Third-party candidates: Good or evil?

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Top Democrats and Republicans and most political pundits agree, you don’t have the right to vote for your favorite candidate – unless that candidate is a Democrat or a Republican.


If you find the presidential candidates put up by both political parties putrid it doesn’t matter. You are supposed to hold your nose and pick one of them. It’s a binary choice.

Frank Cagle

After every presidential election the blame game starts.

Third-party candidates are blamed as irresponsible. Ralph Nader cost Al Gore Florida and the presidency. Jill Stein’s Green Party took enough votes away from Hillary Clinton to lose her the election in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If the heavy libertarian vote in Wisconsin had gone instead for Trump, he would have carried that state.

To those who presume to know how these people would have voted without a third-party choice and who think third-party voters have no place in national elections I suggest you all go straight to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, as the girls of my youth used to say.

It is your right to vote for the candidate of your choice. And it is not your fault if national political parties search the country and find candidates like Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, John Kerry and any number of other losers.

The presumption is that a Nader voter is a Democrat. Could it be a Republican who vowed to never vote for another Bush after 1988? Green Party voters would vote for Hillary? Maybe they are just honest people who don’t want to vote for an ethically-challenged candidate. People vote for a variety of reasons. The only conclusion you can draw about third-party voters is that they didn’t want to vote for the Republican or the Democrat.

And it is even more likely that if they didn’t have a third-party alternative they would just stay home.

I have a fondness for third parties. When I got back from Vietnam and started to pay attention to politics my choices consisted of Richard Nixon, George McGovern and George Wallace. I had been hating the race-baiting Wallace since 1960. McGovern said my service in Vietnam was a colossal waste. I thought Nixon was a crook before it was cool. I voted Libertarian through the 1970s.

But it isn’t only in punditry that third-party voters get dissed. There are also election laws enacted by the Democrats and the Republicans. Did you know that the only political parties that can appear on the ballot in Tennessee right now are Republican and Democrat? It is relatively easy for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot, but you can’t identify yourself as the Libertarian Party or the Green Party candidate, much less offer a slate.

Is it fair for the Republicans and Democrats in the legislature to set requirements too onerous for under-funded struggling third parties to get on the ballot? And stay there for the next election? At present a petition with 56,000 registered voters is required to put your party designation on and if you don’t get 56,000 in the election you start all over again. (It’s 2.5 percent of the total vote in the last gubernatorial election.)

We don’t even think about it anymore, but the election machinery of the entire state is used to select the candidates for the Democrats and the Republicans in primary elections. It doesn’t have to be that way. The parties could have a convention or a caucus and appoint the party candidates for the general election. Utah does that, for instance. Why does the government have a role in selecting party candidates?

It would be a good thing to have a slate of third-party candidates to keep the majority parties honest. A Libertarian or Green Party ticket could result in having more choices even in state and local elections. But, of course, that’s what the Republican and Democratic parties want to avoid.

Team didn’t help that much: Vanderbilt soccer kicker Sarah Fuller inspired a lot of young women Saturday (at least in my orbit) by being the first female on a Power Five conference football team. A few quibbles. Her appearance was marred by the fact that Vanderbilt didn’t score any touchdowns so she couldn’t kick any extra points. Vandy didn’t get near enough to a goal line to attempt a field goal. The only kicking opportunity was to open the second half. The coach had her execute a perfect “squib” kick, but to the uninitiated that did not look like a normal soaring kickoff, but rather lame. But at least she got in a shot for women’s sports since the entire Vandy kicking team was virus isolated.

Red state romp: Last week I suggested that while Democrats won the battle for the presidency, they lost the war. Republicans retained control of a huge number of legislatures that will be drawing new district lines for the next decade. Last Saturday, in a New York Times story headlined “How Democrats Suffered Crushing Down Ballot Losses,” an analysis finds that despite spending millions, Democrats did not flip any legislative targets and Republicans will be able to draw new congressional seats in those states.

The article suggests that while voters voted against the Washington “clown car” it did not translate into a rebuke of down ballot Republicans. “Democratic officials are awakening to the reality that voters’ … verdict on Trump does not equal ongoing support for center-left politics.”

A little help from a friend: It was puzzling that state Rep. John DeBerry kept almost $200,000 in campaign contributions in the bank rather than spend it on his re-election campaign. He was soundly defeated by the Democratic candidate the party put on the ballot in his place because he was too close to his Republican colleagues. Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that DeBerry will be able to spend even more time with his Republican friends. He’s been hired as a senior advisor to Lee at what the Tennessee Journal reports is $165,000 a year.

Lee takes care of his friends. DeBerry joins Knoxville’s retired state Rep. Bill Dunn in the administration. Lee also gave top-level jobs to former Rep. Joe Carr and former state Sen. May Beavers, both of whom endorsed him during his surprising campaign for governor when most politicos were supporting Randy Boyd or Diane Black.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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