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One dozen legislators versus the Democrat-Republican duopoly

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One dozen courageous state lawmakers around the nation have waged a successful battle against the combined forces of the Democrat and Republican parties and hold public office despite major party opposition to their candidacies.

Vermont's Progressive Party leads the nation in independence from the duopoly that controls virtually all state and federal elected offices in the country. The Progressive Party fielded 17 candidates in November 2006 for state office seating six members of the Vermont House of Representatives. Susan Davis, Sarah Edwards, Sandy Haas, Christopher Peterson, Dexter Randall, and David Zuckerman are all now serving constituents and advancing their progressive legislative agenda.

Vermont's independent tradition also allowed two Independents to gain seats in the statehouse. Representatives Daryl Pillsbury and Will Stevens are both casting votes for independence in the Green Mountain state.

Maine lost its Green Party legislator, John Eder, but has elected two independents to the House of Representatives, Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth and Thomas Saviello of Wilton. Because of state law, Woodbury and Saviello cannot call themselves Independents but are instead labeled as "Unenrolled" in a legislative effort to diminish their accomplishment.

Montana is home to Representative Rick Jore of the Constitution Party. Jore's 2004 election contest is illustrative of the difficulty faced by non-traditional candidates. Jore tied with Democrat Jeanne Windham. Republican Governor Judy Martz broke the tie appointing Jore to the legislature. As luck would have it, the House was tied between the Democrats and Republicans so Jore's victory was more than the Democrats could stomach. Launching a legal attack, Democrat-hired lawyers managed to convince the Montana Supreme Court to toss out five of Jore's votes. Jore accepted the defeat without contesting the court battle but still got stuck with a $15,663 bill for the Democrat's legal fees to toss him out of office. The voters had enough of the nonsense and put Jore back in office making him the only member of the Constitution Party to hold a legislative office in the nation.

Kentucky's Senator Bob Leeper of Paducah has heard it all. Leeper has held office as both a Democrat and Republican, trying out both major parties. Disgusted by both, Leeper took the lonely route to victory and now serves as the state's only Independent legislator.

Being a member of a minor party or an independent is not hard enough; the Democrat-Republican duopoly has also stacked the deck with burdensome and unequal ballot access laws in many states that make the route to the ballot itself difficult and often litigious.

The unequal laws that govern access to the ballot and lopsided contributions of the major parties have had a disparate impact on minority voters. The fifty state legislatures have only 11% minority membership while minorities make up 31% of the U.S. population according to a study by the Institute on Money in State Politics.

Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, sums up the problem faced by those that buck the two-party establishment. "The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government. At a time when the United States claims it is fighting a war in Iraq to instill representative government in that nation, it is unfortunate that it seems unwilling to practice what it preaches."

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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