Often regarded as residing on the fringe of American politics, third parties have been viewed by their supporters as an important alternative to the platforms presented by the country’s two major parties. We talk to a couple of Green Party candidates on the ballot this year, including presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Often regarded as residing on the fringe of American politics, third parties have been viewed by their supporters as an important alternative to the platforms presented by the country’s two major parties.
Although small in size and influence compared to Democrats and Republicans, third parties and Independents have enjoyed a moderate measure of success in elections over the past 20 years, winning a number of elected offices throughout the country.
Probably most notable has been their perceived impact in past presidential elections. Many still believe former Vice President Al Gore would have beaten George W. Bush in 2000 had it not been for the candidacy of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader that year, while others view the 1992 presidential election between Pres. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as one where Clinton benefitted from a “siphoning off” of votes from Bush by Independent Ross Perot.
With many feeling as though this year’s race might be one of the closest in recent history, candidates from such parties as the Green Party of the United States, as well as the Libertarian and Constitution parties have the potential to once again have an effect on the outcome of the races in some of the more hotly-contested swing states.
If such a scenario were to occur, one contributing factor might lie in the rise in the public’s dissatisfaction with lawmakers from both major parties in recent years. Evidence of such can be seen in the dismal job approval ratings Congress has received for more than a year, culminating in a record low of 21 percent, according to Gallup.
Frustrations over the divisiveness and partisan gridlock seen over the past few years has led to a rise in the number of Americans who identify themselves as being Independent, up to a record high of 34 percent in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.
With more Americans breaking ties with the two major parties, Green Party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein said people are looking at the idea of a third party as a viable alternative.
"I think the public is frustrated because of the gridlock, but they’re also frustrated because what Congress actually accomplishes, and the White House agenda, is hurting everyday people,” Stein said. “Even when they accomplish things, what they’re doing is throwing every day people under the bus."
Stein, a Massachusetts physician and environmental advocate, was recently arrested in Texas for providing food and supplies to protesters attempting to blockade production of the Keystone XL pipeline. She said her frustration with the lack of action by both parties to seriously address the country’s key issues, such as the environment and climate change, was what prompted her to enter the race.
“We badly need a politic that is of, by and for the people,” Stein said. “Under Democrats as well as Republicans, we’ve been massively accelerating in the wrong direction.”
In terms of revitalizing the economy, Stein described her plan as the “Green New Deal”, based on the series of programs Pres. Franklin Roosevelt implemented to combat the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Stein’s version of the New Deal calls for the creation of 25 million jobs through a federally-funded employment initiative that would increase the number of public sector jobs, while expanding investment in renewable energies.
The plan would also call for the establishment of a single-payer, Medicare-to-all type healthcare system, as well as an increase in regulation within the banking industry, a reduction in military spending by 50 percent, tuition-free education and student loan forgiveness, and an immediate halt to all home foreclosures.
Stein said enacting such measures, as well as eliminating the Bush tax cuts and raising taxes on the top ten percent of income earners, would solve the federal budget deficit, which is reported to be at $1 trillion and has been a hot-button campaign issue over the past year.
“We have unprecedented levels of economic inequality right now,” Stein said. “Raising taxes on the super, super rich is part of how we ensure that economic equality is not stolen from the vast majority of the American people.”
The basic tenets of that platform have been adopted by a majority of the 84 state, municipal, and congressional Green Party candidates running in 19 states and the District of Columbia this year.
In Illinois, a total of six Green Party candidates are listed on the ballot. Activists Nancy Wade and Paula Bradshaw are running for congressional seats in the 5th and 12th districts respectively, while challengers Dave Ehrlich, Karen Roothaan and Nasrin Khalili are seeking election to the Board of Commissioners for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The last candidate, Frank Wedig, is running become a member of the McHenry County Board.
“I have spent a lot of time in the offices of legislators trying to get them to do the right thing,” said Wade. “Last year, when the Occupy [movement] showed up, they gave us, as activists and citizens, inspiration to take courageous steps, I decided it would be an important time for me to run for office.”
Wade is facing Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, who first won the seat in a special election in 2009 after it was vacated by Rahm Emanuel. In 2010, Quigley won re-election in the heavily Democratic district over his closest rival, Republican challenger David Ratowitz, by a 45 percentage-point margin.
“My opponent is someone who doesn’t seem to want to stick his head out and fight for us,” Wade said of Quigley. “He has all the appearances of a go-along, get-along politician, and in these times, we need someone to fight for us.”