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CA Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested at Debate: So Much for Open, Free and Fair Elections

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Candidate for CA Governor, Laura Wells, is arrested Tuesday night after trying to attend a debate she was excluded from. by Polidoc Productions

* Babette Hogan of Polidoc Productions contributed to this report.

A candidate for governor gets arrested for disorderly conduct for disrupting a debate from which he had been excluded. Candidates for the Senate organize a protest outside an event organized by a taxpayer funded organization that refused to allow them to participate. Candidates for the House aiming to pressure an incumbent to agree to debate them face to face go on a hunger strike. And, paid operatives go throughout the country filing lawsuits to intentionally bankrupt candidates’ campaigns and keep them off the ballot. Sound like stories from a Third World country America is trying to teach democracy?

These are all incidents, which have taken place during election cycles in the past decade, and they all happened in America. These incidents involved candidates, who in a democracy should have had the right to run in an open, free and fair election, but certain players conspired to keep these candidates from participating freely.

Despite a recent Gallup poll indicating that fifty-eight percent of Americans think a "third party is needed in this country," a Midterm Election Poll done by the The Hill this month that indicated fifty-four percent would like "an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans" and a CNN poll conducted in February that showed sixty-four percent of all Americans "like the idea of a third party that would run against the Democrats and Republicans," incidents against candidates running in the 2010 midterm election continue to persist. One of the most recent incidents is the arrest of California gubernatorial candidate Laura Wells.

CA Gubernatorial Debate Protest Ends in Arrest of Green Party Candidate | A Report from Polidoc Productions on Vimeo.

Running for election on the Green Party ticket, Wells was excluded from a gubernatorial debate, which only Democratic candidate Jerry Brown and Republican candidate Meg Whitman were allowed to participate in. Libertarian Party candidate Dale Ogden, American Independent Party candidate Chelene Nightingale, and Carlos Alvarez of the Peace and Freedom Party were also excluded.

Debate organizers asserted, as most organizers of private debates tend to do, that Wells was excluded because she was not polling 10% or more. This would be an acceptable standard to set if it weren’t for the fact that other states, as Green Party Watch points out, have allowed Greens to debate without double-digit percentages in push polls. Arizona has allowed Green candidate for the Senate Jerry Joslyn to debate John McCain, Massachusetts has let Green gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein and two other candidates debate Governor Deval Patrick, and New York has chosen to include Green candidate Howie Hawkins in an upcoming gubernatorial debate that will take place on October 18th.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Wells "attempted to enter Dominican University’s Angelico Hall at 5:20 p.m. when she presented a ticket that police said was not issued to her." They reported, "Wells refused to cooperate with campus security when they requested she surrender [her] ticket" and "became argumentative and refused to leave the area"even after she was warned that if she persisted she would be subject to a citizen’s arrest because she was on private property." Wells was placed under "citizen’s arrest" by private security until San Rafael police officers arrived to escort her away from the scene.

Contrary to what private security and police said, spokesman for Wells, Marnie Glickman, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "the two had tickets to the debate and were entering Angelico Hall, when they were pulled aside by authorities" and "were told that they could not enter because" Wells was a candidate running for governor in California.

Wells was contacted and said she believes she was excluded because she would talk about how "the richest of the rich mega-corporations and individuals are not paying taxes while the rest of [Californians] are" and because she supports the creation of a State Bank in California "to reduce the influence of Wall Street." And, she also said the debate organizers "know the public is disgusted with the two Titanic Parties" so they have chosen to keep the doors shut as tightly as they can.

A statement from Wells posted on her campaign site Tuesday night after her arrest asserted:

"…The polls are a fraud against the voters. I received a letter that congratulated me on my primary win and invited me to the debate, if I received 10% support among California likely voters. They didn’t tell me what the survey question was. If it were, "Do you want debates with only the Republican and Democratic candidates?" a huge majority of voters, especially this year, would say, "No!" But a couple of my supporters were surveyed and they told me the survey question: they were asked whether they preferred Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman. Not even other. And then when the pollsters report the results, they still didn’t say other, they say undecided. As if the only choices were Pepsi and Coke, not something we might like that’s healthy, like crystal clear water, or juice, smoothies or red wine!…" [emphasis not added]

When contacted and asked about how the government and other organizations make it harder for candidates to run who are not Democrats or Republicans, Wells explained that a " media subsidy of free media is given to the Titanics, as well as the Tea Partiers, and not to the independent political parties like the Green Party." She singled this out as a "key ingredient" for why candidates are kept out and how people continue to be disempowered and discouraged.

Charged with "trespassing," Wells must now appear in court on November 2nd, Election Day, which makes the bipartisan sham being perpetrated on California voters seem even more deliberate.

