Third-party candidates fight two-party apathy and Tea Party headline-grabbing in governor's race
Published: October 20, 2010
The rise of the Tea Party this election season demonstrates that many American voters are looking for political messages and candidates outside the mainstream Republican and Democratic options. But where does that leave the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Constitution Party, traditional political “third” parties whose candidates struggle for media attention and votes even in years when a hot new movement isn’t sucking all the extra air out of the room?
Talk to the third-party candidates running for governor in Maryland in the Nov. 2 general election and you’ll find that they understand what fuels the rise of the Tea Party. “I don’t agree with their solutions to the problems,” Green Party candidate Maria Allwine says, “but I think we’re all angry about the same things.”
“People come out to the Tea Party [events] because they’re searching for something,” Constitution Party candidate Eric Delano Knowles says. “I think as this education process continues, they are going to be looking toward [third] parties.”
Knowles is already familiar with outsider politics. A 32-year-old Air Force veteran from Annapolis, Knowles’ first substantive political experience came in 2007 when he quit his job taking measurements for countertops to campaign for Libertarian-leaning GOP Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Knowles says he was on the original Tea Party e-mail list; the movement’s focus on limiting the size and scope of government and reducing taxes dovetails with his own political beliefs. In fact, before he considered a run for governor, his first campaign for any office, he was more familiar with the Tea Party than the conservative Constitution Party. In a phone interview, Knowles says he met then state party leader Mike Hargadon in 2008 at a political rally in Washington, D.C., but “was unaware of the Constitution Party” until he contacted Hargadon earlier this year for advice on running for office. A dentist who currently serves as state secretary for the party, Hargadon is running for lieutenant governor on the November ballot; Knowles announced their candidacy at a Tea Party rally in Harford County in July. A Facebook page for Eric Knowles for Governor has 246 fans as of press time; campaign finance records reveal his campaign committee filed an affidavit to the effect that his campaign had neither raised nor spent more than $1,000 to date.
Knowles currently works as a bartender at Annapolis restaurant the Chop House and takes classes at Anne Arundel Community College. If elected, he says he would apply his self-described “constitutional libertarian” beliefs to the government of Maryland by reducing state spending, with an emphasis on cutting funding to “healthcare and education,” according to his web site (ofbyandforthepeople.net). “There’s a lot of things that the government does that it shouldn’t be involved in,” Knowles says. “The private sector can do it a lot better, because it looks at the cost effectiveness of things, as opposed to looking at citizens as ATMs” for tax revenues. Asked about the job losses substantial state budget cuts would cause, he says those unemployed by the budget reduction “[will] be able to do those same jobs as private sector jobs.” Among his other stands, he is against providing social services or state IDs to illegal immigrants, wants to cut taxes on businesses, and favors open-carry permits for firearms in Maryland.
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Susan Gaztañaga says she’s “been going to Tea Party events and had a pretty good welcome.” After all, she notes, “if you look at the objectives or the basic principles that they put on paper, its 100 percent libertarian.”
Gaztañaga, 61, works in administrative support for the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is married to long-time local Libertarian Party activist Lorenzo Gaztañaga, who has run unsuccessfully as a Libertarian candidate for various local, state, and national offices over the past 15 years; he is running for Congress in the 2nd District this fall. Though Susan Gaztañaga has long been an activist behind the scenes, the governor’s race is her first run for office. She says fellow Maryland Libertarian Denise Minter had planned to top the state ticket for the party but had to withdraw for personal reasons; Gaztañaga stepped up to replace her. “We have to run somebody,” she says. “We’re a political party, we should do that.” Computer engineer and Libertarian political activist Doug McNeil is running for lieutenant governor.
Gaztañaga favors ending the tax breaks and other “corporate welfare” used to lure large out-of-state corporations to Maryland while, at the same time, doing less to interfere with the small businesses that keep their profits here. “I’ve been telling people if anyone says they’re going to be bringing jobs into the state, do not vote for them,” she says. “What we have to do is ease the regulations and tax burden on the businesses that are here already, the smaller businesses that are the ones that create the jobs.”
