, you move up the corporate ladder. In sports, you prove yourself in college and in the minor leagues. And in politics, candidates are elected to something less than president, make a name for themselves, and then run for the nation’s highest office. On rare occasions, someone with success in another walk of life – Trump, President Dwight Eisenhower, President Ulysses S. Grant – has gotten a shot at the title. There’s no “American Idol” for presidents, and thank goodness.

O’Connor is not a billionaire business mogul or a famous general. He says he’s been able to balance life’s important areas – as an information technology professional, a father of three and a happily married husband who the day after our interview was planning to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary.

“I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but there’s a lot of success in that,” he said. “A lot of people don’t manage those things.”

Could someone like that be president? Could America benefit from leadership by competent, moral persons plucked temporarily from Main Street? Would those people be better at balancing budgets and serving the people than the political and cultural elite? Or would Main Street Americans be like decent high school baseball players suddenly facing Major League pitching? A lot of us probably could read a speech off a teleprompter. Could we sit across the table from Vladimir Putin?

If you’re thinking you’d like to write in O’Connor as a protest vote on Election Day, you can’t. There is no provision in Arkansas law for write-in presidential candidates. He must collect 1,000 signatures, which is a steep hill to climb for someone without Arkansas roots or campaign donations.

If he doesn’t, there’s still enough time for Arkansans to qualify a favorite son or daughter for the ballot. They wouldn’t win, of course, but at least they would offer another choice.

Some suggestions?

– Sam Sicard, president of the First National Bank of Fort Smith. In an age of self-promoters, he cares about ideas and doing the right thing.
– Kevin Kelley, head coach of the Pulaski Academy Bruins, the high school football team that doesn’t punt. He’s a creative, data-driven thinker.
– Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Little Rock’s Mosaic Church, where people of all races and income classes worship under one roof. He brings people together.
– Mary Carol Pederson, founder of The CALL in Arkansas, which recruits families to foster and adopt children. She focuses on kids and the future.

Want to vote for one of those people, or Matthew O’Connor, rather than Clinton, Trump, or one of the third party candidates? The deadline for collecting signatures is August 1.

Related: It’s OK to vote for someone else.

It’s OK to vote for someone else

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

Voters complain each presidential election about their choices, but that’s especially true this year. According to Real Clear Politics’ compilation of polls, Hillary Clinton is viewed unfavorably by 55.5 percent of voters and favorably by only 39.7 percent, while Donald Trump’s numbers are worse: 61.1 percent to 33.4 percent unfavorable to favorable.

These are historic numbers, and they could get worse. When candidates’ negatives are so hopelessly high, they respond by trying to drive up their opponents’ unfavorables and, if necessary, win by becoming the lesser of two evils. Both campaigns will unleash a torrent of negative ads. Both have plenty to work with.

If you’re like many Arkansas voters, you may have said you’ll just write in somebody else’s name. Unfortunately, there is no provision in the law for you to do that in the presidential race.

However, there will be other candidates on the ballot: the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson, the Greens’ Jill Stein, the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle, and possibly others. The bar for running for president in Arkansas as an independent is remarkably low: Just collect the signatures of 1,000 voters, which is much less than the 10,000 required to run for statewide offices. Candidates have until August 1 to submit those signatures.

This is the part where somebody always says, “Don’t waste your vote. If you don’t vote for one of the two major party candidates, you’re helping the other one” – the one they don’t want to win.

I respectfully disagree with that kind of thinking. An election is not just a process for picking winners and losers. It’s an opportunity for voters to express their beliefs about the country’s direction. Many voters strongly oppose both Clinton and Trump and do not want to affirm either candidacy on Election Day.

