Voters embrace third party candidates

by Coralie Carlson

While Jesse Ventura shocked the nation with his gubernatorial victory, political experts said he’s simply a sign of the times.
Ventura’s victory made him the most visible success in a national movement toward third parties, according to planners of “Empowering the Voter,” a convention on campus this weekend. About 100 political activists, experts and citizens from across the country looked at ways to change the rules of campaigns and elections to boost third party success.
Voters are moving away from the two major parties and embracing alternative parties throughout the nation, said Robert Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, D.C.
The Reform Party gradually gained momentum this decade, following its inception with Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign. More voters registered outside of the two major parties than ever, Richie said, but that doesn’t translate into electoral success.
Only one of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives does not belong to the two major parties. Ventura and Independent Gov. Rufus King, Maine, are the only third party governors.
Russ Verney, national chairman of the Reform Party, explained that winning office is a slow process for minor parties.
“As someone once said, ‘When eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.’ Well, we have both an elephant and a donkey to eat,” Verney said.
But in Minnesota, third parties and minor parties are gaining ground. Not only did Ventura win 37 percent of the vote to take the governor’s office, but the Minnesota Taxpayer’s Party garnered over 5 percent, earning it major party status.
“People in Minnesota are not typical party voters; they don’t go down and vote the party line,” said Lori Marker, chair of the College Reform Party.
Verney said Minnesota is a focal point for the nation. He also pointed to Generation X as a driving force within the movement. That makes the University an important site.
Since the Reform Party and minor party candidates are taking hold with voters, conference attendees want to change the electoral rules to give new parties a better chance in elections.
They proposed instituting proportional representation — the distribution of seats based on each party’s share of the total votes. In this system, voters would choose a party, not a candidate. If the Reform Party garnered 10 percent of the votes for the state Legislature, they would fill 10 percent of the seats.
Under the current system, known as “winner-take-all,” the candidate who wins the most votes in each district takes that seat.
“We have this idea that they represent you just because they sit in the chair, even if you didn’t vote for them, and even if they are diametrically opposed to you,” said Steven Hill, the West Coast director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. He said only 6 percent to 10 percent of voters had a “meaningful” vote — one that helped elect someone in a closely contested race.
Hill also criticized the current process of redistricting, which he said allows incumbents to draw district lines to include sympathetic voters. With Ventura as governor, conferees expressed relief that the Reform Party will have some say in Minnesota’s new district lines.
Alan Shilepsky, who unsuccessfully ran for Secretary of State for the Reform Party, said Ventura’s position will help push through some of these reforms. But he said he’s afraid tht the Republican House and Democratic Senate will dig in their heels in opposition.
“We’re on a crusade here,” Shilepsky said, “and it may be one of historic proportions.”