Gaztañaga also pledges to reduce the size of state government, ideally to the point where it exists only to cover the basic functions of building and maintaining the state’s infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) and providing emergency response (police, fire, etc.), with the private sector handling everything else. And as the government shrinks, so can the taxes needed to support it; her goal would be to eliminate the state sales tax entirely at the end of eight years. “I went online and counted 92 state agencies,” she says, “and just about every one has a communications director, a development director.” Such bureaucratic positions are held by “the type of people that could probably find a [private sector] job easily,” she says, and many of their functions could be addressed by combining similar services across agencies. “Eliminating them would be virtually painless.”
She is not against all government levies. She proposes a fee for each pound of carbon burned, and would increase that fee by 5 percent per year until emissions are reduced to a level determined healthy and acceptable. She opposes the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which she notes was never formally declared or approved by Congress, and if elected would order any Maryland National Guard troops in Afghanistan to return home. She also vows to clear the way for concealed-carry firearms permits “for every qualified applicant” in the state, according to her web site (grythumn.org/wordpress).
As of the most recent campaign finance report, filed in August, Gaztañaga’s campaign had raised $1,415 from various individual donors and received $1,000 from the state Libertarian Party. She says her campaign “has been face-to-face” for the most part, conducted via booths at county fairs and local festivals. From talking to individual voters, she says, she’s found that “so many of them don’t like the two main candidates, and then they find out that I’m also running, and they’re really happy about that.”
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Maria Allwine says she’s running, in part, for a similar reason. “I think it’s important that the voters have a choice, that it’s not strictly between a former governor and a current governor,” she says.
Self-described “progressive populist” Allwine, 57, has represented the Green Party on the ballot before, running unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2004, for state Senate in the 43rd District in 2006 (earning a City Paper endorsement), and for City Council president in 2007. She declines to name where she works, citing her employer’s privacy and her own self-interest; she says she was fired from a previous job because of her activism in opposing the BGE rate hike that went into effect in 2006, along with the deregulation of the Maryland utility industry.
Allwine says she is running because the mainstream political system has been irreparably corrupted. “I think corporate control of government at all levels is extremely dangerous and in the process of being almost completed,” she says. “I think the only way you can reverse this trend is to elect people who don’t take tons of money from corporate interests to get elected.” Even the once-grassroots Tea Party, she contends, is now a movement quietly funded by wealthy conservatives and “co-opted by the very forces [it] claims to oppose.” Allwine herself accepts money only from individuals, with a $500 cap on donations. Campaign finance records reveal her campaign has raised around $1,600 this election season.
She is in favor of reducing corporate influence at the state level through closing loopholes that allow Maryland corporations to avoid paying state taxes. As an example, she mentions so-called combined reporting, already a law in 21 states, which would prevent corporations that do business in Maryland from reporting their overall profits under various subsidiaries, thereby diluting those profits on paper. “Closing . . . the combined reporting loophole would bring in around $200 million,” Allwine says, “which is a start toward closing a $2 billion budget deficit.” Like Gaztañaga, she advocates doing more to support small businesses: “I think Maryland makes a huge mistake in chasing these huge corporate big-box giants that ship their profits out of state and provide very few decent jobs and a lot of mini wage jobs that you can’t live on.”
Retooling the state’s industrial base to focus on “green” manufacturing jobs and rebuilding the state’s infrastructure “is the answer to the immediate need to create good jobs,” she contends. When it’s pointed out that ramping up a new manufacturing sector or shifting state resources to build and fund infrastructure improvements could take years, she responds, “If you started, and you’ve gotta start, you would be employing people. If people don’t think that’s feasible, tell me what is.” Otherwise, she supports statewide living-wage legislation (adjusted for region), lowering BGE rates, a state-level single-payer healthcare system, and extensive education reform (all detailed at allwineforgovernor.org).
While each of the third-party candidates running for governor this election seems to applaud the idea of influencing the politics of the main parties from the inside, a la the Tea Party, Gaztañaga and Allwine insist on the importance of the slow process of continuing to build up their parties into viable alternatives for voters. (The Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties are all running candidates in various other races around the state.) Even newcomer Knowles seems ready to stick with the third-party track.
“I wouldn’t run as a Republican or Democrat, ‘cause you saw what happened with Brian Murphy,” Knowles says, referring to the Tea Party-favored Republican gubernatorial challenger beaten soundly by Ehrlich in the September primary. The two main parties “aren’t into any new ideas,” he says. “They are more into preserving the power structure.”
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