Standard operating procedure for Democrats and Republicans usually involves doing everything to make sure independents or candidates from other parties do not turn into a non-factor. As Independent Political Report has covered:

• In April an Independent candidate for governor of Vermont was arrested for disorderly conduct for disrupting a debate from which he had been excluded.

• In June, Libertarian candidate for US Senate in Florida, Alex Snitker, crashed an event from which he had been excluded by the Florida Press Association.

• Earlier this month, supporters of Arkansas Senate candidates John Gray of the Green Party and Independent Trevor Drown protested outside an event organized by a taxpayer funded organization which refused to allow them to participate.

• This week, the Socialist and Constitution Party candidates for US Senate in Ohio launched a petition drive to ensure that debates and forums will be open and inclusive.

• Finally, the Democratic and Libertarian candidates for US House in CA-52 recently ended a hunger strike aiming to pressure the incumbent Republican to agree to debate his rivals face to face.

And, Rich Whitney, a Green Party candidate for governor in Illinois, is not only battling exclusion from an ABC-TV televised debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Illinois Broadcasters Association, but also the painful reality that his name is misspelled "Rich Whitey" on electronic-voting machines in "nearly two dozen wards–about half in predominantly African-American areas." There is no indication that this misspelling is some dirty trick, but what makes it worse is the fact that the Chicago Board of Elections contends the problem is something that cannot be corrected by Election Day.

In spite of attempts to handicap candidates from campaigning as easily as Democrats and Republicans, there remain signs of hope for third party or Independent candidates hoping to do well in this election.

Arkansas Green candidate John Gray, running for the U.S. Senate, appeared in the first televised debate for a statewide office in Arkansas that includes a Green nominee on October 13th. Jill Stein, Green-Rainbow Party candidate was included in a gubernatorial debate in Massachusetts. And, the Chicago Tribune, a well-established newspaper, endorsed Jeremy Karpen, a Green Party candidate for state representative in Illinois.

Jesse Johnson, a Mountain Party candidate for governor in West Virginia who has been endorsed by veteran Democrat Ken Hechler, is doing so well that he might end up preventing Democratic Governor Joe Manchin from winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, which he hopes to snag so he can take on Obama and fire holes with his rifle through climate change legislation

LeAlan Jones, a Green Party candidate in an increasingly toxic race between Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias and Republican candidate Mark Kirk, may end up earning enough votes to give Kirk a win. Independent candidate for governor in Massachusetts, Tim Cahill, a former Democrat, may end up tipping the election negatively for incumbent Governor Deval Patrick. And, perhaps best of all, Green Party candidate for the Senate in South Carolina, Tom Clements, is polling better than deadbeat and possible GOP-plant Democrat Alvin Greene in a race against incumbent Republican Senator Jim Demint.

Of course, no candidate is entitled to votes. Every candidate has to win votes in order to win elections. Spoiling only happens if the two most prominent parties fail to capture the interest of one hundred percent of the electorate, which given recent polls demonstrating public interest in third party candidates is highly unlikely.

If any candidate "spoils" an election, it will not be because he or she recklessly chose to run in an election but rather because America is plagued by winner-take-all elections, which make it precarious and impractical for Americans to truly support more choice and more voices in elections.

More and more Americans are sympathetic to remarks like this one made by former Independent Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura recently:

"…I don’t distinguish between the two [parties] because [politics is] very much like pro wrestling. You [give] interviews on TV like you hate each other, to draw crowds and attention and make money. But behind closed doors, you’ll go out to dinner with each other. Well, the Democrats and Republicans are the same way. They’re not adversaries; they just make believe they are to the American public."

The differences get smaller. Cynicism among voters escalates. The people’s tolerance for political shenanigans, which limit democracy, decrease.

As one user commented in response to Wells’ arrest, "I guess I will play spoiler and vote for Laura Wells for Governor. If she cannot debate or even attend the debate the whole concept of this being a democracy is a farce."

*Additional Note: Independent Political Report reports the problem with Rich Whitney’s misspelled name will be corrected after all. Please note, had this been an issue with a Democratic or Republican candidate there would have been zero hesitation on the part of the Board of Elections. But, since Whitney is a Green Party candidate, the Board thought it could get away with having voters see his name appear as "Rich Whitey" on Election Day.

…And Crown Thy Good With Corporate Personhood

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by unionwhore

The recent Supreme Court ruling that is widely believed to have opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in elections has many citizens of America upset over the prospect of a nation where corporate power may no longer have to answer to any state controls.


The Supreme Court decision is believed to have nullified decades of law that imposed restrictions on the way corporations can impact elections. Calls to overrule the decision are already mounting. But, if we assess the current state of our nation’s managed democracy (a term from the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin), does anyone really think that in the past decade regulations have actually prevented corporations from significantly influencing elections? Could corporate influence in elections really get anymore pervasive than it already is?


