The beginning of March 2008 has begun with mixed results for independents. First Ralph Nader continues our fight for ballot access and is getting a little less abuse from the mainstream media than usual. Then Mayor Bloomberg announced that he was not seeking the White House. That was a setback to those who support sought a self-financed, credible and capable individual to perhaps fuse the splintered minor parties.
Bloomberg issued an accurate statement that “an independent approach really can produce progress on the most critical issues, including the economy, education, the environment, energy, infrastructure and crime.” We interpret this a call for candidates to get on the ballot as the most influential election-altering strategy to impact the national dialogue. But news changes quickly and certain deadlines have passed showing several congressional races (including all the Arkansas congress members) will once again go unchallenged by the big two parties. This is indicative of the established parties lack of commitment to being opposition parties. And it could be a good sign for third parties and independents if we can field candidates and have one-on-one challenges. Though often times the incumbent refuses to debate the non-established party candidate even if they are on the ballot.
In general third party watchers still see a great opportunity for a surging independent movement in 2008. As Lou Dobbs wrote, it will take “nothing less than an independent voter rebellion” to wrest control of the two establishment parties from their corporate underwriters. But with the challenge of gathering petition signatures to make the ballot, deadlines are nearing and time is running short.
With someone like Bloomberg heading a third party ticket, we envisioned fusing the various third parties to promote election reform measures that would have compelled various third parties to consider setting aside their ideological differences in the short term for a lasting fair electoral process. Without him groups like IndependentAmerica.org will continue to encourage citizens to run for congress and local office in 2008 and prepare for the 2009 races.
Local grassroots activity is essential so that independent voters do not waste their vote on one of the two establishment parties. There is a wide range of issues that only independents would commit to solving as discussed in a new version of his 1972 book Citizen Power by former Senator Mike Gravel. Chief among them is election security and reform. But the key for Gravel as he pitched on his recent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is a New Initiative for Democracy. In his words, “The only possibility of government reform is through empowerment of the people. People empowered will demand a balance of power between the citizen and their elected officials. Unfortunately the people haven’t come to realize that their empowerment must take the form of lawmaking – the central power of government.”
Instead of keeping their power, citizens give it up at the ballot box. Ceding power to the big two parties has generated more corruptible electronic voting machines with no verifiable backup system eight years after the election failure in Florida. Add that to the onerous procedures for independents and third parties to get on the ballot, and we are left with gerrymandered districts that yield 50% of all elections unchallenged. We the people need to fill this void and run for elective office not allowing anyone – regardless of whether you agree with him or her politically – to run unopposed. Here is where a rational public campaign-financing plan would attract concerned citizens into participating. It would cost much less to publicly finance campaigns than it currently costs our treasury when the winners reward campaign donors with no-bid government contracts.
Other election reform measures needed now include creating fair ballot access, universal/election day registration, and instant runoff voting all intended to increase voter turnout. Next we should insist on fair media coverage over the public airwaves and debate participation for all who make the ballot. Extended to third party presidential candidates who mathematically qualify on enough state ballots to get elected, the number in the debates would never have exceeded four candidates.
Advocates of election reform were pinning our hopes on Mayor Bloomberg to change the dynamic of politics-as-usual. Anyone who thinks that the recent surge of interest in one of the two established parties will push our issues, insert fairness in the debate process and correct our rigged electoral system will soon be disappointed. Remember one of the two already continued their politics of exclusion keeping Senator Gravel out of the debates just as they will keep Nader out again this fall. So while Mayor Bloomberg’s decision not to run has delayed our efforts, we shall fight on.
Joseph Oddo was founding director of the Committee to Draft Michael Bloomberg.