by Peter B. Gemma
I’ve interviewed several presidential candidates over the years, but Darcy Richardson is a tough subject. He is the envy of political writers, has a diverse background in electioneering, and Darcy’s involvement in and knowledge of key policy issues should intimidate any candidate who finds himself in the election arena with him.
Darcy Richardson is a candidate for the Reform Party nomination that will be decided August 8th via Internet balloting.
Before we get to your bid for the Reform Party presidential nomination, I’d like to walk back a little to get a better picture. What’s your educational and professional background?
I majored in economics at Temple University while working in the steamship industry in Philadelphia – I went to school evenings and weekends. I’ve had several different occupations during my working career, including a six-year stint as a manufacturing manager for an industrial heat-treating equipment firm in Dresher, Pennsylvania, before relocating to Jacksonville, Florida, and starting a new career in the financial services industry.
Most of my fifteen years in the financial services sector were spent with the Merrill Lynch Insurance Group before that venerable Wall Street firm was gobbled up by banking behemoth Bank of America in a $50 billion acquisition in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown.
In 1980, at age 24, you ran for Pennsylvania Auditor General. Why?
Well, I was a Democratic precinct committeeman at the time, but had supported the Consumer Party’s candidate for governor in 1978, so the Philadelphia-based party asked me to run for Auditor General. The Consumer Party, which was founded by feisty consumer activist Max Weiner in 1967, was affiliated with the short-lived Citizens Party during that period. We were supporting environmentalist Barry Commoner for president that year and I was an alternate delegate at the founding Citizens Party convention in Cleveland, Ohio, that spring.
My candidacy was primarily motivated by alleged corruption in the Auditor General’s office, including troubling allegations of a job-selling scheme involving numerous “ghost employees.” As it turned out, I had my own “deep throat” in the office who anonymously sent me copies of the Auditor General’s payroll records. I remember the Philadelphia Inquirer scoffing at me when I first brought this issue to their attention during an interview with their editorial board in September of that year. The FBI, thankfully, treated it more seriously.
Al Benedict, the incumbent Democrat who had strong gubernatorial ambitions – most Pennsylvania Democrats expected him to be the party’s nominee for governor in 1982 – later pleaded guilty to multiple counts of federal racketeering and tax evasion charges and was sentenced to six years in federal prison. His plea agreement also required him to acknowledge his role in the job-selling scheme.
That was a really exhilarating and heady experience for a 24-year-old. Among other things, we distributed more than 50,000 pieces of literature during that campaign. I also debated both of my major-party opponents on statewide public television and then later appeared with my Democratic and Republican rivals on KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh in late October right before a widely watched Steelers game.
I think I spent the equivalent of $9,500 in current dollars during that campaign, mostly out of my own pocket, while polling nearly 49,000 votes – the Consumer Party’s strongest showing in a statewide race up ‘til then.
In 1988, you ran for the US Senate in Pennsylvania on the Consumer Party line and called for a repudiation of the national debt. How would that work?
As economist Murray Rothbard once reminded us, debt repudiation is rooted in the American tradition, beginning with the repudiation of state debts following the economic panics of 1837 and 1839.
I’m not advocating debt repudiation in my current campaign – at least not yet – but with the current national debt, the most widely held class of security in the world, recently soaring past $19.3 trillion, there will come a time when the United States will have to seriously consider some sort debt repudiation or partial debt repudiation.
We’ve been lucky so far, largely because of historically low interest rates. But those low rates won’t last forever. In fact, by the end of this decade interest on that debt is projected to be as high as $800 billion a year, exceeding our entire national defense costs and eventually all nondefense discretionary spending. Something will have to be done.
You managed one of the late Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaigns and served as a senior advisor in another. What was at the core of his agenda that motivated you?
Well, I always admired the fact that Eugene McCarthy was willing to risk his political career by courageously challenging LBJ on the war in Vietnam.
Gene had guts. He never worried about what others might think about him and he certainly wasn’t afraid of subjecting himself to criticism. There was plenty of the latter, as was the case in 1968 when, shortly after unseating a sitting President of his own party, Gene only belatedly endorsed fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon. Blaming him for Humphrey’s relatively narrow defeat that year, the Minnesota DFL never forgave him and absolutely skewered McCarthy when he sought to regain his old Senate seat in 1982.
