The first time that millions of voters will see their names is on Nov. 8, in the voting booth, under the ballot instructions: “President . . . vote for one party.”
For that small moment, California’s three minor-party candidates will stand as equals to their major-party rivals, Democrat Michael S. Dukakis and Republican George Bush.
Without Secret Service agents or “spin controllers,” without mega-money or much press and utterly without illusions of victory, the three--Lenora B. Fulani, Ron Paul and James C. Griffin--also are running for President.
They could be the spoilers, they say, in an election in which the vote margin has until recently looked about as thin as pond ice in March. They figure that even a negligible harvest of votes--a percentage point or so--could tilt the election, deliver a slap to the two-party system and maybe even bring the big boys around to seeing things their way.
Alternatives to Major Parties
They see themselves also as the catch basins for every bored or vengeful voter, alternatives for every miffed citizen who would rather write in Donald Duck than choose a major-party candidate.
“I think ‘none of the above’ will win,” says Paul, the Libertarian, speaking metaphorically about disaffected voters who will avoid the two major parties. “And we’ll be part of that group. So, clearly, we’ll be the winner.”
Somewhere out there, they reckon, are myriad voters who are cool to “Iceman” Dukakis, who are not on fire for the man Dan Quayle once fumblingly called “George the Bush.”
“The Democrats say: ‘Vote for me, I’ll solve your problem.’ The Republicans say: ‘Vote for me, I’ll solve your problem.’ In fact they are the problem,” says American Independent Party candidate Griffin, a sentiment that his second-tier competitors would share.
California’s minor parties, Peace and Freedom, AIP and Libertarian, are fielding slates of candidates for offices from U.S. Senate on down.
And, whatever Bush and Dukakis may lack in ideological differences, these presidential candidates more than compensate for:
From no illegal immigration (Griffin) to open borders (Fulani); from dismantling nearly every federal agency (Paul) to cradle-to-grave health, education, job and retirement benefits (Fulani), no one can accuse them of wishy-washy stands.
--Fulani, 38, a black New York psychologist and head of her New Alliance Party, is on the California ballot as an independent; she went to court for a spot when she failed to win nomination by a divided Peace and Freedom Party. She has waged a vast, costly battle by third-party standards--spending more than $2 million--one that has put her on the ballots in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and she got nearly $1 million in federal matching funds. Her black-led effort is committed to “dumping the Duke,” to cost Democrats the election by siphoning off the black vote, to punish them for ignoring the Jesse Jackson agenda and taking for granted disenfranchised “communities of color,” gays and lesbians.
--Paul, 52, is an obstetrician and a former four-term Texas Republican congressman. He bolted the GOP last year for the Libertarians, after a maverick political career that often ranged him against both parties, opposing income taxes, invasive laws and even congressional perks. With a campaign budget of more than $3 million (he rejected federal matching funds because “we don’t believe in taking stolen money”), Paul is on the ballot in 47 states and Washington and has stumped in California 20 times, recently at a stellar fund-raiser thrown by “one-time acid guru turned New Age sage” Timothy Leary.
--Griffin, 50, is making his fourth appearance as an AIP candidate on a California general election ballot (he ran for lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator). The Tennessee-born truck driver is always ready with a quip from his fund of folksy political one-liners: “The new IRS slogan is: ‘We’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.’ ” It plays great at his campaign stops, which are mostly truck stops and coffee shops, where he pulls up in his big rig. “The short stroke is that we stand for truth, justice and the American way--like everybody would if you ask them.”
The black limousine that ferried Lenora Fulani back from a CNN call-in show was not her campaign style, but the program--with sandpapery host Larry King and bristly callers--was.
Never one to shirk the controversial, Fulani has operated the most aggressive, visible third-party effort of 1988, bucking restrictive third-party ballot laws, demanding equal debate time and backing disputatious figures like Tawana Brawley--a victim, she says, of a racist grand jury system that is “full of it.”
Her campaign for a black-led third party calls for disarmament, full employment, health care and federally subsidized housing. The current tough-on-criminals mood is fear-generated and “racist to the hilt,” she says; the death penalty has been “substituted” for jobs.
“There’s something very macho about being non-liberal . . . the whole psyche generated in this nation that if you’re pro-people you’re a wimp.”
Protested Outside Convention
Springboarded by Jackson’s candidacy--even using his “rainbow” metaphor--Fulani offered to bow out if he was nominated. She protested outside the Democratic convention when Jackson was passed over.