I’m just as inclined as the next liberal to look at the decision and lash out in opposition to it. I certainly empathize with Keith Olbermann’s remark during his "Special Comment" that this will now allow all the politicians to be prostituted all of the time instead of just some of the time. But, to me, the backlash against a decision, which is believed to do away with limits to corporate spending, is predicated on the notion that somehow we as a people have had freedom of choice in our democracy.


The reality is that we are a people who have acclimatized ourselves to voting for the lesser of two evils in each election. While other systems of government in other countries spanning the globe elect people from many different parties, we have two parties to choose from. And as Jesse Ventura has characterized it, that’s like going to the grocery store and finding only two soft drinks available—Pepsi and Coke. There’s no Mountain Dew, no Dr. Pepper, nothing else; just two drinks—Coke and Pepsi—one slightly sweeter than the other depending on your taste buds.


During the edition of Countdown that featured Olbermann’s "Special Comment" on the Supreme Court decision, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley of Georgetown University suggested that the decision indicates this nation doesn’t just need a way to restore limits on corporate spending. This nation needs a fundamental "paradigm shift" in politics.

OLBERMANN: What can be done? I mean, legally, what now holds the corporations back from completely taking over the electoral process, 99.9 percent of advertising, 99.9 percent of winning politicians, no limit to the ante, and no limit to what they want to do, including eliminating the First Amendment, if that was one of their goals for some reason?

TURLEY: Well, I think you’re right to be alarmed. I mean, there’s only about 2,000 PACs that are created under the old system. That old system really has been shredded today. There are millions of companies and corporations that could — could now directly support this political system.

But I have to tell you, I have long argued that we are in need of more fundamental reforms. Campaign finance primarily looks at the fuel, rather than the machine, itself. I think that we have a political failure in this country, a monopoly by two parties that is strangling the life out of this republic. And I think that we need to, perhaps, with this decision, look for something of a paradigm shift, to look at how we can change our political system with very fundamental issues to deal with — everything from the Electoral College, which is a disaster, to the monopoly of the two parties, to the hold of incumbents.




There’s ample evidence from the past to suggest that what Turley has to say about campaign finance reform is accurate.


Many Americans are familiar with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which enacted a ban on "soft money," money that flows from businesses directly into political campaign coffers in 2002 just after the major corporate scandal with Enron. Despite the limits on "soft money," the reform legislation doubled the amount of "hard money" that could be given by one person directly to members of Congress or presidential candidates from $2,000 to $4,000.


The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which had supported the reform, wound up denouncing the legislation and characterized McCain-Feingold as "sham reform" that would take America backwards:

"In a climate of spiraling fundraising, and in the wake of the Enron debacle, Congress had the opportunity to pass real campaign finance reform that would have reduced the influence of money on American democracy. Unfortunately, politicians were not up to the task. . . the Senate passed a soft money ‘ban’ riddled with loopholes and actually increased the amount that the wealthiest individuals can contribute to candidates."


Given the power of corporate, special, or private interests in Washington, one might wonder if the Fair Elections Now Act could even make it through committees in the House and Senate without being defanged like health "reform" legislation has been defanged. (Fair Elections Now is a bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut that blends "small donor fundraising with public funding to reduce the pressure of fundraising from big contributors," and it is being widely promoted by progressives and Democrats as a response to the Supreme Court decision.)


Lawrence Lessig, leader of Change Congress, even said after the decision, "It’s very difficult to see how any piece of legislation could undo the damage the Court did yesterday, and I think the American people need to consider all the tools at our disposal as we think about the kind of democracy we want to have and how we want to make it a reality."



And, we all know how likely the Senate or the House is to do anything substantial in the wake of debacles, scandals, or situations that draw attention to the excesses of capitalism in America. Just look at how they’ve managed to hold Wall Street accountable for the economic collapse in this country in 2008 and even managed to properly regulate the bailout money that was given to banks to help so-called "too big too fail" banks survive…


Since most of the backlash to the Supreme Court decision seems to be fueled by those who fear they have lost the ability to influence elections and, therefore, corporations will now forever control the political process, it seems like–rather than take a chance on cobbled together and ultimately ineffective legislation–those upset should go a step further and support fundamental reforms that might might make it more possible for minorities and those voices often marginalized to have an impact in elections.


This fundamental reform could involve addressing the disaster that is the Electoral College.


The Center for Voting and Democracy offers several suggestions that could be considered like direct elections with instant runoff voting (IRV), proportional allocation of electoral votes, direct vote with plurality rule, the congressional district method, the national bonus plan, or the binding proposal.


