Sunday, April 06, 2008

Peace and Freedom Party's California dream - Go C.T.!!!

By Shane Goldmacher Peace and Freedom Party members Gerald Frink, left, and C.T. Weber both are running – after a fashion – for the Assembly District 9 seat. Frink is on the ballot, but wants voters instead to write in Weber. Their intent is to prompt a change in the state law that makes it difficult for write-in candidates to qualify for a spot in the general election.
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Most third-party candidates for office don't expect to win. But Gerald Frink is different. Frink is campaigning specifically to lose.

Frink is the official Peace and Freedom Party candidate for a Sacramento-area Assembly seat on the June ballot. He's urging voters – or at least the 1,756 registered party members in the district – to skip past his name on the ballot and write in C.T. Weber for Assembly.

"Don't vote for me!" reads Frink's official campaign Web site.

It's all part of an elaborate scheme hatched by Weber, Frink and other Peace and Freedom activists to challenge what they call an unconstitutional and idiosyncratic state law that makes it all but impossible for write-in candidates – especially those from minor parties – to win a spot on the general election ballot.

"It's going to be an interesting campaign," Weber told a small group of button-clad party activists on Wednesday, as they talked politics over cheese, crackers and anti-war political paraphernalia.

The party's Sacramento chapter meets monthly in the Hollywood Park home of Debra Reiger, the state party chairwoman, who runs the meetings barefoot, clipboard in hand.

That's where Weber, a former California Highway Patrol analyst and a Peace and Freedom activist for decades, outlined his strategy for the party to win in June by losing.

State election law, he explained, says that whoever wins the most votes in the primary becomes the party's nominee in the general election. But write-in candidates face an extra hurdle – having to win what amounts to 1 percent of the total number of votes cast in the previous general election for that office in order to qualify.

That amounts to an essentially unreachable bar for third-party candidates such as Weber. The registration of Peace and Freedom voters in Assembly District 9 totals 1.03 percent of voters.

Weber said he has tried to get a legislator to change the law, to no avail.

Now, he wants to go to court.

If Weber can outpoll Frink in June, neither man will qualify for the November ballot. Frink will have lost the primary, and Weber won't meet the 1 percent threshold.

With that "straw man" in place, Weber says, he will sue for the right to be the general election candidate.

"We think that is enough," said Weber, 67, a veteran of losing campaigns for governor, state senator, state controller and the Board of Equalization. "We are trying to say this law is unconstitutional."

Richard L. Hasen, a professor who specializes in election law at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, said the chances of Weber's lawsuit succeeding are slim.

Past legal challenges – including the most recent one filed in 2006 by a Republican Assembly candidate in Sonoma County and the Democratic Party – have failed in court.

Hasen said the U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that "the state can require that you demonstrate some serious support before you get on the general election ballot."

Not that the possibility of losing seemed to matter much to the nine Peace and Freedom devotees at Wednesday's meeting. After all, candidates for the party, which anti-war activists founded in California in 1967 during the Vietnam War, have never won partisan elective office.

In fact, Weber never broached the notion of actually winning the Assembly seat currently held by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, who is running for re-election.

Such is life for members of California's smallest – and little known – qualified third party.

There are currently 57,182 Peace and Freedom voters in California – out of 15.7 million registered voters. The party's platform is dedicated to "socialism, democracy, ecology, feminism and racial equality."

At the meeting Wednesday, talk turned to "rich people" during a discussion of taxes. "They don't have to cheat," blurted out Debra Reiger's husband, John, bearded with a hat full of political pins. "They have lawyers up there to find tax loopholes."

The party nearly ceased to exist a decade ago when it failed to meet the state's registration requirements. But Weber, who talks much like a veteran political strategist, mobilized a voter-registration drive to requalify Peace and Freedom for the ballot – the only party ever to do so in California history.

It was hard, Weber said, because Peace and Freedom voters are often in lower income brackets and "like gypsies in a way – moving every three months."

"I don't feel either the Democratic or Republican party really represent the needs and wants of average people," Weber said.

In an era of multimillion dollar political campaigns (Jones had $491,000 in the bank as of late March), the Weber write-in effort is focused, quite literally, on pennies.

The cost of sending a 250-piece mailer was budgeted at $505.72 (through a union shop, of course). Food for the summer's convention, including vegan fare, is to be bought at Costco (the state party chairwoman has a membership). And they discussed the cost of a stamp, which rose two cents to 41 cents since the last election cycle.

Wearing slacks, a white button-down shirt and pink and purple Mardi Gras beads, the 73-year-old Frink admitted his bid to lose is hurt by the fact that he doesn't have an official ballot statement telling voters to write in C.T. Weber.

"Ballot statements are quite expensive," he said. "Yeah, that would have been nice."

Nine of the Assembly district's 1,756 registered Peace and Freedom Party members met Wednesday in Debra Reiger's Hollywood Park home to discuss strategies for the June primary election. Bryan Patrick /

Click on photo to enlarge

Nine of the Assembly district's 1,756 registered Peace and Freedom Party members met Wednesday in Debra Reiger's Hollywood Park home to discuss strategies for the June primary election. Bryan Patrick /

Click on photo to enlarge

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