The Road Less Travelled

At last the primary season is upon us. Iowans caucus January 24 in the first real test of the Bush and Gore campaign organizations and New Hampshire voters cast their primary ballots on February 1. After those preliminaries are out of the way, the nominations likely will be wrapped up in a few weeks. Then, if all goes according to plan, Bush and Gore will make their media buys and gather their troops in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively and we will wait for a general election campaign that will seem every bit as relevant to the general electorate as the Coke vs. Pepsi War.

That is, of course, unless you believe in advancing the causes of alternative political movements such as the Reform Party, where Donald Trump is poised to challenge Pat Buchanan for the presidential nomination, or the Green Party, where Ralph Nader is expected to make another race for president (and this time he may actually campaign).

The Progressive Populist can find very little to recommend Al Gore or Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries and less reason to bother with the Republicans. Unless you have a favorite progressive politician in a primary fight, you are better off abstaining from the Democratic (or GOP) primary. Instead, help build a progressive alternative.

Texas Democrats, for example, have given a boon to the Green and Reform parties, which have 75 days after the March primary to gather 38,000 signatures of registered voters who have not participated in another party's primary, in order to get on the Texas ballot this fall.

The Greens already are on the ballot in 12 states, including California, New York and Florida, but they hope to qualify in as many as 47 ballots, and Texas is a key.

In the past, many potential Green petitioners might have been tempted to vote in a Democratic primary, but this year there is little reason to keep progressive Democrats "on the reservation." With the filing deadline past, Democrats gave a new meaning to the term "yellow dogs" as they failed to mount a serious challenger to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's re-election. They also gave Republican incumbents free rides for the Railroad Commission and the Supreme Court. With Bush likely to be running as a favorite son at the head of the ticket, Democratic leaders don't want Hutchison to be any more engaged than necessary, but their defensive strategy is a sad commentary on how Democrats have fallen to protecting their thin majority in the state House and hoping to reverse their one-vote minority in the state Senate.

Green organizers will have petition parties to collect signatures in cities such as Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, and they are affiliating with grassroots campaigns to establish living wages and to limit the power of corporations. If they get on the ballot, they need to score 5 percent in one of the statewide races to qualify for the ballot in 2002, but Green candidates lined up for the Senate, Court of Criminal Appeals and two Railroad Commission seats likely will benefit from Democrats' absence. To help organize local Greens, phone David Cobb, 713-880-3219 or email cobbweb@onramp.net.

The Reform Party also will petition for full ballot access after getting Ross Perot's name on the presidential ballot as an independent candidate in 1996. Reform has candidates for the Senate, both Railroad Commission seats and eight congressional seats as well as six state legislative seats. "With help coming in from Buchanan and Trump supporters we feel we will successfully meet every deadline for party access," Texas Reform Party Chairman Lee Pepper said. For information call toll-free 1-888-488-8038 or see the web site at www.texas.reformparty.org.

According to Ballot Access News (www.ballot-access.org), the Libertarian Party (202-333-0008, www.lp.org) is currently qualified for 31 state ballots, the Reform Party (352-543-5538, www.reformparty.org) is qualified in 21 states, the Natural Law Party (800-332-0000, www.natural-law.org) is qualified in 17 states, the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party, 800-283-8647, www.ustaxpayers.org) is qualified in 13 and the Greens (303-543-0672, www.greens.org) are qualified in 12 states. If you want to help any of those parties, you probably should refrain from voting in your local Democratic or Republican primary until you have determined whether your favorite alternative is on the ballot.

We have long suspected that George W. Bush lives in his own little world, populated by rich people who give him money. Then in December, just before Christmas, he tipped his hand on how compassionate his conservatism runs when he sneered at a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that showed 5 percent of Texans suffered from hunger, ranking the state second-worst in the number of hungry residents. (The national average was 3.5 percent.) "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas."

Yes, you would think so. Although hungry folks apparently don't show up at Bush's fundraisers, state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, Democratic chair of the House Committee on Human Services noted, "every person involved in social services in this state knows ... that there are massive numbers of people who go hungry and that this has been the case for years. Could it be that the governor also doesn't know that Texas ranks at or near the bottom in every recognized national poverty-related category? Perhaps so."

Bush issued a challenge to the USDA: Show me your hungry. "I would like for the Department of Agriculture to show us who, where are they, and we'll respond," he said.

But it doesn't take a federal agent to find a hungry person in Texas. Bush's own Department of Human Services could do the trick, if he picked up the phone. Or, just three blocks from the Governor's Mansion, the St. Vincent de Paul Society operates a food pantry behind St. Mary's Cathedral. Just about any day the governor could roll up in his motorcade and find poor people -- many of them with jobs -- who face the choice of paying for food or rent or utilities, but who can't hack all three, and need a sack of food to tide them over. Demand for help has more than tripled in the past four years of economic boom.

Statewide, more than two million people have trouble finding food and more than 950,000 suffer from outright hunger, Naishtat said. Three million Texans live in poverty but the state only provides food stamps to 1.5 million. Maybe Bush should ask what his favorite political philosopher, Jesus, would do.

Honestly, it is as if a club of billionaires had a bet going to see if they could elect somebody dumber than Ronald Reagan to be president. Dan Quayle apparently was too bright, so they settled on George W.

Businesses and government agencies spent more than $200 billion to correct Y2K computer problems and apparently they were phenomenally successful. Would that they devoted as much attention to such chronic problems as bringing the bottom 20 percent of Americans up at least to the poverty level, saving family farms, American manufacturing and family-owned businesses. Maybe they could even find Dubya some hungry Texans.

(By the way, if you find yourself with more canned foods than you need, remember your local food bank can use them.)

If you are concerned about the influence of money in politics, you will find no handier reference book than The Buying of the President 2000 by Charles Lewis and the Center for Public Integrity. Its subtitle, The Authoritative Guide to the Big Money Interests Behind This Year's Presidential Candidates pretty well describes the $14 paperback from Avon Books. Excerpts and updates are available at the center's web site, www.publicintegrity.org. -- JMC

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