Voter dissatisfaction with both major political parties is reportedly running at record-high levels both nationally and locally. "Tea party" has become a political buzzword, rather than the description of polite afternoon get-togethers of ladies wearing short white gloves. And major party candidates, as they always seem to do, hammer away as if by rote at the perpetual, bulletproof campaign themes of God, country and family.
In the midst of such a seemingly muddled political environment, an average Central Oklahoma voter might well be confused and dispirited about the political future, but a handful of independent candidates on Tuesday's ballot hope to poach in the political reserve normally limited to well-financed traditional party candidates, and provide voters with what they think are genuine alternatives.
'DISENFRANCHISED BY THE SYSTEM'
Armed with shoestring budgets and steadfast convictions, local independent candidates for both federal and state office say they offer alternatives to political business as usual. They are pressing their cases for a range of issues that include reduced taxes and reduced government spending, fewer school districts in Oklahoma, gay rights, legalized drug use by adults, accelerated development of alternative fuels sources and their use, and an end to American military police actions elsewhere in the world.
"I felt completely disenfranchised by the system," said Dr. Edward A. Shadid, a member of the Green Party and an independent candidate for representative for House District 85.
"We want change, but the system has been rigged (in Oklahoma) by the two-party duopoly so that while the populace feels frustrated and wants change, they're restricted to oscillating back and forth between the two parties, which are really two wings of the same bird."
Richard Prawdzienski, the independent candidate for lieutenant governor with roots in the Libertarian Party, has political views vastly different from those held by Shadid, but shares the same frustration with how politics is conducted in Oklahoma under the two-party system.
"They wouldn't let me run as a Libertarian," Prawdzienski said. "They make the third-party recognition so difficult that we can't get enough signatures to be recognized by the state.
"That drove me to say, 'I'm unhappy with what's happening in Oklahoma and I want to stand up.' They tell me, 'If you don't like how the government is acting right now, get involved,' and by gosh darn, I got involved."
MOST RESTRICTIVE NATIONWIDE
Clark Duffe, state vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party running as an independent for Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District seat in the U.S. Senate, said voters with whom he's spoken are dissatisfied with both Republicans and Democrats, but are reluctant to vote for independent candidates.
"They think if they vote for an independent, they're hurting one of the two major parties, and they so dislike the other (major) party, that they don't want to do anything that would possibly help the other party," Duffe said. "I've had people I know say that they'd be glad to vote for me, but they don't want another Democrat getting in."
In Oklahoma, candidates other than Republicans and Democrats must run as independents, rather than with alternate party labels, as a result of the most restrictive ballot access law in the country.
"Up until 1974, it took 5,000 signatures and then a third party could be on the ballot in Oklahoma," Shadid said. "Today, it's 5 percent of the last presidential or governor's election, so basically it (now requires) about 73,000 signatures.
"They also play games where if there's something wrong (with one signature) on a page, they throw out the whole page, so basically it would take about 100,000 signatures. If you hire a firm to (gather signatures), it would be about $1 per signature on average, so it would be $100,000 per election cycle just to get on the ballot."
Dave White, a "Republican since I was old enough to vote," campaigned as a conservative independent in the 5th Congressional District race after he was quoted a similar amount that would be required for him to receive assistance from professional political consultants if he ran as a Republican.
"I was pretty naive " I was led to believe you need a political consultant in order to be successful," White said. "When the political consultants I met started to recruit me, they told me that I would need to write them a check for $100,000 so I could get up and running, since I wasn't a famous person in the district.
"That made me not happy. Not just for me, but also for any representative leader in our community " high school principal, fire chief, head nurse " I don't care who it is, a $100,000 cover charge makes it impossible for true leaders in our community to run for office."
It was the quoted "cover charge" necessary to run for Congress as a Republican that White said propelled him to attempt a campaign as an independent.
"I was originally recruited by one of the Republican candidates to be a campaign manager," he said. "And when we were taking a look at that, he took me behind the curtain and I met some of the political consultants. "I now know political consultants really look at the candidates more as a profit center. They could care less who you are or what you believe in; they're just looking at the money side of it."
White backed away from the consultants, and instead campaigned as a conservative independent with a $100 cap on contributions, which were accepted only from individuals, with larger contributions from families allowed in $100 increments, with the total allowed matching the number of family members.
"I was hoping that the voters would say, 'Look, it's time we wrested back our representation. Here's a candidate that's certainly qualified, I'd like him to represent us, and he can go to Washington and purely represent the district, and not be beholden to anybody but us,'" he said. "But unfortunately, while that business plan looked good on paper, people weren't ready to break out their checkbooks."
White said he dropped out of the race after the Aug. 2 runoff and endorsed Republican James Lankford to avoid splitting the district's conservative votes.
"My chances of winning without putting in large sums of my own money into the campaign were slim to none, while my chances of splitting the vote were great," he said. "I realized I had to bite the bullet and stand down." "C.G. Niebank
The Pirate Party of Oklahoma recently endorsed two Central Oklahoma independent candidates: Clark Duffe, running for the Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District, and Dr. Edward A. Shadid, campaigning to be state representative from District 85.
"I'm really happy to get their endorsement," Duffe said. "When we talked, our beliefs pretty well aligned. With intellectual freedom, I'm afraid, as they are, of government controlling things like the Internet and information sources, so we agree quite closely."
While the party name may suggest peg-legged sailors with eye-patches to some voters, the Pirate Party, which has its roots in Europe, has serious concerns about ballot access reform in Oklahoma, privacy rights, government transparency and copyright and patent reform.
"We were first labeled in Europe as Internet pirates," said Marcus Kesler, administrator of the Pirate Party of Oklahoma, which formed in January. "We took that criticism, that label, and adopted it to disarm it and say, 'You can call us pirates if you want to, but that doesn't change any of these issues that are real problems: growing surveillance, loss of privacy.' Our platform stands for all of that."
Kesler said the PPO decided to endorse independents because they hadn't fielded candidates of their own in this election cycle. The endorsements came as a result of Duffe's and Shadid's responses to a survey the PPO sent to 150 candidates for office in Oklahoma " Republicans, Democrats and independents.
"I don't agree with everything " if we did, we'd be the same party," Shadid said. "But I think (the Pirate Party) message will resonate with Oklahomans who are cognizant of the government's intrusion into private aspects of our lives.""C.G. Niebank
top Consumer advocate and frequent presidential candidate Ralph Nader meets with House District 85 hopeful Dr. Edward A. Shadid in September. Photo/Mark Hancock
second photo Richard Prawdzienski. Photo/Mark Hancock
third photo Clark Duffe. Photo/Mark Hancock
fourth photo Dave White.