by Peter B. Gemma
The Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and is the third oldest party behind the Republicans and Democrats. They have fielded presidential candidates in every election every cycle since 1872. The Prohibition Party had its heyday during the years 1882-1916, when candidates were elected to Congress, state legislatures, and changed the outcome of the 1916 presidential election. The Prohibition Party’s initial foray into politics was radical: support for racial equality, a woman’s suffrage platform plank appeared in the party’s platform in 1872, and in 1908 they advocated “the prohibition of child labor in mines, workshops, and factories.”
Jim Hedges, the 2016 Prohibition Party candidate for President, earned a BA in Musical Performance from the University of Iowa and holds a Master’s degree in Geography from the University of Maryland. He served in the United States Marine Band as a tuba performer, and was editor-in-chief of the National Speleological Bulletin for 11 years. Hedges served as Tax Assessor for Thompson Township Pennsylvania for two terms – the first time a member of the Prohibition Party held office since 1959.
Gemma: To prepare for this interview, I read quite a few Prohibition Party platforms. This year’s is surprisingly Populist. There are calls for addressing climate change and raising of the minimum wage, as well as planks spelling out opposition to gun control and nixing the federal health care system. With this mix of positions, who is your target constituency?
Hedges: The Prohibition Party’s “core” is divided between religious conservatives who oppose beverage alcohol on doctrinal grounds, and the relatively liberal wing that opposes beverage alcohol because of the social problems it causes. The liberal wing traces back to the early progressive era of the party. I’m from the liberal wing, and I was able to add a few progressive planks to this year’s platform. Perhaps it does make this platform appear schizophrenic, as one critic told me, but the politics is the art of possible.
The platform has something for everybody. When talking to people, I teach the right wing planks with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but I emphasize the progressive planks. Those are the planks which the will attract the young, idealistic people whom we must acquire in order to survive.
Gemma: The 2016 Prohibition Party platform says it supports, “limiting U.S. Supreme Court justices to one nine-year term; new Justices shall be chosen from among the Chief Justices of the several state Supreme Courts, who are willing to serve.” Why limit the pool of Supreme Court candidates – there is a long history of appointments of people with various legal and public policy backgrounds including Earl Warren and Antonin Scalia.
Hedges: In part, this is an extension of the term limits idea. It is the formation of a gerontocracy. It ensures that they will be a regular infusion of fresh ideas. From my science perspective, I can see that progress in science is more connected to changing generations than it is to changing opinions. Old-timers defend unto death their pet interpretations; young insurgents rise through the ranks and bring with them revised interpretations incorporating new data – this happens with political opinions as well. I suspect the party members who want this plank are motivated by opposition to Justice Ginsberg and the other liberal Justices who would like to force them out but do not have a reference point.
Gemma: Another interesting plank of your party asserts, “Attorneys, who factually are officers of the court, and who therefore are members of the Judicial Branch, shall be prohibited from holding an elected or appointed legislative or executive office while holding a membership or license in any bar association, thereby safeguarding the separation of powers.” Can you explain the rationale behind that stance?
Hedges: This is legalistic nitpicking that came from just one member, now deceased. I’m ignoring it.
Gemma: In a recent party newsletter there is this statement: “The 18th Amendment said nothing at all about possession of alcohol; it criminalized only the traffic in alcohol, the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition didn’t care if you had some on your person. It was invoked only if you provided alcohol to someone else.” Am I reading between the lines in concluding if prohibition were again the law of the land, homemade alcohol would be viewed with a wink and a nod? Could I make some bathtub gin and give it away, not sell it, to friends and relatives?
Hedges: As far as I’m concerned, yes. But remember that there would be dram shop laws – anyone who provides alcohol to another person will be held responsible for anti-social offenses perpetrated by that person while under the influence of what you give him. If he gets tanked-up on your gin, then goes home and beats his wife, you will go to jail.
Gemma: The Prohibition Party platform maintains there should be “strong resistance to recreational drugs,” but that “it should seek to disrupt the traffic in drugs, not to persecute drug users individually.” Under prohibition statues, could states decriminalize marijuana? Would usage of medical marijuana be allowed?
Hedges: Most members will disagree with me on this, but my opinion is that yes, if the doctor prescribes a daily dose, go take it. Perhaps that’s my military background coming through – I was enlisted: doctors are officers, and you do what the man says right now and without question.
But again, the medical exception is certain to be abused. The stock joke during the prohibition era was that, “Our town used to have one drugstore and five saloons, now it has six drugstores.” There is no perfect solution to this.
Gemma: In the party’s Spring 2016 newsletter, it says, “Until alcohol and tobacco are again covered under a stronger Volstead Act, we support higher taxes on both. [National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, was enacted to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment via the creation of the Federal Alcohol Administration.] If a ban on tobacco products and alcohol is enforced, what replaces the revenue stream of tax monies from these products that goes to state and federal government budgets?
