Third-Party Candidacies vs. Voting for the Lesser Evil

Last week's < a href="" target=_blank_>feature article on the Zeese and Thornton campaigns (Zeese is running for US Senate in a tight race in Maryland and Thornton is running for governor of Connecticut—links in the article) included a discussion between Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on the possible benefits and liabilities of third-party campaigns. That discussion provoked a lengthier (and continuing) exchange on a nomination-only list for leading drug policy reformers, and I think it should be a topic of serious discussion here among the unwashed masses as well. Both Thornton, running as a Green, and Zeese, running a "unity" campaign as the Green-Libertarian-Populist nominee, have clearly rejected the clarion call of the two-party system. From a pragmatic perspective, the fundamental question is whether working outside the two major parties will bring success on drug policy reform faster than attempting to bring either of the two major parties (most likely the Democrats, given the Republicans' social conservative base and penchant for the "war on" metaphor) around to a palatable position on the issue. For some reformers, defeating the Republicans is everything. What if Zeese pulls enough votes from the Democrat to throw the Maryland senate race to the Republicans and—nightmare scenario—the Republicans keep the Senate by one seat? There will be much howling and gnashing of teeth among Democratic loyalists, just as there was after the 2000 presidential elections, when much of the party faithful blamed Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the White House. Zeese and Thornton and their supporters will undoubtedly—and fairly—respond that they are not beholden to the Democratic Party and are as entitled to seek peoples' votes as either the donkeys or the elephants. Besides, again echoing the post-2000 discussion, they will say, there's not that much difference between the two major parties. I guess that's a matter of perspective. If you look at the broad contours of drug policy, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus on the status quo. From that viewpoint, Democrats are no better than Republicans on drug policy. A particularly progressive congressional Democrat might work toward a kinder, gentler drug war, perhaps sponsoring a bill that reduces the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, for instance, but none are saying we need to do away with the peculiar institution of drug prohibition in its entirety. But coming in for a closer look, there are significant differences between the two parties when it comes to nibbling away at the edges of the drug war. The congressional votes on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, and the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision both show Democrats much more likely to favor such reform at the margins. Is that difference enough to make independent or third-party campaigns that may weaken the Democrats a mistake? I'm not going to try to answer that question right now. Instead, I invite our readers to weigh in, and I hope that will include some of the people who have been discussing this already. Is Zeese a menace or a messiah? Is Thornton dashing after windmills or leading the way to a new politics? You tell us. (This blog post was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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There is no difference on the drug war

This issue has never been about one party, good things can be done by either a democrat or republican, and bad things are done by democrats and republicans. In Zeese's case his two opponents take the exact same position on the war on drugs, not to mention they are both "stay the course guys" though the democrat now says he is not, and they both support the patriot act. So show me one issue on which there is an important difference.

vote for individuals, not against parties

I think it's very important to be single-issues voters and look at individual candidates. Will *this* candidate improve the law on *my* issue? If instead our votes are based on keeping the other party out, we run the risk of continuing to be a "core constituency": a group that the party we support doesn't have to address.

As long as anti-drug war voters are willing to vote for candidates whose "nibbling at the margins" actions are really covers for not doing anything at all (i.e., supporting "more studies" vs. not supporting more studies--we already know from a century of experience what "more studies" really means), then those candidates don't need to address our issues.

Consistently, compassionate use/medical marijuana polls above 50% throughout the United States. I think that the reason there's been very little progress except at the referendum level is that voters who support compassionate use don't care enough about it to vote that way at the candidate level. Republicans don't expect to gain votes by supporting compassionate use, and Democratics don't expect to lose votes by not actively supporting it.

3rd Party Politics

I live in Maryland and I intend to "throw my vote away" on Zeese.

I think, in general, Democrats are slightly better on drug issues than Republicans. It's a good thing that votes for Zeese will likely come from voters that would otherwise vote for Cardin. It shows the Democrats how much support is in drug law reform (Zeese is largely a one issue candidate). The more votes candidates like Zeese pull, the more that Democrats will notice drug reform issues. This is especially true if this ends up costing Democrats the election. Maybe that's the best thing that can happen. We can't support the lesser of 2 evils and expect to make progress. Even if it ends up worse in the short run, supporting 3rd party candidates allows progress in the long run. Sucking votes from the more sympathetic party is how 3rd parties exert their influence.

races that count

How about the Kinky Friedman race in Texas? He favors marijuana decriminalization and is semi-competative. Latest numbers I saw have him at 12%. This is significate because the Democrat is only 8 to 10 points down in bumping off the Republican governor in TEXAS.

While Zeese likely wont affect the election that much, Friedmans run is very real and important.

I Saw in Tx Freeman is in third

It was the Rep, "grandma", Kinky, and then the Dem.
I dont remmember the #'s.

In MD, the latest Zogby is
Cardin 51
Steel 35
Zeese 6


It is important to point out that Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) has supported medical marijuana and signed a medical marijuana bill into law despite pressure from the Bush administration. He has also worked to reform sentencing for drug offenders to try to keep them out of jail. He has done more for drug reform than any other elected official in Maryland. Drug reformers ought to consider him as well as Michael Steele. What the hell is a Green/Libertarian/Populist anyway?

Previous comment (Maryland)

Indeed, I believe Ehrlich is the superior candidate for governer. Ehrlich has supported the changes you mentioned. His opponent, O'Malley, while mayor of Baltimore has a program of making many small-time (some say illegal) arrests.

However, Steele is much more of a "Bush Republican" than Ehrlich. Steele hasn't said much about his drug policy, but his website says:
"End Drug Trafficking:

* Increase and expand the High Intensity Drug Trafficking grant the Baltimore-Washington area receives, so police have the resources they need to target drug dealers and gang members who traffic narcotics.

* Increase funding for programs that rehabilitate drug addicts and get them the help they need to return to being productive members of society. "

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