From time to time over the last few years there have been some of our fellow Progressives/Liberals who despair of the Democratic Party getting its act together and thus out of anger or frustration float the idea of abandoning the Democratic Party and forming a new one to the left of the Democrats. The Dog is not in favor of this, but he thinks he has not been very clear in why it is a bad idea. First off if you want to bail on the Democratic Party, don’t wait! You have a hell of a lot of work to do in order to get an agenda passed so why are you hanging around here? In the spirit of being helpful, the Dog would like to offer a bit of a run down in what it will take to get your new party up and running.
"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"
Most of the issues the blogasphere focuses on are national level issues and this is where many of the folks the Dog sees floating the new party idea have the most heart burn. In order to influence national policy, you will need a party that is national level too. So while most of this organization takes place at the local or county level, to get to the changes desired there will need to be a roll up to a national party.
So, lets get started! First off you will have to found your party. The laws on this are going to vary from State to State, but you will have to find enough people in at least one State to get things rolling. The best way to do this is to have a convention, as you will have to create the By Laws for everything your party will do internally. Will you Caucus or will you do Primaries? What officers do you need for your Party? You will have to have a Chairman, a Treasurer, a Secretary and a Vice Chair at the very least. Who is qualified to hold these offices? What are their responsibilities? How long are their terms office? Can they run again? How many times? Who gets to vote? How is the vote held? What does your party stand for? What are the rules for joining? What are the disciplinary methods? What is your platform right now?
These are all questions you will have to answer before you can really say you have launched your Party. They are not all of them, but they are good sample.
So, now you have your shiny new Party! Congratulations! Now it is time to find some folks to run for office. This is going to be hard, as even established Party’s’ have trouble recruiting people to run. Since you are leaving the Democratic Party, you are not very likely to have any experienced folks to run. This is not a complete disaster, everyone who would serve has to have their first campaign, right?
What makes a good candidate? Well you want someone who is going to follow the party platform right? They will be someone who is more to the left of the Democrats as this is the primary reason to form this new party, right?
The Dog thinks there is going to be a real problem finding quality candidates, at least at first, since most of the time your new party is going to lose until it really gets established. It is really hard to find someone who is going to step up to get their ass kicked in an election, but there are true believers every where, so there should be a few who will take one for the team of this new Party.
Getting On the Ballot:
Now you have your candidates, you are ready to try to get in front of the people of your State and make the case about how electing them will be better than a Democrat! But there is going to be a real problem now. Getting on the ballot is really hard in many States. Here are a few facts you should keep in mind as you start your Party:
- Some States require really high filing fees. The State of Florida requires fee of 7% of the annual salary of the office you are filing for. This means for a US Representative campaign the filing fee is upwards of $9,000. You will need these fees for every office you want to run for.
- There are also the signature requirements to get on ballots. The State of Georgia has requirement of 5% of the population, not the registered voters for a third party to get on the ballot. As of the last census this makes the requirement for your new party to get on a State wide ballot (Representative, Senator, Governor, Sec State, AG, etc) upwards of 484,000 legal signatures. It is expensive and time consuming to gather signatures, so you better be ready.
- One more from Florida – In addition to the high fee you will have to collect more than 196,000 signatures to get on the State wide ballot. If that does not seem to bad, you need to know the following fact: No third party candidate has ever completed a signature requirement over 135,000 anywhere in the US.
These are few of the worst examples, but even in places where the laws are more lenient there are fees and signature requirements which you will have to meet. It looks like you are going to need a lot of Staff to be successful.
What the Dog means by staff is the pro’s the folks who do the organizing work for a living and are the ones who keep your army of volunteers going in the right direction. These are the folks who have the specialized skills to keep the campaign on track (including the Candidate). To raise the money, to define the field strategy which not only targets the voters but gets them to the polls as well, they are the ones who keep track of every penny since rising or spending money improperly can send your candidate and Treasurer to jail.
This is going to be another really tough thing. The pros are all working with the existing party’s. The ones who are going to be simpatico with your goals are mostly going to be from the Democratic Party. There will be some who are feed up like you, but they still have to make a living, so they are not going to be real excited about running candidates against the party where they do most of their work.
Still there will be the young hot shots who will throw in with you, in order to prove something. Some of them may even be in the top tier of skill sets, but finding them in all the places you need them to be a national party is going to be hard. You are going to have pay well and be ready to grow a lot of your own.
Which brings us to fund raising.
Funding the Party:
This is another trouble spot for a new party. This is doubly true for a new party on the Left. There are lots of left leaning groups who will support your platform goals, once you get them established. After all you want to be more than left of center in this new party. But the thing is they will want to support a party and candidates who are going to get elected and will be able to do something with their support. The Trial Lawyers and the Labor Movement have to able to show their members something for their efforts.
