A place to try out semi-fusion politics

Sam Smith – The Maine Green Independent Party could do itself and the state a favor by having its steering committee endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Michaud. The latest poll has Michaud only three points ahead of the reprehensible Republican governor Paul LePage, thanks to another run by Eliot Cutler, an alleged independent but actually deeply devoted to only one cause: himself. In the last election Cutler was the yellow stripe in the middle of the road that allowed LePage to win with far less than a majority.

It may seem strange to suggest such a cross endorsement but, in fact, there is a long history of this in American politics and – in formal fusion politics i.e. where a candidate can run on two or more party tickets – it was so successful that most states made it illegal. You can’t use it Maine.

But it’s still around, witness this recent story from the New London Day: “Democrats took six of the seven possible seats on the city’s Board of Education in the municipal elections Tuesday,.. . Green Party candidate Mirna Lis Martinez, who was cross-endorsed by the Republican Party, was also elected to the board.”

As one who helped create two third parties – the national Greens and the DC Statehood Party – I have frequently felt frustrated by the tendency of the Greens to treat themselves more as a religion – in which one’s own faith and virtue were foremost – than as another form of a movement whose success depended on how many you get to come your way. Both the Green and the DC Statehood parties were, after all, launched in part to provide political support to existing movements. It was not a church we were building but creating another tool for action.

It varies by locale.  You’ll find Greens in Maine, for example, extremely involved in various issues  ranging from gay rights to marijuana to saving a plaza in the center of Portland. This blend of the activist and the political has made the Maine Greens one of the most successful state Green parties, complete with over 37,000 registered voters.

An endorsement of Michaud would not only help garner some of these votes but might might embarrass some liberals now supporting Cutler to make a shift. And it would make the Green Party more significant in the state.

Nothing about this would require the Maine Greens to ever do such a thing again unless they had a good reason to. But just as the Red Sox didn’t win the World Series just by growing beards,  so the Greens have to give as much attention to tactics as they do to symbolism and personal virtue.

SOME HISTORY OF FUSION POLITICS

Wikipedia – The cause of electoral fusion suffered a major setback in 1997, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided by 6-3 in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party that fusion is not a constitutionally protected civil right…

By 1907 the practice had been banned in 18 states; today, fusion as conventionally practiced remains legal in only eight states, namely:

Connecticut
Delaware
Idaho
Mississippi
New York
Oregon
South Carolina
Vermont

The Liberal Party was founded in 1944 by George Counts as an alternative to the American Labor Party, which had been formed earlier as a vehicle for leftists uncomfortable with the Democratic Party to support Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite enjoying some successes, the American Labor Party was tarred by the perceived influence of communists in its organization, which led David Dubinsky of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, Alex Rose of the Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and Ben Davidson to leave in order to found the Liberal Party as an explicitly anti-communist alternative.

In the 1944 elections, both the American Labor and Liberal parties supported Roosevelt for President, but by 1948 the two parties diverged, with the Liberals nominating Harry S. Truman and the American Labor Party nominating Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace.

At their founding, the Liberal Party had conceived a plan to become a national party, with former Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie as its national leader and candidate for Mayor of New York City in 1945. However, Willkie’s unexpected death later in 1944 left the Liberals without any truly national figures to lead the party.

The Liberal Party was one of several minor parties that fulfill a role almost unique to New York State politics. New York law allows electoral fusion – a candidate can be the nominee of multiple parties and aggregate the votes received on all the different ballot lines. Several other states allow fusion, but only in New York is it commonly practiced. In fact, since each party is listed with its own line on New York ballots, multiple nominations mean that a candidate’s name can be listed several times on the ballot.

While the Liberal Party generally endorsed Democratic candidates, this was not always the case. The Liberal Party supported Republicans such as John Lindsay and Rudy Giuliani for mayor of New York and Jacob Javits and Charles Goodell for U.S. Senator, and independents such as John B. Anderson for president. In 1969, Lindsay, the incumbent Republican Mayor of New York City, lost his own party’s primary but was reelected on the Liberal Party line alone, bringing along ‘on his coat-tails’ enough Liberal candidates for City Council to replace the Republicans as the Minority Party in City government. In 1977, after Mario Cuomo lost the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York to Ed Koch, the Liberal Party endorsed Cuomo, who proceeded to again lose narrowly in the general election.

Jerry Gershenhorn – Because [late 19th century] North Carolinian Populists realized that they had little chance to defeat the Democrats on their own, they concocted a plan to fuse, or join, with the Republicans, who enjoyed strong backing from African American voters. The Republican Party had been the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that had supported the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery, and recognized the citizenship and voting rights of African Americans. Under the fusion strategy, Republicans and Populists would place all their support behind either a Populist or a Republican candidate depending on which one offered the best chance to defeat the Democrats. While the Populists and Republicans did not always agree, they did have common interests in supporting policies that aided farmers, supported public education, and guaranteed more democratic elections.

This fusion strategy achieved great success in North Carolina’s 1894 and 1896 elections. For the first time in two decades Democratic control of the state Assembly was overturned in 1894 as the Fusionists won control of both houses…. Once in office, the Fusionists passed legislation friendly to farmers and to the masses, both black and white. They restored the Alliance charters to engage in four cooperative business. They capped interest rates at 6%. They cut taxes on farmers and increased tax rates on railroads and other corporations. Governor Russell acted to nullify the lease of the North Carolina Railroad to private interests. The legislature increased educational opportunities for the masses by increasing funding for public schools, normal schools, colleges, and teacher training. Charities and prisons also received more funding.

Fusionist government increased the number of African American public officials in the state. In 1894, a total of five African Americans were elected to the state’s General Assembly. While few blacks were elected to the General Assembly, many became local public officials. In fact, over 1000 black officials served in public office in North Carolina during the Fusion era, as magistrates, deputy sheriffs, and county commissioners.

But the Democrats would not accept this participatory democracy, and conspired to topple Fusionist political control of the state…. Following the 1898 election, the Democrats moved to destroy the possibility of future challenges to their dominance in the state. In 1899, they passed Jim Crow laws segregating trains and steamboats, intended to stigmatize blacks and give whites a feeling of superiority

Scott Shields, Direct Democracy, 2005 – The Maine legislature held a hearing earlier this year on a bill that would bring New York-style fusion to the state. There’s interest in fusion, explains State Representative Hannah Pingree of North Haven, who introduced the bill, because the Green Party has repeatedly spoiled races for Democrats, siphoning off enough votes to let Republicans win. Democrats control the Statehouse, but by a slim margin. As she works to acquaint her colleagues with fusion, Pingree also has to acknowledge that the benefits may not flow just to Democrats. “People look at this as a way to promote the left, but it also could be a way for conservatives to advance as well,” she notes

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