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April 10th, 2006

Integrity Roundup: The Art of Third Party Politics

by Darren Johnson

I’ve always been into the creative arts, and people always stop me and ask when my next work will be available. They think I’m going through a dry spell because I haven’t done a poetry reading, written a local play or published much creative writing lately. But every creative neuron in my head–however many there are–has been busy firing for the biggest creative project I’ve ever put together. But this one won’t be in a black box theater near you. It should be in newspapers across the state.

For the past several years, since 9-11 prompted me to stop being so apathetic, and especially since last year, I’ve discovered the art of third party politics. Instead of a pen and paper, a stage or canvas, the medium here are the intricacies of 500 pages of state election law that allow a handful of dedicated people, if they are in the right, to influence thousands of votes and define issues in what are otherwise oftentimes issueless races.

Thus the Integrity Party, after numerous creative workshops and sessions of shooting the shit, was borne last year. To our surprise, with a little bit of guerilla marketing, this project caught on and helped us gather almost 10,000 signatures across Long Island and help the underdog candidate for Suffolk County Sheriff, Vincent DeMarco, win a very tight race with Democratic and Integrity endorsements on the ballot. We also ran our own candidates in places, getting about 2 percent of the vote. The core group of members has been Bob Olson, Melissa Bishop, Nancy Beattie and John Claasen, all Suffolk residents who attended just about every meeting last year and helped inspire about 100 people to carry petitions with them to get us a ballot spot. That two percent may not seem like a lot, but it’s a great benchmark for a minor party. If we can provide 2 percent of the vote to a major-party candidate in a close race, that can help that candidate win.

To our surprise, no one in the state is doing what we’ve been doing. The three minor parties with what’s termed “ballot status” — Independence, Conservative and Working Families — merely back preset candidates, usually based on their abilities to win and provide patronage jobs after that win. Other minor parties are so deeply buried under their own ideologies, which are increasingly out of touch with the average voter, that they can’t get the minimum number of signatures required to become an official party. And, they cannot organize enough people to produce a sufficient number of petitions that will pass the insane scrutiny of the Board of Elections.

But we did it. Using the ins and outs of election law, and hitting the pavement in the grueling August heat, we produced very clean petitions that survived the BOE backrooms. And we learned something else: While most of us are rather progressive, the voters aren’t really that concerned. Most minor party ideologues are conceited, and rarely get any notice or a slot on the ballot. We needed to be different, to be humble, to succeed. We found out what average voters cared about and went with it. They want lower taxes, better representation and honest government. Gun laws, abortion, gay marriage — were hot button issues that divided minor parties and made them weaker. We decided not to tackle those issues and focus on ethics. Thus we settled on the name Integrity.

This year we’ve already made some endorsements, and we plan on several more. We’re backing famed disabilities advocate and quadriplegic Brooke Ellison for State Senate in Suffolk County’s 2nd District and union carpenter Treewolf West for Assembly in the Hamptons’ 2nd District. Both candidates were able to use our early endorsement to negotiate Democratic backing, as well. This state allows such fusion voting when candidates can appear on more than one line, thereby increasing their total vote; so, our endorsement is a foot in the door.

We’re also talking to statewide candidates. The Integrity Party will need 15,000 signatures and about $20,000 to go statewide in 2006.

The right gubernatorial candidate could bring us at least 50,000 votes on our line – which, by law, would make us an official party. It would enable us to fight for better government from Montauk to Niagara Falls — because we would automatically be listed on every single ballot. It would enable us to easily run candidates everywhere in the state for the next four years. That 2 percent will grow exponentially!

So far we’ve had positive discussions with Tom Suozzi, who will need a minor party line. Rarely does anyone win with only one line in this state. Should Suozzi also win a major party line and accept our help, we would be assured of at least 50,000 votes on our line. He’s a fellow Long Islander and his Fix Albany platform of “good government first” is very much in line with ours. If Suozzi does not need our help, there are several other candidates who may run for governor with our support.

New York’s all-or-nothing system of doing whatever it takes to get 50,000 votes has forced our rag-tag group to be creative. And that’s why I haven’t had a masterpiece lately. That’s hopefully coming to a ballot near you this fall.

Consider helping the Integrity Party. Donations are most needed because this year our signatures, by law, need to come from across the state –and that will require a lot of mileage, hotel rooms and meals. We also will have our annual gala dinner in June. Donations can be made to The American Reform Party of NYS (The Integrity Party), PO Box 2352, Aquebogue, NY 11931. Our website is www.IntegrityParty.com. Your donation will help keep politicians across the state honest — well, at least a little bit more honest. Thank you. *

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