I conducted this interview in December 2011 and originally published it for a now defunct blog on third party politics. Phoenix Woman’s recent diary on the Tea Party, Greens and third party politics got me thinking about these issues once again so I decided to re-post this article here at FDL.
The point I am trying to make is under the radar of mainstream media and even most progressive political discussions there have been long-term efforts at electoral politics from a left and progressive perspective that have been successful. The Vermont Progressive Party is one such example and I think their organizing and strategic decisions deserve a close look if leftists and progressives are seeking ways to break out of being marginalized in US politics and progressive voters are tired of lesser evilism in politics.
Model for Change: http://www.progressiveparty.org/organize/model
The Vermont Progressive Party is America’s best-kept secret of a third party which has become successful as a force to be reckoned with in Vermont state politics. According to its Wikipedia page the Vermont Progressive Party has elected officials in local town governments and local boards in Vermont; various offices in the city of Burlington, including its mayor, two ward clerks and several seats in City Council; seats in the Vermont House of Representatives and Senate. And of course, current U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders is a founder of, and is largely identified with the Vermont Progressive Party.
I recently corresponded with VPP Party Director Morgan Daybell and he was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions for Third Party Independent. Chief in my mind was finding out if there is a formula for the VPP’s success in Vermont and if it is possible for other political parties and organizations which seek to challenge the Republican-Democrat duopoly to duplicate that success elsewhere.
Q: What would you say are the key factors to the VPP’s approach to electoral politics that has established it as a force in Vermont state politics and which sets it apart from other efforts by third parties who have not been as successful?
The major difference between our approach and those of many other third parties is that we have stayed focused on local/state races. In those elections corporate money has a smaller influence, and over many one-on-one conversations with voters, you can begin to overcome the brand-awareness the Democrats and Republicans enjoy. You can’t do that at the Federal level without huge amounts of money.
Q: No doubt that the VPP has encountered the argument that portray non-mainstream candidates as spoilers in elections where they split the vote between the two parties who are closest ideologically to allow the opposing, major party to win the election. How do you deal with that argument in convincing voters to vote for VPP candidates?
No doubt! It is the challenge of having three viable parties in a two-party system. It has helped that our standard-bearer came in second, behind the incumbent Republican, in the 2008 Governor’s race. There is also an increasing awareness that the Democrats and Republicans who get elected are not that different in some fundamental ways. People are waking up to the fact that they are forced to choose between one candidate who will support policies that help corporations at the expense of the middle and working classes while telling you they will protect your gun rights, and another candidate who will support policies that help corporations at the expense of the middle and working classes while telling you they will protect your abortion rights. Abortion rights and gun rights are not going to be changed in Vermont any time soon. Budgets and tax bills get passed every year, and both the Democrats and Republicans currently worship at the altar of austerity and tax cuts for the wealthiest.
We also are trying different things tactically to neutralize that concern. In some cases, our candidates have entered, or won by write-in, other parties’ primaries in order to make the general election a two-way race. Sometimes we can keep an opponent out by announcing early with a strong candidate. In every 2010 Statehouse race we mounted, we were the major party opposition. This is hard to explain with our multi-seat districts, but where we ran in one-seat districts there were only two major party candidates—all a Republican vs. a Progressive/Democrat. In all multi-seat districts, for every Progressive that ran, there was one less candidate of the other two parties. That might have been two Progressives and two Democrats contesting a two-seat district, or three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Progressive/Democrat contesting a three-seat district.
Q: How does the party identify, nurture and develop high-quality individuals who will make compelling candidates to run in elections?