In debate, third-party presidential candidates tackle topics Republicans and Democrats won't
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10/24/12 Janelle Irwin
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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson at a round table event in Pinellas Park with undecided voters in December 2011.


photo by Janelle Irwin

Third-party presidential candidates were excluded from the three debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But last night, four lesser-known candidates took the stage in Chicago in a debate led by former CNN talk show host Larry King. Presidential nominees from the Green, Justice, Constitution and Libertarian Parties agreed on a lot of issues – especially the disadvantage they have under the current duopoly.

“Look, there is only a couple of voices being heard here, and it’s Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”

That was Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson began his presidential bid on the Republican ticket, but was repeatedly left out of primary debates. He argues that the current electoral process favors a two-party system and that it is too influenced by money.

“Well, I think that when it comes to political campaign contributions that candidates should be required to wear NASCAR-like patches on the jackets commensurate – so, what’s really needed is 100% transparency.”

The other three candidates agreed that money and politics aren’t a good mix. In states like Louisiana, elections are held by what’s called a top-two system. In it, any candidate can be on a ballot regardless of party affiliation, but only the top two after a primary election proceed to the general election. All four candidates oppose top-two voting. But the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode said he wouldn’t interfere with states that are already using the process.

“I would not be in favor of federal legislation repealing what Louisiana has done or telling Virginia or telling Maine or telling Arizona or New Mexico, any state, what they should do. But we’ve got to work at every state and every legislature and oppose top two. In my view it’s a hindrance to true democracy for grassroots Americans that don’t want to be controlled by Super PACs and PACs.”

The candidates all favored overturning the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to contribute unlimited funds to political campaigns. The Green Party’s Jill Stein said instead elections should be equally funded among all qualified candidates.

“We actually support a whole variety of election reforms for the purpose of enlarging our democracy, not increasing the sell out of our democracy. We are calling for getting money out of politics through public financing. We are calling for opening up the airwaves for all qualified candidates. We are calling for a constitutional amendment to clarify that money is not speech and that corporations are not people.”

The debate was sponsored by the group Free and Equal that advocates for fair elections. The questions were submitted by voters on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The process allowed candidates to talk about questions that have been left out of the national debate like whether or not the federal government should legalize marijuana. Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson said the answer is yes.

“We don’t just need to legalize marijuana, we need to end drug prohibition just like we ended alcohol prohibition and treat drug use and abuse as a public health and education issue and get it entirely out of the justice system.”

The only candidate to oppose legalizing marijuana was the Constitution Party’s nominee Virgil Goode. But even he said it should be up to each state. Libertarian Gary Johnson has vocally supported legalization during his campaign.

“I am not a hypocrite on this issue. I have drank alcohol. I have smoked marijuana. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke marijuana. But I can tell you categorically, in no category is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol.”

Democrats and Republicans don’t usually talk about the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. All four candidates, including the Justice Party’s Anderson agreed that the law set a dangerous precedent for individual freedoms.

“President Obama – don’t be fooled about this – in 2009 he asked for the power to indefinitely detain people without charges, without a trial, without legal assistance and without the right of habeas corpus. We are on the road to totalitarianism and that is not an exaggeration.”

They also talked about military spending. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has proposed increasing spending to 4% of Gross Domestic Product and President Barack Obama says he would maintain current spending levels. But the group of four third-party candidates all said military spending needs to be cut. Constitution party nominee Virgil Goode said he would look at ways to drastically cut spending and that includes the military budget.

“I support a strong defense, but we need to re-trench rather than trying to be the policeman of the world. We have too many soldiers, too many troopers scattered around the world. Our bases need to be reduced around the world, not increased. And the United States should stop trying to be the overseer of the world. That will save us billions and billions of dollars.”

The group of third party candidates agreed on a lot of social issues. With the exception of Goode they favored a pro-choice approach to women’s health and marriage equality. But the candidates were split on education spending. The Green Party’s Stein and Anderson from the Justice Party both support free public higher education up to a four-year degree. Stein said it’s a change that needs to happen to stay consistent with the times.

“Throughout the 20th Century we have provided a high school education for free to our younger generation. Why? Because it was essential for economic security and we owe it to our younger generation to give them a secure start into their economic lives. But in the 21st Century, a high school diploma won’t cut it. You need a college degree in order to have economic security.”

But Goode and Johnson both said that would be too expensive. Goode suggested leaving education decisions up to individual states. That’s something Johnson agrees with and worked to implement during his tenure as Governor of New Mexico. But Johnson also wants to encourage competitive pricing among colleges and universities by doing away with government subsidized student loans.

“No one has the excuse for not going to education and so because of that, intuitions of higher learning - colleges and universities – are immune from pricing that if kids would take a harder look at it – “gee, I don’t think I can afford $15,000 a semester, I think I’ll just sit this one out.” When that happens en masse, I guarantee you the cost of college tuition will drop dramatically.”

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney were invited to the debate, but did not attend. Free and Equal is taking a survey of who won the debate using instant runoff voting on their website. The top two candidates will debate next Tuesday in Washington D.C. at 9 p.m.




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