Some of the harshest criticism, of course, occurred a couple of years earlier when Gene unexpectedly threw his support to Republican Ronald Reagan during the closing days of the 1980 presidential campaign. The Democratic Party, of course, never forgave his apostasy, even as millions of blue-collar Democrats across the country, pounded by double-digit inflation and rising interest rates, rallied to Reagan’s banner that autumn.
Among your many political history books, you wrote a biography of Roger Babson, the Prohibition Party’s candidate for President in 1940. What was your impetus?
I guess I found Roger W. Babson to be one of the most oddly peculiar presidential candidates in American history. As one of the few economists in the country to accurately predict the Great Depression, Babson was something of a household name when he ran for president on the Prohibition ticket in 1940. He was one of the most widely quoted men of his time and hundreds of newspapers throughout the country regularly carried his nationally syndicated column.
Yet Babson stunned his party’s faithful during the heat of the 1940 presidential campaign by suggesting that the United States should seriously consider “prohibiting the unworthy from voting,” those individuals the MIT-educated investment analyst defined as incapable of passing a basic civics exam, anybody receiving public assistance, either temporarily or permanently, and those who hadn’t resided in the United States for a period of at least 21 years.
While his proposal to purge those he deemed unworthy from the nation’s voting lists undoubtedly raised a few eyebrows, it wasn’t necessarily the most controversial topic that he addressed during the 1940 campaign. While campaigning in New Hampshire that autumn, Babson – a longtime supporter of the eugenics movement – predicted that there would be an increased interest in eugenics following World War II because “no system of national defense can save any nation so long as the unfit are breeding more rapidly than the fit.”
Strongly refuting the notion that “the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy,” the quirky “Seer of Wellesley Hills” believed that his views were entirely consistent with those expressed by the Founding Fathers.
You also penned a bio of Wisconsin Senator “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the Progressive Party’s nominee for President in 1924. Is his platform relevant to your candidacy?
Only insofar as “Fighting Bob” La Follette recognized that the United States was ruled – then as now – by a powerful financial oligarchy. In fact, the Wisconsin lawmaker seriously considered naming Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis as his vice-presidential running mate that year. Brandeis, of course, had authored a scathing critique of the financial oligarchy for Harper’s magazine a decade or so earlier, an eye-opening article in which the Harvard-educated lawyer persuasively argued that almost all of the country’s economic activities were concentrated in the hands of a few investment bankers whose growing influence threatened to “chill…and destroy genuine economic freedom.”
My book on the 1924 La Follette campaign, incidentally, focuses on Wall Street’s determined efforts to undermine and destroy the Wisconsin Senator’s insurgent candidacy that year.
As an independent candidate for Lt. Governor of Florida in 2010, you said “The banking industry’s dirtiest secret is that it’s half socialist, and in the worst sense of that word.” Tell me more about that.
By that I meant that the banking industry commonly privatizes its profits while externalizing most, if not all, of its losses, as was the case during the 2008 financial crisis. The taxpayers picked up the tab for Wall Street’s reckless behavior, and that’s excluding the trillions provided to those same irresponsible firms by the Federal Reserve – a figure estimated by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College at $29.6 trillion some three years after the financial meltdown.
Of course, precious little of that money ever made its way into the real economy. As a result, wages remain stagnant while more than 14 million Americans have dropped out of the workforce entirely.
In 2012, you entered a number of Democratic Party primaries challenging President Obama because of his “unwillingness to stand up to the financial elite on matters of the economy and foreign policy.” What did you mean – and is that part of your 2016 platform?
That’s an insightful question – and, yes, it’s part of my 2016 platform. Wall Street, after all, put Barack Obama in office and is now focused on making warmonger Hillary Clinton the nation’s 45th president.
Moreover, the ruling elite in this country – the financial oligarchy, if you will – have long dictated U.S. foreign policy. It’s been true since before World War I and became even more evident with the founding of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in 1921, a group with close ties to J. P. Morgan and Company.
By the way, I think former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president, is an active member of the CFR. He’s an Establishment figure if there ever was one.
You have supported a diverse number of presidential candidates including Barry Commoner, Ralph Nader, and Ross Perot. What is the common thread between them and you as a political activist?
I guess each of them was deeply concerned about the pocketbook issues of working-class and middle-income Americans. Dr. Commoner – “The Paul Revere of Ecology” – was a particularly interesting guy, a Green before there was a Green Party, but without all of that party’s Malthusian nonsense. Commoner had a real working-class message and campaigned vigorously in working-class and poor neighborhoods.
