Can third parties surface useful ideas?


A few weeks back, the Phoenix offered a look at the third-party presidential candidates on the RI ballot -- not much, admittedly, but more than I saw anywhere else locally. 

Now, writing in the Sun of Baltimore (h/t Romenesko), journalism professor John F. Kirch says that democracy suffers when the news media ignore longshot candidates and the ideas they espouse.

None of these candidates garnered more than 2 percent of the popular vote on Election Day. But how third-party candidates are covered by the news media is an important issue that should be taken more seriously, given that we live in a democratic society that proclaims deference to the First Amendment and honors the notion that we are all better off when a wide range of proposals are aired.

The news media are allowing themselves to be co-opted by the Democrats and Republicans into viewing campaigns solely through the prism of the two-party system. This means that the major parties control which issues are permitted into the debate, thus denying the public a chance to hear proposals that might seem extreme today but could gain traction in the future if only voters had an opportunity to consider them more seriously. Remember, third parties have been the catalyst for many reforms throughout American history, including the abolition of slavery, tough child-labor laws, free public education, strong business regulations, direct election of senators and women's suffrage.

By including more substantive coverage of third-party candidates, the press could help open the door to innovative alternatives to old issues. It might force the two major candidates to come off message more often and eventually adopt the new ideas pushed by otherwise marginalized candidates, much like the Republican Party did when it absorbed some of Ross Perot's proposals after the 1992 election.

In related news:

-- The Libertarian Party says it has supplanted the GOP as the real free market advocates.

"The Republican Party no longer represents advocates of capitalism and the free market," says Libertarian Party Director of Communications Andrew Davis. "The GOP's mindless support of regulatory economic policy indicates it no longer has any philosophical or pragmatic opposition to government intervention in the marketplace.  This abandonment of free market principles makes the Republican Party no more opposed to big government than their Democratic counterparts."

The Libertarian Party points to Senator John McCain's lack of opposition to the use of government in solving America's economic woes.  "This was the perfect opportunity to explain to America that government was the problem, and it was not the solution," says Davis. "However, Senator McCain fervently believed that government had an important regulatory role in the economy, in what appears to be a growing sentiment among 'conservatives' in the Republican Party."

-- Ken Block of the RI Moderate Party says the game is still stacked against third-party interlopers in RI. He plans to meet with SOS Ralph Mollis and to seek legislative support to try to change the situation.

The law in question is RI General Law 17-1-2 Section 9 Part iii, which if you are either an attorney or a glutton for punishment can be read here:

The net effect of this section of RI law is to place financial handcuffs on any new party trying to compete with the established political parties in our state. 
To summarize, there are only 3 paths to party recognition in RI:
   1)  The Party's last gubernatorial candidate must have won 5% of the previous RI gubernatorial vote.
   2)  An independent candidate for governor can declare a new political party at the time that candidate declares his or her candidacy (this occurs in late June in the year of the election).
   3)  In the year, and only in the year, of the election that party status is desired, collect verified signatures equivalent to 5% of the last gubernatorial or presidential election, whichever was more recent.
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