Your new party is going to have unknown candidates, inexperienced staff and a hard time getting on the ballot, so there is going to be hell of a hard sell to get them to throw some ducats your way. It seems likely you are going to be really short of dough. Maybe you should look elsewhere.
Getting a billionaire or two to really back you might get this new party off the ground pretty good. The downside of this route is billionaires, even more than interest groups are going to want a lot of say in what they give money too. They are used to pulling the strings with their funding, so this has it’s problems too.
There are always your party members, though! They will support you in some level or other. However, it takes a hell of a lot of small donors to get to the millions you are going to need to raise. The other issue is the Democratic party is going to be asking many of them for these dollars too.
Let’s assume you get this all together in one State and have some good success (the Dog is willing to be an optimist as much as the next hound), now the challenge is going national. Let’s look at some numbers.
There are 3,140 Counties in the United States. In order to be a national party which elects national office holders you will have to have County and State level elected officials. To do this you have to have County Party’s. Lets assume you don’t have to have a party in every county in the nation to be a national party. Let’s call it 80%, no, let’s call it 70% of the counties.
That means you will have to go though the above processes 2,198 times before you will get there. That is a hell of a lot of work. How long would that take?
Well, let’s look at a party which has been working on doing this very act for a while, the Libertarian Party. They Libertarians where founded in 1971. They have been around for the last 38 years. They have founded State Party’s in all fifty states and have 250,000 registered voters.
In their 38 years as a party they have elected no national office holders. They have elected no Governors, no State Senators. They have had 12 State Representative victories, but currently the do not have any holding office.
The Libertarian Party is a example of a good success story for third parties. If we combine the total votes for State House races received by the Libertarians in 200, 2004 and 2006 it tops one million, which is more than double the number received by all other minor parties combined. This is what a successful third party looks like after nearly four decades of existence.
So, here is the way it looks to the Dog. Even if you do every thing right, even if the Dog is completely underestimating the desire and size of the group who wants to split way from the Democratic Party and found a new one, the ROI is really bad.
It looks like a hell of a lot of work, for a hell of a lot years, and at the end of that time you will not have gained enough prominence to work on the issues which you find critical today.
But let’s take the wildly optimistic point of view, shall we? Lets assume you bust your asses for only a decade, and in that time you are successful beyond belief. You have tapped the zeitgeist. The is a significant portion of the American Electorate who is buying what you are selling and you elect say, 15 to 20 Representatives, two Governors and some State Reps. Now you have voice at the table. The problem is, you will have to ally yourself with the very party you split away from in disgust to get anything close to your agenda moved. Yes, you might be able to hold up legislation, but you will never get to write it. Your party will never hold Committee Chairs and you will still have to justify your compromises with your base, who left the Democratic Party because of its compromises.
All in all that does not seem like a winning plan for moving the nation to the Left, does it? However there is another way. It still requires a lot of work over a lot of time, but it has a far better chance of succeeding. Get into the Democratic Party structure yourself. You don’t like our candidate recruitment, well get on the group that does and make your case. You think we need to be harder lined with keeping discipline? Well that happens not at the national level but at the State level. If your ideas are better, then go where you can prove it, get involved where you can have a decent chance at making a difference. Don’t kid yourself that you will be able to jump the leadership right away. You might if you bring in a lot of new Democrats, who think like you, but even then you are going to have to spend some time paying your dues, this is true in any organization, even one you might want to start from scratch. Party politics takes a lot of hard work, so be ready.
But if you do get in there, work hard and rise in the Party, then you will have what you were trying for with a new Party without having to start from scratch. You will not have the problems of becoming national, you will not have the staffing or fund raising problems for your candidates, you will not have the issue of never getting on Committees or Chairs. You will be able to affect change.
One last thing, it is never going to go all your way no matter what. If you are going to be part of the governance of a democracy, you are going to wind up with compromises you don’t like. You are going to have allies in your party who don’t follow through with their promises. You are going to have differences inside the party as to what the goals are and they all get decided by compromise, every single time. All you can really hope for is to get a few things you want. To do that you have to have most of the party structure behind you, no matter what party you are part of. This is why it is so critical for those who are to the left of most of the Democratic Party to get off their asses and get into the structure! If there really are enough of us to form a new party, there are more than enough to take over the existing party.
The Dog is going to end as he started, by saying the following: If you don’t like the Democratic Party enough to stay and try to make it better, then Go! Get out there and form you new political Party. You have a ton of work to do, and staying around and arguing with those of us who are going to stay does nothing to get to the day when you can affect the course of the nation.
However, if you are really ready to do all that work, why not take the best shot and make the Democratic Party a party you can be proud to be part of the leadership of?
The floor is yours.