Your 12th book, “Battling the Duopoly: A Short History of the Reform Party’s Struggle to Save America’s Middle Class,” was just published. Why is their story important to this year’s election? Where do you fit in?
That’s a great question, Peter. Given that many of the issues that fueled both the Trump phenomenon and the insurgent Sanders candidacy – opposition to disastrous trade deals like NAFTA, the loss of America’s manufacturing might, and the steady decline of the country’s middle class – were initially addressed by Ross Perot’s Reform Party, I think it’s important to remind the electorate, particularly millenials, that at least one political party had been in the frontlines fighting the good fight when it really mattered.
I’m not sure where I might fit in – rarely fit in anywhere – but if I’m fortunate enough to win the Reform Party’s nomination this coming week I plan to issue that reminder time and again this autumn.
I don’t plan to cede an inch to the megalomaniacal Republican standard-bearer or the former First Lady, whose husband, of course, was not only responsible for NAFTA and other horrendous trade deals that have virtually destroyed the middle class, but was also instrumental in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial banking from investment banking, while pushing through the ill-conceived Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), which deregulated over-the-counter derivatives – both of which led directly to the 2008 financial meltdown of Wall Street’s making and the ensuing Great Recession…an economic downturn from which we’ve never fully recovered.
I also plan to remind the American electorate, particularly Bernie’s disillusioned supporters and the myriad of moderates and independents who can’t stomach the idea of a Clinton or Trump presidency, of Gary Johnson’s 2012 call for an immediate $1.4 trillion, 43 percent across-the-board cut in federal spending – a draconian proposal that would have had utterly devastating consequences for our most vulnerable citizens while wreaking havoc on the U.S. and global economies.
The Reform Party’s website cites their support of a Balanced Budget Amendment, “closing the borders and stop illegal immigration,” and public financing of elections. Are you comfortable with those stands?
While my own views may differ from the party’s platform in a few areas, I’m willing to run on the party’s platform. It might not be true in the case of the Libertarian Party, but that’s what a party’s presidential candidate should do – or at least try to do.
If and when we ever have a productive and thriving economy again, a balanced budget would certainly be a worthy long-term goal, and while the idea of building a wall is absolutely repugnant to a majority of Americans, I think we can make a rather reasonable case for curbing illegal immigration.
Successful presidential campaigns are usually built around two or three themes. What’s at the center of your Reform Party candidacy?
Well, I plan to make a pretty strong pitch to Bernie’s supporters by championing an economic populist message. As was the case during my quixotic challenge to President Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries, it’ll primarily be an anti-Wall Street, antiwar candidacy.
How many states is the Reform Party now ballot qualified – how many will that be come November?
Well, technically the party only has ballot access in three states: Florida, Louisiana, and New York. The New York affiliate is expected to nominate Donald Trump – and I’m certainly fine with that, especially considering that it was part of the delicate negotiations by incoming national chair Bill Merrell in convincing Rob Astorino’s organization to turn the party over to the national Reform Party for the long haul – so we’re really only looking at two states at this point with the possibility of waging write-in campaigns in several others.
I really want to focus on Florida. It’s a key battleground state and – according to the latest Suffolk University poll – it’s one of the weaker states for both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. According to the Suffolk survey, Johnson is only polling four percent here – another recent poll showed him at only two percent – while Stein, the Green Party candidate, barely garnered 8,900 votes in Florida four years ago.
As such, I think there’s some running room for a Reform Party ticket in this state. In fact, I’ve suggested that we should circle the wagons here in the Sunshine State and fight to the finish.
The Reform Party nominating convention was to have concluded last week, but the vote for a presidential ticket was postponed to August 8th – why? How will the ballots be cast outside of a national conclave?
I think the party wanted more time to evaluate the candidates. My understanding is that the credentialed delegates in Bohemia [NY] last weekend will be casting e-mail ballots this week and the results will be announced on Monday, August 8th, at 5PM Eastern Time.
Finally, the standard question for presidential candidates: What can we expect in the first 100 days of your tenure?
Well, there’s absolutely no danger of that, but if the impossible happened one of my first acts as President would be to pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Ross Ulbricht for any and all U.S. federal crimes they have either been convicted of or prior to this date alleged to have committed. I would follow that up with a systematic program of identifying and pardoning whistleblowers and those convicted of “victimless crimes” who currently languish in federal prisons or are otherwise living under federal correctional supervision or penalty.
I would then slam shut the revolving door between Wall Street and the White House and begin filling those empty prison cells with the folks who should really be occupying them.