Hedges: There would be no loss, only a net gain to taxpayers. The economy is difficult to sort out – and the topic doesn’t lend itself to sound-bite campaign statements – but several careful studies of this have been made over the years, by reputable people, and every one of them have concluded that the tax loss from alcohol problems is greater than the tax revenue from alcohol sales. The numbers range from a $5-to-one loss to a $17-to-one loss.
The losses show up, indirectly, in emergency services, policing, child welfare, food stamps (lower family incomes), auto accidents, work accidents, quality of work, prisons, rehab – endless places really, but none of them directly accountable to alcohol consumption. The costs have to be teased out of the other data, while alcohol tax revenue and alcohol jobs all show up in the ledger in one column, giving the impression of “profit” to casual readers.
If we legalize marijuana and other recreational drugs, the same accounting ambiguity will apply to them.
Gemma: You are running on a platform that calls for tuition-free free college, a prohibition on gambling – I assume that means state lotteries – and a balanced budget. Again, how will the state and federal government budgets be reconfigured to cut back income from these activities but deliver more services?
Hedges: Free public colleges will cost more. The taxpayers will have to ante-up the cost. We think it would be a good investment – I recently did a newsletter article on the progression over time from free elementary schools to free high schools to, and now we hope, free undergraduate college.
Yes, that platform plank is aimed at state lotteries. The lottery, essentially, takes money out of one pocket, subtracts a service fee, gives you back what’s left, and tells you it has done you a favor. Lotteries prey on the poor – go in your neighborhood quick shop and watch who buys lottery tickets. It’s not the community elite, its people who already are on one or another kind public assistance – the tax forgiveness class not the upper bracket class.
Lotteries are not the subsidy for the rich. Let’s cut out the smoke and mirrors and raise taxes enough to pay for the schools and social services that state lotteries allegedly subsidize – on the backs of the poor.
There is no way to cut back income and at the same time deliver more services. Things that taxpayers want, the taxpayers must pay for.
Gemma: The 2012 Prohibition Party platform declared, “Believing the federal government to have grown too intrusive and too unwieldy in its demands upon individual states and their citizens, we call for a strict interpretation of the Tenth Amendment if the U.S. Constitution.” Isn’t this in conflict with the idea that the federal government can overrule state and local regulations when it comes to alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and drugs?
Hedges: The role the federal government should be to ensure that all citizens are treated equally before the law, that we don’t retreat back to the times when only white, male, land owners were allowed to participate in government.
The states should be allowed to make their own regulations about a lot of things. Now, if there is a spillover two adjacent states, such as air pollution from coal-burning power plants, or alcohol sales adjacent to Indian reservations, then the interstate compacts or national courts need to resolve these conflicts. But, the states can experiment with 50 different solutions to various problems and maybe a few of those experiments will work and be a guide for everyone, while a mandatory national policy has just one chance of getting it right.
Gemma: How many states will your name appear on the ballot?
Hedges: We anticipate six or seven. That’s only a few, but it’ll be our best showing in 50 years.
Gemma: Author Darcy Richardson, who wrote a history of the Prohibition Party (“A Toast to Glory: The Prohibition Party Flirts With Greatness”), has observed that, “Everyone has been predicting their demise, every cycle for the last 20 years, but they always surprise everyone and manage to nominate a ticket.” Last election cycle the Prohibition Party received 518 votes nationally. Your campaign seems to be bouncing back with a modest budget for ballot access. What is your measure of success in 2016?
Hedges: Those half-dozen states. If we can get 1000 votes in each of those states, which is feasible, that would also be our best showing in 50 years. We’re better organized and we have been in the immediate past, and if I may say so without being in modest, we’re better led.
Gemma: Tell me about your running mate, Bill Bayes.
Hedges: Bill is 60-ish. He made a career of teaching public school music and is now running a small manufacturing business in his hometown. He comes from a military family, but he was not himself in the Armed Forces. I think we have the first ticket of musicians to lead any political party.
Gemma: It takes a lot to put your name and reputation on the line for a fledgling cause. I understand that you are not a man of religious beliefs, yet you are representing what can still be called a Religious Right political party. Are you comfortable with that?
Hedges: I’ve always been, since my high school days, the reformist and a critic of the status quo. One of my local county commissioners recently accused me of being “an agitator.” Well, I think governments are like washing machines: they won’t come clean unless they have an agitator.
I look for challenges. I got to be a pretty good tuba player. After that I was a decent geographer. Now I’m going to try to resuscitate a moribund political party.
My religious heritage is Methodist boarding on an Anabaptist. I share the Religious Right lifestyle. Although I’m motivated by social concern rather than by religious doctrine, I’m comfortable hanging out with “God’s people.” We see eye-to-eye on most things, and, unlike the current major party candidates, I know enough about Christianity that I can attend church without embarrassing either them or myself.