Are Smaller Parties Finished?

OCT. 7, 2010

For someone who may be the last of her kind, Laura Wells is remarkably chipper – even when talking about the new law that has made her essentially obsolete. “Prop. 14? I hope it has a boomerang effect,” she told me at a recent press conference. “Win with Green in 2014!”

Wells, the Green Party’s candidate for governor this year, is in a tough spot. All of the candidates of the, what do you call them – Third parties? Independent parties? Smaller parties – are in trouble. Despite Wells’ optimistic slogan, it’s highly unlikely any gubernatorial candidates – or any other candidates, for that matter – who aren’t either Democrats or Republicans will be around much in October ’14.

That’s because Proposition 14, which passed in June, will ban all but the top two finishers in the primary election from competing in the November general election. That means Greens, Libertarians, Peace & Freedoms and American Independents will likely not be on the November ballot next time around. The ostensible goal was to make sure more moderates get elected, but a very real consequence will be giving voters even less choice by freezing out smaller political parties.

Not really much of a political force before Prop. 14, smaller parties like the Greens and Libertarians nonetheless brought different ideas into the arena – the legalization of marijuana, for instance, or the establishment of a state-run central bank. Ideas no one in the Democratic or Republican parties would endorse, much less talk about.

“Imagine the dialogue we would have, the ideas we would have, if we were in the debates,” Wells said at an Oct. 6 event with the other smaller party gubernatorial candidates put on by the organization Free & Equal.

Libertarian Party candidate for governor Dale Ogden agreed. “Sometimes out of crazy ideas you get good ideas,” he said as smirking suits walked past the small gathering of candidates on the Capitol’s west steps.

It’s hard to imagine things could get worse for political candidates not aligned with either of the two major parties. At the Fair & Equal event for instance, no one provided a podium.

“They need to provide one,” Fair & Equal chairwoman – and Libertarian candidate for secretary of state – Christina Tobin said.

“This is the Capitol building,” Ogden said. “Are you surprised?”

And my use of the term “press conference” to describe my first meeting with Wells cited above was being generous. The Oct. 4 notice (which I saw in Capitol Morning Report that morning) said Wells would have a conference on the Capitol building’s East Steps at 10:30. I showed up about 10 minutes prior, and found no one there. At 10:30, campaign aide Cres Vellucci – a former political reporter himself – asked me if I was there to see Wells.

We chatted about the state of journalism in Sacramento, and then Wells walked up a couple minutes later. “This is very informal,” she told Capitol Weekly report Malcolm MacLachlan and me. Since Maclachlan and I were the only ones there, I couldn’t help but agree. With a groundskeeper trimmed the lawn behind us, Wells, proceeded to talk about the evils of Corporate America. And Titanic metaphors.

“I call them the two Titanic parties,” Wells said of the Democrats and Republicans. “I saw the movie the other night, and noticed that they locked the doors to the lower levels so the people couldn’t get out. That’s when I thought about Jerry Brown talking about austerity measures.”

“What’s the iceberg?” MacLachlan asked.

“The iceberg is the economy!” Wells said.

This is the way politics should be. You can question the metaphors, or even the foundation of the political arguments, but they represent ideas that are provocative — and certainly at least as debatable as undocumented immigrants or plastic shopping bag bans.

There’s also no battalion of handlers and consultants flanking the candidate at every turn, no $10,000-a-plate dinners to pay for slick television commercials. Just a couple reporters and a candidate, each struggling to be heard over the sounds of a lawnmower.

-Anthony Pignataro

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  1. Fred Mangels
    Fred Mangels 8 October, 2010, 06:17

    On the upside, this means there will likely be fewer races I’ll have to deal with in the general election. It’s kind of nice not having to vote when you only have two lame choices for candidates.

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