Sunday, October 22, 2006

Connecticut's Color Barrier: No Greens Allowed

Connecticut's Color Barrier: No Greens Allowed
By Cliff Thornton

The Connecticut state Capitol may as well have two water fountains, one for the Greens and minor parties, and one for the Republicans and Democrats. The ghost of Jim Crow haunts us all on this gubernatorial campaign. He passed through the television studios of WVIT-30 in West Hartford Friday, Oct. 13, and the injustice is to all our detriment.

NBC-30 Reporter Tom Monahan invited me onto his Newsmakers show, which airs at 6:30 on Sunday mornings, as a booby prize for my exclusion from the real prize: the prime-time debate between Republican M. Jodi Rell and Democratic challenger Mayor John DeStefano Wednesday, Oct. 18, which Monahan moderated.

Waiting in the front foyer of WVIT, I read a newspaper story about polls showing that DeStefano's performance in the first debate moved some voters from Rell to undecided.

Pondering the article's fraudulent premise, where not all candidates were included in the debate and the poll, I looked up to see Derek Slap, the debate negotiator for DeStefano. A minute later, Herb Shepardson, his GOP counterpart, walked in.

We all shook hands, and Monahan led me into the studio for our taping, and an NBC-30 staffer ushered Slap and Sheperdson into a different room to discuss the main event. I wanted to go with them, but I knew why I had been isolated: the two parties fear threats to their power, so they ostracize voices like mine. In the process, they harm the electorate.

The bigotry left a bitter taste, like I had just been turned away from a lunch counter. Throughout this campaign, in subtle and overt ways, political prejudice has reared its ugly head.

Early on, one Web development company told my campaign manager that our money wasn't good because we weren't Republicans.

Just last week, organizer Martin Yanofsky of the Emmanuel Synagogue Brotherhood in West Hartford called my campaign to cancel the Synagogue's traditional gubernatorial candidate forum because DeStefano and Rell said no. When candidates refuse to meet and discuss issues, voters suffer. How can we trust leaders so afraid of talking?

Only legislation can address this inequity. The Civil Rights Act helped end segregation, and it can work for candidate's rights, too. The words President John F. Kennedy used to introduce the Civil Rights Act to Congress, January 28, 1963 ring true today.

"No action is more contrary to the spirit of our democracy and Constitution - or more rightfully resented by a Negro citizen who seeks only equal treatment - than the barring of that citizen from restaurants, hotels, theaters, recreational areas and other public accommodations and facilities," Kennedy said.

How might that great Democrat respond to his party keeping me from the first debate stage at New London's Garde Arts Center? Kennedy could probably be persuaded that equal participation in the electoral process would qualify as "public accommodations."

If that failed, I could argue that WVIT's television studio, which beams its signals along publicly-owned airwaves, is a public "facility." Although some would contend that the exclusion of a live voter audience from the debate, which I consider inappropriate as well, renders that moot.

To remedy these ills and prevent any future unfairness, I call on leaders like Rep. James Amman, the speaker of the House, and Sen. Donald Williams, the president pro-tem of the Senate, to practice justice where Gov. Rell won't.

They should introduce a bill mandating that all candidates certified for the ballot have access to all debates and be included in all polls. There should be no fewer than eight televised debates where all certified candidates participate.

If there are more than six candidates, we should investigate possibilities like round-robin debates, where only four candidates take the stage at any one time.

Because of the lack of participation among youth, I propose that these debates should be held exclusively on college campuses and in high school auditoriums. The law should protect this structure by setting up an independent body to monitor, plan and moderate these debates.

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura attributed his third-party victory to factors unique to Minnesota, like Election Day registration and open debates. Minnesota blazed another electoral trail this year with online debates. Chris Bigelow of the blog CTLocalPolitics tried to initiate that in here this year, but again, Rell and DeStefano shunned his invitation to public discourse.

If we are serious about democracy, serious about hearing many voices, and serious about the perpetuation of self-government, we must be creative, take risks, and be willing to admit mistakes as we search for the optimal conditions for vigorous political inquiry.

Until that moment where fairness and courage overcome favoritism and cowardice, Connecticut's electorate will remain trapped in a time where the absurdity of separate but equal dominates, despite our knowledge and conviction that it is wrong.

Cliff Thornton is the Green Party candidate for governor.

Cliff Thornton is a very close friend of mine who I met working in drug policy reform. This is a fabulous piece. I couldn't have said it better myself.


Anonymous said...

I dunno, Loretta ... the piece sounds like sour grapes mixed with ... uh ... bullshit.

Sorry to be so blunt, but that's how it struck me.

I'm a long-term believer that the two main parties work tirelessly to strangle any competition from so-called third parties, and to keep the "average" citizen out of real politics. But the invokation of Jim Crowe in Connecticut is a bit much.

His point is valid, but he makes it distasteful by trying to spice it up with such references.

Stick to the point, I say. The two main parties, the popular media, and people in general, will go to any length to frame political debate in terms of "left" and "right." Any debate that cannot be framed thusly is, as ya'll learned in Auburn, recently, "too complex for the voter to understand" (meaning "too uncertain" for the political parties to risk).

This guy, Cliff Thornton, "Calls on leaders ..."

Well good luck with that!

As they said in the Declaration, "history hath shewn ... men are disposed to suffer, while governments are sufferable." And until the voters themselves mandate change, no amount of calling on leaders will effect change. It is the very system itself that has both made them leaders and also made them deaf and immune to such calls. Such a call only makes the caller look silly, and by extension whatever "party" he represents.

I hate that it is such an uphill climb for decent and enthusiastic people such as the Greens and the Libertarians to gain the attention and respect of the average voter (let alone the majority).

But I'm mindful that the system, corrupt as it is, largely protects us from a sort of radicalism that is even worse than republo-democrans.

The message of any "third party" must be addressed to the people, not to the entrenched politician.

You've got my vote, regardless. Your courage and tenacity are noble traits, and I hope that enough Alabamians will cast their vote with you so that you and the Libertarian Party can change politics (and the unfair ballot-access laws) in Alabama. And I hope that elected Libertarians will make it JOB #1 to include non-traditional candidates and ideas in the political process.


Kevin said...

The LP sued sucessfully when they were excluded from a public debate in Michigan a few years ago, because the debate was held at a public place, a university. I've come to the conclusion that all of us "third party" folk should get together. Incidentally, how many "third parties" can you have? Just a thought.