October 29, 2015

Greens need to accept fusion politics

There is a split in the Green Party over whether a member should be permitted to support Bernie Sanders for president. From the beginning your editor has favored the party concentrating on state and local elections and not presidential ones but realizes many party members disagree. But regardless of where one stands, these are both respectable positions for a Green to take and Sanders-supporting Greens should not be censored or otherwise punished for a number of reasons, one being that there is a long history of third parties working on occasion for candidates of other parties. It is a process known as fusion politics. 

North Carolina History Project -    During the 1890s, a national phenomenon called fusion politics united political parties. In some western states the Populist (or People's Party) and the Democratic Party united, but in North Carolina the movement, spearheaded by agricultural leader Marion Butler, combined the Populist and Republican parties. In the presidential election of 1896, the Populist Party found itself ironically backing the Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan at the national level, while joining forces with Republicans at the state level.

The term fusion is somewhat misleading, for it implies a merger. The parties maintained separate executive committees and merely cooperated whenever feasible by forming joint electoral tickets. In the Tar Heel State, the Populist and Republican parties disagreed on certain national issues, such as the tariff, the gold standard, and silver coinage. The parties, however, agreed on many state issues, including education, voting rights, and restoring the charter of the Farmers' Alliance. . .

In the 1894 election, the Fusion alliance of Populists and Republicans swept the state. Fusionists won control of the legislature, elected several Congressmen, and secured some statewide offices. They immediately pursued a reform agenda. First, Fusionists elected Marion Butler to the U.S. Senate for a full six-year term and Republican Jeter C. Pritchard to the two-year vacancy created by the 1894 death of Senator Zebulon B. Vance. Second, they repealed the County Government Act of 1877 and restored county home-rule. Third, they set the legal interest rate at six-percent, increased funding for public education, and for state prisons and charitable institutions. Perhaps the greatest legislation of Fusionist rule was ensuring that all political parties were represented by election judges at the polls and requiring designated colors and party insignias on ballots so that the illiterate had a political voice. The reforms were highly successful and popular. The election law alone led to an increase of registered voters by over 80,000.

The Fusion agreement for the election of 1896 was not reached until September of that year. In November, the Fusion legislative victory was impressively larger than in 1894. The entire statewide slate of Fusionist administrative officers was elected. Republican Daniel L. Russell handily won election as governor. For the first time since Reconstruction, Democrats were totally out of power.  

David Morris, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2008 - In the Sixth Congressional District, Michele Bachmann beat Elwyn Tinklenberg by 2 percent. The Independence Party candidate garnered 10 percent of the vote. That much has been widely reported.

Less widely known is that the Independence Party actually endorsed Tinklenberg at its convention. Its members believed that Tinklenberg best represented the party's platform and values. But Minnesota law doesn't permit multiple parties to nominate the same candidate. The Independence Party could be on the ballot only by nominating someone less acceptable than Tinklenberg, a move that effectively defeated its preferred candidate.

A little more than a hundred years ago, Minnesota and the rest of the nation allowed third parties to grow without simply being spoilers. The process is called fusion politics. Third parties can ally (fuse) themselves with major parties (or vice versa). In the 1880s and 1890s third parties like the People's Party and the Populist Party allied with the Democratic Party and won a number of elections. Which led the minority Republican Party, when it controlled state legislatures, to pass laws that banned fusion. One Republican Minnesota legislator was clear about his party's goal: "We don't propose to allow the Democrats to make allies of the Populists, Prohibitionists, or any other party, and get up combination tickets against us. We can whip them single-handed, but don't intend to fight all creation."

By 1907, fusion had been banned in 18 states. Today, it is legal in only seven states: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina and Vermont.

In 1994, it returned to the national spotlight when Andy Dawkins ran unopposed for the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Democratic primary but also accepted the endorsement of the fledgling New Party. Minnesota's secretary of state sued. The New Party argued that Minnesota's ban on fusion voting interfered with its members' constitutional right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. In 1997, the court ruled upheld Minnesota's right to forcibly maintain its two-party monopoly.

The New Party disappeared, but other parties arose and survived in Minnesota. One result is that the winners in statewide and federal elections are elected with fewer than 50 percent of the votes. Since 1994, no gubernatorial candidate has won a majority of the vote. . .

Fusion's goal is to build political parties. By allowing minor parties to ally with major parties, it enables them to gain an influence on the major party similar to the influence minor parties exercise in European parliaments where parties that gain more than a certain percentage of the vote earn seats based on the proportion of the vote they win. Political parties are now in disrepute, but they can serve an important and enduring role when they develop a coherent and stable value-based program that offers voters a different framework for policymaking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It has been 60 years since Truman dissolved FDR's alliance with the Soviets and adopted Churchillian imperialism. It would seem nothing new has happened since. But on closer examination the change has been as momentus as 1740-1800 or 1860-1920. The US is left no longer an independent nation but subsumed into a global structure that controls local details. There is no meaningful constitution, there is as little connection to the past as in the 1620 era. That elections could reflect the will of the electorate still has a foothold only because the US must be seen as a democracy. But this is like the necessity of Brown v. Board during the cold war, more for propaganda purposes than reflective of reality.