The Bad News Bears of Politics
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of kids’ sports movies, it’s that winning isn’t everything. Remember Hoosiers, when Gene Hackman tells the kids that if they play to their potential, “I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners!” Sigh.
You don’t hear that kind of talk in politics. But if you look to the third parties right now, it’s sort of the political version of D2: The Mighty Ducks. Surely you know the one—where the LA street hockey kids join forces with the Minnesotan ice hockey team to defeat the Icelander hockey team?
Perhaps I should explain. The Greens just offered 93,000 signatures, almost double Texas’ requirement, to the Secretary of State in the hopes they make it onto the ballot. The secretary’s office must determine if at least 43,992 of the signatures are acceptable, the minimum needed.
But there’s a larger question at work. Getting legitimate signatures isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds—each person who signs must: a) be on the voter rolls; and b) not have voted in a primary for another party. Since so many important races in Texas happen at a primary level—that’s to say, one party dominates a district and the primary outcome pretty much tells you who’s going to hold office—it can be hard to find engaged voters eligible to sign these third party petitions. It’s not easy and it’s very expensive.
To help ease the way, the Texas Greens and Libertarians are working together to to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot. They’d like to see the legislature lower the requirements around signatures or at least allow those who vote in major party primaries to also sign the petitions that allow third parties to get on the ballot.
“The real problem with [gathering signatures] is the amount of time and effort put into that is something that really hampers your ability to do much of anything else,” says state Libertarian Party Chair Pat Dixon.
Dixon doesn’t have to worry so much about signatures—if a party garners 5 percent of the vote, they don’t need to resubmit petitions. The Libertarians almost always get their requisite percentages and rarely need to gather signatures. But they’ve allied with their fellow third party, raising awareness and hoping to push legislators to ease the burdens around getting on the ballot. They’ve lobbied the Capitol before to reform elections, but they’re hoping the joint effort this year might be more fruitful.
“At this point i would say there’s probably not too much competition between us—probably there’s more cooperation than competition,” says Nicolas Freeman of the state Green Party.
Dixon has always been up-front about the Libertarians’ low odds of winning any major races, but he’s long believed that success at lower levels (the Libs have been more successful at local elections, holding nine positions in city councils, water authorities etc.) along with visible candidates in House and statewide races can bring the party recognition. Furthermore, he hopes that the long-shot candidates’ decisions to run or stay in the race give them some leverage in the electoral outcome.
“At the state level we recognize our political disadvantage and do not expect overnight success,” he emailed me in April. “However we have clearly demonstrated our influence in the results of the election. We can play ‘kingmaker’ and help determine who gets in and who gets taken out.” (Can’t you just hear the theme song Hoosiers?)
What’s sweet is that the Libertarians may not benefit from having the Greens on the ballot. No one really knows how strong the Green candidates might be in Texas, and while the Freeman says the Greens will try to get people who don’t normally vote “off the couch,” they may also draw some former Libertarian voters. Dixon knows that as well.
“It will have some kind of an impact on the [other candidates],” he said. “It remains to be seen how strong some of these candidates are.”
The Libertarians are trying to help them out nonetheless—the little guy helping the even littler guy. And remember, even after all the petitions, the drives and the cooperation, neither party is likely to hold a seat higher than city council, although Dixon believes they will still have clout lobbying on the ballot access issues.
It’s like that moment at the end of The Bad News Bears. The kids lose the big game, but then they get to raid the coach’s beer cooler. Well, it’s kind of like that.