The US Needs a Strong Independent Third Party
Parties, Endorsements and the Media are NOT What Voters Think They Are – Voters Must Do their Own Research
I recently ran for CA State Assembly as an independent third-party candidate. I ran in a Northern CA Assembly primary race that featured 7 candidates including 5 Democrats, 1 Republican and me running as a Green.
Patch / California
By Tania Sole
July 8, 2022
I believed that I had a path to placing in the CA open primary system due to the fact that I was the only candidate opposing Senate Bill 9 (SB9) & Senate Bill 10 (SB10) that are not supported by almost 70% of Californian's. SB 9 & SB 10 do away with a number of zoning protections and make density the goal of all development in California. Unfortunately, some of the 30% in support have made it a class issue arguing that this will make housing more affordable when in fact the legislation does not have any affordability requirements. Nothing to stop the building of additional Airbnb's. Nothing to ensure that what is built is not luxury housing or more McMansions. I thought that Reagan's supply side economics had been debunked but here we have it again in the SB 9/10 debate just increase supply and price will come down. When in fact we also have induced demand economic theory that is more representative of what is happening on the ground, namely if you build McMansions buyers of McMansions will come and you will instead get displacement and gentrification.
The reality is that build, build, build is bad for the environment, the wealthy don't want it because they want more space, and the poor don't want it because it tends to as noted above displace them and just leads to gentrification and accrues to the benefit of developers. SB 9 & SB 10 are truly as I noted during my campaign developer gifts.
As I mentioned to a group of Greens that I originally met with when my campaign came to their attention, I was a registered Republican for almost forty years. I did change my registration to Green three years ago due to the developments nationally. When I decided to run in December of 2021 because the incumbent decided to run for an open Congressional seat, I thought that presenting the issue of development from an environmental perspective, would take away the class arguments that the minority of supporters have given it and allow voters to support this openly without feeling that they are voting against affordable housing (which as noted above they aren't!)There is a big movement, Our Neighborhood Voices, with a number of elected officials statewide supporting it. However, when I talked to elected supporters of Our Neighborhood Voices the questions always came back to what party was I registered with and as soon as they found out I was running as a third party candidate interactions and support ceased. It was really astounding to me.
Factually when I ran seven years ago as a Republican in a non-partisan race for Redwood City City Council on essentially the same policy issues, I raised over $17K from local supporters. This time running for a broader position, Assembly District 21, I was only able to raise about $7K from supporters and had to contribute to my own campaign which I was fortunately able to do this time although I did not do it seven years ago nor was I in a position to do so seven years ago. I believe that had I run as a Republican I would have been able to raise at least $50K which is what I figured I needed to place. I realize that funding third party campaigns is difficult but establishing networks to help do this is very important.
For third party candidates in California getting at least one major endorsement would be really helpful. Unfortunately, most organizations use a triage system to make their endorsements and the first question is always is the candidate "viable". An incumbent or someone with a lot of money is considered viable, if one of those two things is in place getting support gets easier. As I wrote seven years ago when I ran, one of the saddest lessons I learned then was that endorsements are NOT endorsements of platforms but instead endorsements of your likelihood of winning. The shameful secret is that a lot of organizations are to a large extent buying access to elected officials with their endorsements.
I also ran into some changing social media dynamics. During candidate forums, county elections officials had clearly noted that elections were now being won with very low margins. I believe it was because social media had equalized the funding needed to raise awareness. Sadly, the new rules at Facebook and Instagram are making it nearly impossible for non-elected candidates (meaning the four Democratic candidates that were sitting elected officials in this last campaign had some major advantages) to get approved as political figures and pay for political ads. The public railed and correctly I might add against Facebook for the lack of control and transparency regarding political advertising and Facebook took a broad-brush approach to a delicate fine pencil issue. Bottom-line, my campaign was never able to get past Facebook's approval process despite wasting untold amounts of time. You may have heard, and I can confirm that there is no such thing as talking to Facebook support. It doesn't exist. You will keep getting the run around and the requests for more and more information and more and more recordings of what you are experiencing until you just quit because you only have a couple of months in an average campaign. I did in the end run some campaigns on other platforms including Google, NextDoor, Patch, and TikTok (TikTok's problem is it doesn't allow geographies smaller than a whole state in the US.) I also did some advertising on some homeowner associations (HOA's) newsletters. (Maybe a topic worth exploring in more in depth in a separate article.) This new reality is now reflected in that the results were more like in the past and not that close.
The candidates in my race included one well known Democrat (DP) daughter of a prior congressman with a sister also in politics (raised over $573K.) There was another Democrat (GH) former Facebook employee and current COO of Political Data Inc (PDI- the company that does the polling.) I would have thought that working for PDI would have been considered a conflict of interest. As a former Facebook employee, she raised tons of money (over $766K) and that is not even counting the PACS that were created for and against her. Because GH raised more than DP, DP went negative. The last month was UGLY! There was also a Democratic Socialists of America Democrat (DSA) candidate that went to Harvard and was endorsed and supported by AOC and her PAC. He was trying very hard to break through, raised over $257K and was trying to be considered along with DP/GH.