Of those, the Center primarily supports the abolition of the Electoral College and the replacement of it with a system that involved direct elections and IRV.The Center explains:

"Instant runoff voting (IRV) could be used for Presidential elections with or without the Electoral College. With a direct vote, voters would rank their preferences rather than marking only one candidate. Then, when the votes are counted, if no single candidate has a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The ballots are then counted again, this time tallying the second choice votes from those ballots indicating the eliminated candidate as the first choice. The process is repeated until a candidate receives a majority, reducing time and money wasted in a normal runoff election.

Instant runoff voting on a national scale has the potential to solve many of the current dilemmas introduced by the Electoral College as well as the problems introduced by some of the other alternatives. It would end the spoiler dynamic of third party and independent candidates and consistently produce a majority, nationwide winner. It also allows voters to select their favorite candidate without ensuring a vote for their least favorite (as often happens when the spoiler dynamic is a factor and a voter prefers a third candidate the most)."



Most progressives would probably be thrilled to get rid of the spoiler dynamic since it would mean they would never have to get into another pointless and ultimately unproductive but divisive argument on third parties ever again.


Even better, those upset with the recent decision that opens the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending could support a movement to do away with our nation’s winner-take-all system and support a system of proportional representation instead.


In an article posted on FairVote recently, Rob Richie explains:

"Proportional representation (PR) is based on the principle that any group of like-minded voters should win legislative seats in proportion to its share of the popular vote. Whereas the winner-take-all principle awards 100 percent of the representation to a 50.1 percent majority, PR allows voters in a minority to win their fair share of representation.

How does this work? A typical winner-take-all system of divides voters into "one-seat districts," represented by one person. With PR, voters in a constituency instead have several representatives: ten one-seat districts might, for example, be combined into a single ten-seat district. A party or group of voters that wins 10 percent of the popular vote in this district, then, would win one of the ten seats; a party or slate of candidates with 30 percent of votes would win three seats, etc. Various mechanisms work to provide proportional representation, and the details of different systems matter. But the principle of full representation is fundamental. Acceptance of it changes the way one sees electoral politics."



I encourage you to read more of Richie’s explanation of PR and how it works. I believe you will find it to be a hugely appealing solution to the marginalization of people in elections right now.


Any fundamental reform would have to wrest control of the debates from the Republican and Democratic Parties, which established the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters in 1988. Since the League of Women Voters lost control, the CPD has regularly excluded candidates voters want to see debate, restricted formats so that candidates don’t really debate, and used secret debate contracts to set restrictions that greatly debase this nation’s democracy.


I temper my reaction to the decision because I mostly agree with Glenn Greenwald’s response to the decision, and I think Greenwald is right to assert that, "the First Amendment is not and never has been outcome-dependent; the Government is barred from restricting speech — especially political speech — no matter the good results that would result from the restrictions. That’s the price we pay for having the liberty of free speech."


And, I think Greenwald is right to be skeptical of the "apocalyptic claims about how this decision will radically transform and subvert our democracy" because "the reality is that our political institutions are already completely beholden to and controlled by large corporate interests."


But, if this is the catalyst that creates a movement of Americans who finally take back this nation and force corporate and special interests to cede control, I will fully support that movement. I will gladly contribute to any populist movement that challenges corporate personhood.


But, I think that ultimately taking personhood or "human rights" away from corporations, unions, or other entities would still leave us in a situation where power is concentrated in a "two-party dictatorship" or a one-party system with two wings that have cosmetic and minute differences.


On the other hand, taking aim at the electoral system could have its own way of diminishing the influence of corporate power in politics. It would give away to a political climate that could easily advance the repeal of provisions that have established corporate personhood in America.


Whatever happens in the aftermath of this decision, we should consider the words of Noam Chomsky:

"We can either predict the worst–that no change is possible–and not act, in which case we guarantee there is no change. Or, we can understand that change always is possible, even in the face of great odds, and act on that assumption, which creates the possibility of progress."

This decision lays bare the need for independent political action in this country. It lays bare the necessity for letting all citizens know of opportunities to engage in that independent political action. And, it calls for citizens who are willing to connect with others to discuss the shortcomings and pratfalls of our system so that a vibrant movement of people can rise and bring the honeymoon corporations and special interests have enjoyed for too long to an absolute end.


Anything and everything we do will be met with struggle. But, if we have the courage to engage in struggle–to, as Robert Jensen writes, not just "struggle against illegitimate structures of authority in the abstract" but also struggle to "find the facts, to analyze clearly, to imagine solutions, to join with others in collective action for justice, and struggle to understand ourselves in relation to each other and ourselves as we engage in all of these activities"–we just might surprise ourselves and succeed at what we set out to do collectively.


The onus is on us to seek out ways we can act. Maintaining a state of civic adolescence must come to an end now if we wish to stop any of this madness at all.