Jackson has more or less avoided her, keeping his distance “mostly because he’s not ready for independent politics,” she believes. Other black officials have too--"party hacks” who are trying to “close (her effort) down because their job basically is to deliver the black vote to the Democratic Party, and if they don’t there’ll be hell to pay.”
She has campaigned in nonstop press releases, community meetings and strategic ads in black radio markets, some quoting Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, or Malcolm X’s remark: “You put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.”
Fulani’s California candidacy emerges from a maelstrom of controversy.
For the first time in 20 years, there is no presidential candidate from the state’s Peace and Freedom Party. Warfare between forces backing Fulani, who placed first among eight in the non-binding June primary, and a man who placed fourth paralyzed the party’s nominating convention.
“Basically, the white male leftists who control the party and are racist to the core refused to allow the (nomination),” Fulani charges. Longtime Peace and Freedom member Clyde Kuhn says both factions “abused the process” in their impatience to assume leadership, and the set-to “literally disrupted the party to the point of inaction.”
Fulani has been criticized for overlap between her campaign and her network of New York mental health clinics. She impatiently refers to “these 25-page exposes (by people who) have never spoken to me, about how we’re . . . a cult . . . .” In fact, “some of the people who were responsible for founding (the New Alliance Party) are also active in these clinics,” she says.
Others have raised the question of possible ties to political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. “LaRouche was a leftist in the early ‘70s . . . and my campaign manager worked with him when he was on the left, as did many people on the left, for about two minutes . . . . Some people cite that and cloak it as a sort of mysterious relationship.”
One problem that has not vexed Fulani--as it has the Republicans--is her running mate.
She has six, across 50 states--a black man, a Puerto Rican man, a Latino woman, an American Indian woman, a Jewish woman and a gay man with AIDS.
They love it when he calls for an end to income tax, but the part about repealing drug laws leaves a lot of them incensed.
Libertarians pulled almost 1 million presidential votes in 1980, and Ron Paul figures that he can build on that, even though the party drew barely 228,000 votes in 1984. “We have to convince (voters) it’s in their interest to get government off their backs rather than get something from government.”
His platform calls for a bare-bones government, privatizing and deregulating its functions, balanced budgets and an end to the Selective Service System and military intervention. He reposes an abiding faith in the free market doing the right thing. AIDS, for example: Drug companies would compete to find a cure better than government research could, he believes.
After his speeches, people often tell him: “We like what you say but you’re too idealistic,” he says. But “ everything is idealistic. What Bush and Dukakis say is based on the idealism of pragmatism and utilitarianism.”
Concern Among Libertarians
Paul’s recent conversion and his earlier writing for the John Birch Society made for some concern among Libertarians--as does his stand on abortion.
Libertarians generally range themselves against laws invading privacy--including restrictions on abortion, which most consider a personal matter.
But Paul opposes abortion; it is one of the few laws he would like to see on the books. It has won him support from, of all sources, Pat Robertson fans. “We are hesitant for government to be snooping into every single moment of the day,” he says, “but there has to be a limit . . . . Yes, I say the fetus deserves legal protection.”
As for his own future after Nov. 8, he says: “I’m betting on the fact we need a new party. That’s why I’m in it.”
The $10 that showed up in the mail from a man in Maine really helped. “I’m afraid we’re not hooked in with the millionaires,” American Independent Party candidate Griffin says with a disarming country-boy twang. “We’re supposedly the party of the working people.”
Backstopped by running mate Chuck Morsa (“He’s a Quayle of a good man--I mean whale of a good man”), Griffin hits blue-collar pocketbook and lunch-pail issues: Democrats “say they’ll give you more big government; Republicans say they’ll give you less of more big government,” and “they all end up robbing you in the end anyway.”
He is for “America First,” Griffin says: “a strong defense for this country . . . . We need to keep our plants in this country and stop exporting jobs; a fair trade policy--the Japanese won’t allow Chrysler in their country without a large tariff,” and “I wouldn’t allow a foreigner to buy land in the U.S. The Japanese have practically bought Los Angeles.”
Shuttling his freight and his campaign flyers across the West, he tells listeners: “Look, you tried these other two parties for the last 50 years; it hasn’t worked. Now’s the time to let them know you’re tired of what they’re doing.”
Election night will probably find him at home, but “who knows? They may get us a bunch of money, get us a suite at one of the hotels. I hate to do that. It makes it look like you’re squandering money like they do.”