If your beliefs more closely align with one of those third parties, then vote your conscience and encourage others to do the same. That’s how the Republican Party came into existence. On March 20, 1854, a small group of idealists met in a Wisconsin schoolhouse to form a new party that would be based on their anti-slavery convictions, not raw political calculations about who might win the next election. Instead of holding their nose and voting for the lesser of two evils, they took the long view and stayed true to their beliefs. Six years later, Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

No matter how you vote, you won’t change the results in Arkansas. The United States does not have national elections where everybody’s vote goes into a big pot. It has individual, winner-take-all state elections that feed into the Electoral College. Arkansas has six votes, and we already know who will win them. In a recent Talk Business & Politics poll, Trump leads Clinton, 47-36 percent, and nothing will turn those numbers around. Clinton’s 36 percent is consistent with recent election results: President Obama won 37 percent in 2012; while in 2014, Sen. Mark Pryor won 39 percent in the U.S. Senate race while Mike Ross won 41 percent in the governor’s race. Somewhere in those numbers is the Democrats’ ceiling.

Regardless of what you as a voter do, Arkansas will be part of a large red splotch in the middle of the country on your television screen on Election Night. The state will be called for Trump immediately after the polls close, and then the attention will turn to the states that are actually up for grabs: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.

In other words, because Arkansas is blood red, your vote essentially has become meaningless as an election-deciding tool. However, as with those idealistic Republican reformers in 1854, it has great meaning as a form of political expression. This is when your voice really counts.

The best vote I ever cast was in 1992 for independent candidate Ross Perot. I believed he was not temperamentally suited to be president, but he campaigned on political reform and on balancing the budget and ran 30-minute infomercials explaining the national debt. On Election Day, he won 19 percent of the vote. Not coincidentally, President Clinton and the Republican Congress began working on balancing the budget. They couldn’t ignore Perot’s voters.

So do you really want to avoid wasting your vote? Vote your conscience.

Related: Independents, Greens better choice than death

Libertarians, Greens better choice than death

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

The first line of an actual recent obituary reads, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond (Virginia) chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.”

If only she had known she had other choices.

Those would include the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and assorted others.

Let’s focus this column on the Libertarians, Arkansas’ most active third party. If you’re not familiar, it’s the one that says it’s for less government and actually, really, really means it. The Libertarians would cut social programs, including the popular ones, and they support gun rights. But cutting government also means shrinking the military, and they also would remove government from people’s personal decisions, which means they’d legalize marijuana and end the drug war. The party’s chairman in Arkansas, economist Dr. Michael Pakko, describes the party as a combination of small government constitutionalists, anarchists who want virtually no government, and “minanarchists” who fall somewhere in between.

The Libertarians this year are running 23 candidates in Arkansas, including likable party veteran Frank Gilbert for U.S. Senate and candidates in all four congressional races: Mark West in the 1st District; Chris Hayes in the 2nd; Steve Isaacson in the 3rd; and Kerry Hicks in the 4th.(Democrats could muster a candidate only in the 2nd District.) Eleven Libertarians are running for the state Legislature. And the party is doing this despite the fact that, under a law passed by Republicans and Democrats, it had to select its candidates a year before the election.

For Libertarians, this year represents the party’s best hope to ever make a splash. Their two-time presidential candidate, former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, won only 1.5 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2012, but a recent Fox News poll showed him with 10 percent support in a hypothetical matchup with Trump and Clinton, and his running mate, former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, is an effective fundraiser.

The Libertarians won’t get 10 percent. Republicans and Democrats are highly skilled at painting each other as so terrible that many voters will decide they must pick one to save the country from the other. So don’t look for the United States to produce its third President Johnson.

But if Johnson can win 3 percent of the vote in Arkansas, it would be a big win for the state party. That’s the threshold it needs to qualify for the ballot in 2018 without having to collect 10,000 voter signatures, a task that Pakko said cost $34,000 this year as well as a lot of legwork.

How doable is 3 percent? The Libertarians’ top vote-getter in 2014, Hayes, won 6.36 percent in the treasurer’s race. Some conservative Republicans won’t vote for Trump, and they’re certainly not going to vote for Clinton, so they’re looking for an alternative. Gilbert said some Republicans won’t forgive Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative Republicans for Arkansas Works, which is the state program that uses Obamacare dollars to purchase private health insurance for Arkansans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, maybe the Libertarian nominee could pull votes from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters who see Clinton as part of the problem. Some Sanders voters will vote for the Green Party candidate, presumably Jill Stein, who won .9 percent of the Arkansas vote in 2012.