The DSA candidate ended up heavily advertising that he was the only candidate that wasn't taking corporate funds and leaning heavily into that message. The facts however were that there were five of us without corporate funding and only two (DP/GH) with corporate funding. The media never questioned him (a topic that deserves a full expose of its own as even the established media is being disingenuous if not downright deceptive these days.) Given the outrage among my supporters, I would assume that all those that voted for the other three non corporate supported candidates are just as appalled and should he run again in the future not likely to vote for this him.
The final recently certified results are in percentages:
- DP – Dem $573K+: 41.33%
- GH – Dem $766K+: 19.83%
- Rep: 19.50%
- Dem DSA $257K+: 11.52%
- Dem that used to be Green: 3.43%
- Dem that sits on the Community College District: 2.72%
- Green: 1.66%
Not pretty for the third party. If I had run as a Republican, I am pretty confident I would have at a minimum split the Republican vote and received about 10%. In 2015 I received 8.5% in a field of six candidates. On the other hand, the difference for me between coming in 3rd, 4th or 7th is zero and in this district a Republican is not likely to win in November.
The interesting thing about the Republican is that when the results first started being reported he was about 1% higher than GH. First couple of updates, he actually increased his percentage. I believe that happened because of Elon Musk's tweet on May 18th saying that although he had voted Democratic in the past, this year he was voting Republican. If only Musk had tweeted, he was voting third party! He could have done so much to advance and support this. He has tweeted that the country needs another party. In fact, there is a new organization GoodParty.Org that certifies third party candidates. They are funded by Farhad Mohit, the founder of Flipagram that he sold to TikTok and AngelList and supported by Naval Ravikant also from AngelList and Jeff Ayeroff from Rock the Vote. Clearly, I also believe this country needs another strong party. Recently, Andrew Yang, the Democratic candidate for President, left the Democratic Party and founded the Forward Party. As he put it this past July 4th weekend: "This 4th of July weekend consider declaring Independence from the broken two-party system - you'll be glad you did."
We need more third parties and electoral reform but it will not be easy. Ranked Choice Voting based on point value assignment to placement would help a lot. I am not sure the currently collapsing methodology won't end up creating some issues in a couple of years. In addition, publicly funded campaigns would be nice but as I put it to one of my supporters, I am not sure that this will help as much as expected. I would imagine that there will be IRS rules that recommend if not require pre-requisites that end up eliminating smaller party candidates. For example, there were a number of debates where only DP, GH & DSA were invited based on IRS guidance that allows non-profits to only invite "viable" candidates that have over $15K of supporter donations (not to include any candidate self-financing) and at least FIVE current elected officials' endorsements based in the district.
As the Mercury News noted even well financed independents didn't make it:
"What's the problem? The public may not love the Republican and Democratic parties. But the parties have hundreds of volunteers. They have voter lists, budgets, phone banks, pollsters, allies in non-profit groups and name recognition.
It's nearly impossible to break through that and get noticed by voters in a state as big as California when you aren't part of either tribe and don't carry the familiar R or D label."
In my case this time, I ran as a Green and could not even get endorsed as the local Green Party committee is no longer active and the state Green Party doesn't endorse in local races. Amazingly the state Peace and Freedom Party reached out and endorsed me. Seven years ago, I was endorsed, promoted, provided with voter lists and phone banking support. It makes a huge difference. In my case 8.5% vs 1.66% of the vote. Third parties need to at a minimum build a solid infrastructure to support candidates.
Am I concerned about the direction of the country? Yes, that is why I ran. Seven years ago, I tried to recruit several people to run. They all declined either because they were scared of the process, had concerns about the disclosures necessary to run or had various other concerns. Finally, I said to myself I cannot ask people to do something I am not willing to do. So, I decided to run.
During the 2020 campaign for president, I was furious during a Democrats' Primary debate when Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar claimed they had never lost when they ran ergo they should be voted for. To me that was the worst message to send to women. (https://patch.com/california/redwoodcity-woodside/fear-failure-ultimate-female-taboo) However, when I wrote the above piece in defense of losing and learning like the men do, I got feedback that regardless of my message they couldn't help but notice that I hadn't run again. I knew then that I had to run again but I had to be more strategic doing it. Which as noted at the beginning of this article, I was.
The sad lesson this time around was that in the end even if this was a primary race with low participation even for the voters that did participate as an LA Times news analysis noted "It's easy to fill out a ballot but to make informed choices is a lot of work." As a Republican advisor seven years ago told me in a lot of ways the only things that matter are what letter (D, G, PF, R, NPP namely Democrat, Green, Peace and Freedom, Republican or No Party Preference) goes after your name when you run and what descriptor words you use on the ballot (businessperson, small business owner, incumbent, title of incumbent role, attorney, scientist, etc, etc.) All the guidelines he gave me were basically confirmed during this election. To have a functioning democracy, voters need to do more of their own research as relying on the media and endorsements is not what they think it is.
I welcome your comments, questions, and thoughts.