Christina Tobin, one of the masterminds and organizers of the two debates put on by the organization Free and Equal had this to say in regards to what happened while she was organizing the debates. What follows is her own perspective on how the events went, and what difficulties she had with the various campaigns involved.
“Throughout the 2008 Presidential Campaign, the four major independent and third-party candidates called for the Commission on Presidential Debates to include on stage all candidates who appeared on enough state ballots to at least theoretically attain the 270 electoral votes required to become president. As expected, their requests fell on deaf ears, as the so-called “non-partisan” commission is controlled exclusively by Democrats and Republicans.
Enter Free & Equal, a non-profit group dedicated to furthering ballot access and open elections in the United States.
Through my own work with various third parties on ballot access, I was made painfully aware of the onerous restrictions placed on third party and independent candidates. Nowhere are these restrictions greater than those that determine who will be included in debates. The candidates are told they must meet a polling and support threshold to participate. The media largely ignores the candidates, saying they have no support. Of course, these candidates have limited support because the media denies them the opportunity to get their message out. It is a vicious circle, and this is exactly what played out in this past election. Unfortunately, the short-sighted and narrow-minded attitudes of some of the third-party candidates only made matters worse.
After serving as the National Ballot Access coordinator for the Ralph Nader campaign, I took a leave of absence from the campaign to partner with Trevor Lyman of Thirdpartyticket.com in the hopes of having a third party presidential debate. The odyssey that followed was one I will not soon forget. Let me be as direct as I can: Third parties will never draw a following unless they grow up!
Working with one other person (that’s right, only two of us), I originally hoped that Lyman’s third party ticket debate would fit right into the plans. Unfortunately, Lyman was put off by several campaigns and became disenchanted with the whole idea. From there, Free and Equal took the helm.
Free and Equal worked to have the debate hosted by the Columbia University Political Union on a Sunday afternoon in October. It was clear from the outset that despite their lip service supporting opening the debate to third-parties, the candidates were less than enthusiastic about appearing onstage with one another.
Libertarian candidate and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr’s campaign actions were mean-spirited, and the hubris and utter foolishness of his campaign tactics were appalling. After the well-documented Ron Paul press conference snub, the Barr camp stated many times that Barr would only debate Nader, and that he would not be “seen on the same stage” with Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. The Barr campaign flat out refused to participate, stopped taking our phone calls and emails, and lambasted us on blogs. The “warmest personal regards” on the fax rejecting the invitation to the Mayflower Hotel debate was particularly hypocritical.
Claiming “unprofessionalism” and “bias,” the Barr campaign attempted to drag us through the mud. They were not the only campaign to do so. The Cynthia McKinney campaign was even more deliberate in its attempt to derail the Free and Equal debate.
To make matters worse, after Trevor Lyman and thirdpartyticket.com stopped working with us, they began working against us. A debate was scheduled for the same day as the Columbia University debate. This debate was to be broadcast live on the internet, and the candidates would participate by webcam. From our dealings with the campaigns, we knew that this would not be acceptable to most of them.
But Cynthia McKinney nevertheless decided to participate in the Third Party Ticket debate. The Thursday morning before the Columbia debate was to take place, McKinney and Nader appeared on Democracy Now! With Amy Goodman. During this show, McKinney repeatedly stated that she would be participating in Lyman’s debate, not the Columbia University debate. Nader had every opportunity to correct her, or to challenge her on the other debate, but chose not to.
Faced with an impossible situation, the Columbia Political Union decided against pressing forward with the debate. With no confirmed candidates, due in part to the confusion surrounding Lyman’s debate, the Political Union had no choice but to pull out. Enough cannot be said about the time, effort, and dedication that the Political Union, and publisher Allon Bran in particular, put forward. I thank them for their tremendous effort, and hope that we can work together in the future.
After the Columbia debate was canceled, Free and Equal began preparations for a Third Party presidential debate to be held at the Mayflower Hotel. Free and Equal attempted time and time again to contact the Cynthia McKinney campaign. E-mails were rejected, calls not returned, and once again their blogs were peppered with “conspiracy” charges.
McKinney, in what can be described as a delusional act, posted a video decrying the debate as “The Nader Debate.” The campaign then accused us of working exclusively for Nader, and for not allowing her campaign to participate in the preparations. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t see how you can denounce someone for not working with you when you refuse and reject all attempts at communication. After the debates were held, press releases were sent out containing not only outright lies, but new stories as to why the campaign declined to participate in the debates.
As for the Nader connection, yes, I was indeed the National Ballot Access coordinator for the campaign. I have also helped secure ballot lines for numerous independent candidates and alternative political parties including the Constitution, Green, Libertarian and Socialist Equality parties. I took a leave of absence from the campaign to organize these debates and, by the way, neither I nor the other person I was working with voted for Nader.
Despite all of these maddening hurdles, Free and Equal hosted a successful Presidential debate at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate (the only campaign to be 100% straightforward with us from day one), and Ralph Nader participated in spirited and cordial debate broadcast live on C-SPAN in primetime, and covered by the three major networks.
The next week, a debate organized by the Barr campaign was held in Ohio. It was not nationally broadcast, and reportedly did not appear to be professional in nature.
The Sunday before the election, Free and Equal hosted our second debate, this one a Vice Presidential Debate in Las Vegas. Only the Green party was unrepresented at this debate, despite offers to pay their travel expenses.
It is my opinion that the Libertarian and Green Parties would do well to question the motives of the Barr and McKinney campaigns. After all, they are responsible for the actions of their candidates.
The Barr campaign failed to gain ballot access in any state it attempted, while the states that were handled by the Libertarian Party itself were mostly successful. The McKinney campaign had four different websites throughout the course of the campaign, every one of them underwhelming, the last one offline until after the election. Both campaigns had dismal showings in this election, whether the standard be fundraising, media exposure, or votes. Both campaigns attempted to derail and usurp Free and Equal’s ambitions to provide a media platform for the candidates. Both campaigns routinely ignored the suggestions of their respective party’s leadership. Both campaigns have been accused of being disorganized, incompetent, and arrogant. Both campaigns had the effect of stagnating their respective parties.
Both candidates are former Congressman from safe-seat Congressional Districts in Georgia.
Furthermore, ever since the Libertarian Convention, there have been rumors and speculation that Barr will [again] run as a Republican for Congress in 2010. If this does come to pass, what does it say about the integrity of 3rd parties to be infiltrated and taken over without effective opposition?
All third parties, in my opinion, should think twice before nominating former seat-holding Democrats and Republicans, just for the name recognition. The third party movement should focus on creating its own media opportunities instead of relaying on has-been Democrats and Republicans for media exposure. This is what Free and Equal will strive for.
Even after this very trying experience, Free and Equal remains undaunted by the task of securing ballot access and free and fair elections for independent and third party candidates. Free and Equal also wishes to thank everyone who helped make the debates a reality.
At the beginning of next year, Free and Equal will begin campaigning to challenge ballot access laws across the country. We hope to break the hold of the two party duopoly on our electoral process by helping place as many third party and independent candidates on the ballot in 2010 as possible through lobbying, petitioning, recall, and referendum efforts. Our Campaign for Ballot Access will begin the day after Inauguration Day. Stay tuned as more is sure to come. Please feel free to visit our website-in-progress att www.freeandequal.org.
Now, I would like to send a quick thank you to several people who made the debates possible.
Sorry, been out of the loop.
This blog should stop reporting on minor parties
minor parties: Boston Tea Party and a whole host of socialist parties…
third parties: CP, LP, GP, few major independents [Nader]
I already published this a while back
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