If the Libertarians do win 3 percent, the next question is, so what? Probably the party takes more votes from the Republicans than the Democrats, but that won’t matter in most races in a state as red as this one is becoming. Libertarians are a long way from actually winning races for important offices. The party wants a much smaller government than most Arkansans would support. To win, Libertarians would have to moderate, but if they do that, would they become what they’re fighting against?

For now, Libertarians, Greens, and other parties offer this – a choice, one that Mary Anne Noland’s son, who wrote her obituary in honor of her sense of humor, didn’t take into account.

Related: Trump played checkers and they played chess – in a checkers year

Squashing the wrong problems

By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

You know when you’re on your porch, and you notice a spider crawling by, but then you look closer and realize it’s not a black widow or a brown recluse, so it’s not poisonous, but then you wonder if maybe you could be wrong, so therefore it could be a threat, and plus it’s a nuisance? Those things multiply, and maybe they’ll get into the house, so you squash it just to be sure.

That’s kind of what the state’s establishment has done to independent candidates in Arkansas.

This past week, District Judge James Moody ruled in a case, Moore v. Martin, in favor of a 2013 law that requires independents to submit their required signatures – 3 percent of the voters in the last election, or 10,000 in statewide races – to the secretary of state by the end of the filing period. In a typical year, that’s the beginning of March.

Before the law was passed, independents could file at the same time as Democrats and Republicans and then collect their signatures while party candidates were campaigning for their May primaries.

The practical effect of the new law is that independents can’t survey the landscape like party candidates can do and then jump in the race. They must have already gathered their signatures to qualify for office by the same deadline that major party candidates sign up to run. They have to be walking the streets months in advance asking people to sign a petition. And instead of walking those streets in March and April as before, they now have to do it in January and February.

Except not this coming election. Because the Legislature moved next year’s primary elections to March 1, the filing deadline this year is Nov. 9. Independents have only 90 days to collect signatures, which means they would have to be beating the streets now for an election that won’t occur until November 2016.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Mark Moore of Pea Ridge, who ran for the state Legislature in 2012 as an independent, filed suit. Judge Moody agreed that the law creates a burden for independent candidates, but he accepted the state’s argument that it’s too difficult to verify those signatures in time, considering all the other things the state must do in an election cycle.

Which is a stretch. In 2014, there was one independent candidate for the Legislature, requiring the secretary of state’s office to verify only hundreds of signatures. In 2012, before the law was passed, there were seven. There’ve been a few other independent candidates run for other offices, but not many. Meanwhile, the secretary of state’s office will verify 67,887 signatures for each voter initiative and 85,859 signatures for any constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in 2016.

What independents usually are is a nuisance for the establishment. In a given election, combined they represent a few thousand signatures that the secretary of state’s office has to verify. Meanwhile, for the major party candidates, they’re a variable they’d rather avoid dealing with. They’d rather just have one opponent, if it can’t be none.

I wish the halls of the Legislature and the Congress would become infested with independents scurrying around doing the people’s business without regard to party politics. But that’s not going to happen. Despite George Washington begging us to do otherwise, we’ve created a political system that almost guarantees that candidates will be a member of one of two parties. That’s the way it’s been for more than 200 years.

So why even bother with independents at all? Because there needs to be an option for candidates and voters who don’t agree with the two big parties or any of the smaller ones. The other reason is because the system needs an occasional nuisance – in fact, sometimes even a threat.

In the 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote campaigning as an outsider on one issue: the need to reduce the national debt, which at that point was $4 trillion. In the years following that election, President Clinton and Congress actually sort of balanced the budget. Was Perot the only reason? No, but he certainly helped. He changed the conversation, and 19 percent was a number even the major parties couldn’t ignore.

No candidate since then – Republican, Democrat or other – has been so effective at calling attention to the national debt. Few have even really tried. It’s now more than $18 trillion.

I think we’re trying to squash the wrong problems.