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Third parties find niche in local races

Oct. 6, 2000

Ballot includes Green, Libertarian

By BRANDI DEAN

Reporter

Although Tuesday's presidential debate left many eager to voice opinions on the two featured candidates, the loudest supporters in attendance were not yelling for Vice President Al Gore or for Gov. George W. Bush.

'Let Ralph debate!' was the most common chant outside the library complex at the University of Massachusetts. It came from supporters of Ralph Nader, who were protesting the Green Party candidate's exclusion from the debate.

While Nader garners the most support of the third-party candidates -- 2 percent of all likely voters, according to the most recent Gallup Polls -- he is not the only one. The Libertarian Party has Harry Browne on the ballot, and Pat Buchanan is running on the Reform Party ticket, not to mention three write-in presidential candidates.

This year, there are 15 third-party candidates running on the local ballot -- nine Libertarians, five Greens and one Reform Party candidate.

Buchanan, the only other minor candidate to show up in the Gallup Polls at 1 percent, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1992 and 1996 but said on NBC News' Meet the Press Sunday that he believed there was no conservative party left in Washington, D.C.

'This Republican establishment has left me,' he said. 'I am not obligated to go out and speak and fight for a party that no longer represents the principles and ideas I've fought for all my life.'

Instead, he has aligned himself with the Reform Party, a more conservative group that, in its mission statement, commits itself to reforming the political system. In Waco, however, Buchanan is the only Reform candidate on the ballot.

In contrast, the Green and Libertarian Parties each have several candidates.

The Libertarian Party has more than 300 Libertarians in public office, making them the third largest party, but only five of those are in Texas, and most have small, local positions. This year, however, there are nine Libertarians on Waco's ballot, ranging from presidential and congressional candidates to Criminal Appeals Court Judges.

According to Mark Swanstrom, the U.S. Representative candidate opposing Ramsey Farley and Chet Edwards, the appeal of the Libertarian Party is that it is the middle ground between the two major parties.

'There are some issues where I disagree with Republicans,' Swamstrom said, 'and some issues where I disagree with Democrats, and some issues where I disagree with both. I just wouldn't feel comfortable aligning myself with either. The two parties just don't represent everybody's views.'

The Green Party, on the other hand, has roots in the traditional left but includes 'an ecological society that harmonizes with nature,' according to its platform. They hold 72 offices in 18 states.

There are five Green candidates on Waco's ballot this year; two are national positions and three are state offices. Though there are no Green Party candidates on the local ballot, Justin Barbour, Kerrville sophomore and co-chair of the campus Green Party that is currently forming, said he feels strongly about the party's beliefs.

'They're in favor of real environmental protection and not just the lip-service environmental protection that the Democrats talk about,' he said. 'Right now, neither major party is getting anything done.'

In the 1996 presidential election, the 19 third-party candidates on the ballot in various states accounted for more than 10 percent of the vote, according to the Federal Electoral Commission. However, Ross Perot, the Independent candidate, received 8.4 percent of the votes, and the closest follower was Ralph Nader, with less than 1 percent.

This year's write-in options for president include candidates associated with the U.S. Taxpayers Party and the Socialist Party. Many said these parties are often accused of taking votes away from the parties they are most closely related to, and their greatest opposition ends up being elected. Still, Swanstrom said their benefits are important, even when they lose the office.

'The biggest contribution of third parties,' Swanstorm said, 'is that they do highlight some topics that are later incorporated into the larger parties -- even if they don't get elected.'

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