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On the ballot, but rarely seen or heard

The life of a third party is measured most easily in small steps.

For example, if recent history is any guide, a third-party candidate

for Ohio governor should expect only 3 or 4 percent of the votes this

November. But because Bob Fitrakis, the Green Party candidate, and

Bill Peirce, his Libertarian counterpart, are both running, that

number might get halved to 1 or 2 percent each.

According to finance reports filed last week, Fitrakis and Peirce have

spent slightly more than $38,000 for their campaigns so far. That

total is roughly 0.2 percent of Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican

Ken Blackwell’s combined $15.7 million spent, as filed in their


For their part, 0.2 percent is what independents James Lundeen and

Larry Bays, both gubernatorial write-in candidates, can expect to


The number of times any of these third party candidates have appeared

in a televised debate with Democrat Ted Strickland or Republican Ken

Blackwell is even lower: zero.

For candidates from parties not named Democrat or Republican, running

for office – especially major, statewide offices – is practically a

doomed affair from the start.

The struggles every third party candidate goes through are many, but

of no help is the relatively quiet support at college campuses. BGSU

is no exception.

“I know that this is not a short-term venture, and I don’t expect to

win this campaign,” said Anita Rios, the Green Party candidate for

lieutenant governor.

With winning the election all but impossible, campaigning takes on a

different form – a labor of love and a dedication to different ideas.

“We believe in a socialist future, a radical transformation,” said

Libero Della Piana, national organizational secretary for the New York

City-based Communist Party. “That’s a huge thing, we know that’s not


“It’s important to remember,” Piana said, “in a society where there’s

been a major revolution, it was difficult to imagine that it could

have been anything else.”

For now, the “anything else” is the United State’s two-party system,

but there also is a distinct difference in ideology between the five


Talk to Fitrakis and he’ll start on wind power and his experience as

an international elections monitor.

“As a third party I think it’s part of our job to guarantee … the

current two party system is fair,” Fitrakis said, “I’m greatly

concerned that the mainstream media and the two major parties are

incapable of dealing with voter irregularities.”

Peirce, a retired economics professor, immediately jumps on the state

government’s back.

“I’m the only one of the candidates who really understands why the

state has not progressed economically,” Peirce said.

“If you listen to the other candidates, they’ll start reading off a

list of industries … they think the government should protect,” he

said. “This is precisely how the state has blown a lot of money.”

Beating the drums for change…

Ask the third-party candidates and you get the same response: Lots and

lots of citizens, some say two-thirds, are fed up with Republicans and


“We all look at politics as something dirty, something corrupt, and it

doesn’t have to be that way,” Rios said.

The call is even greater at college campuses, according to Fitrakis,

where students are “dying for an alternative message.”

But are students hearing the calls for change? It’s tough to say.

Zero also happens to be the number of on-campus groups representing

the Green or Libertarian Parties – and Socialist, Communist,

Constitution and any other parties for that matter.

None of the third or independent candidates have had much of a

presence at BGSU to date.

“We’re not a huge organization and there are a lot of areas we could

concentrate on in terms of youth,” said Scott Urquhart, northwest

regional representative for the Libertarian Party of Ohio.

Peirce has been here once during the campaign, and the Greens haven’t

stopped in at all.

“There’s a tendency in the third party campaign to not invite yourself

up unless someone wants to hear you,” Fitrakis said.

Would it have mattered? Roughly 180 people at BGSU identify themselves

as libertarian on Facebook. That’s small, but it’s more than enough

for a potential organization to match the draw of campus Republicans

or Democrats, who typically get 20-30 students at each meeting.

The only Facebook Green Party-labeled group tops out at 2 members, and

while the site certainly isn’t a strong indicator of the parties’

local popularity, their Democrat and Republican counterparts draw

hundreds of members.

Factor in supporters of any party who don’t have Facebook accounts and

the number increases, but for small parties, no major campus movements

are on the way unless students are at the helm, Urquhart said.

“There’s a lot of political thought in folks that age,” he said, “you

just try to be active and look for the creativity of the campus for

them to do their thing.”

The party itself would focus more on bringing in speakers and working

with the College Democrats and Republicans, he said.

“I really think we probably should be doing more … our ideals may

ring true for a lot of the folk.”

…to an empty room

They certainly have for Mark Hosterman, a senior, libertarian and

Peirce supporter.

Last year, Hosterman and a friend tried to start an on-campus

libertarian group, but the project got nowhere, and he points to the

essential individualism of libertarian thought as a probable cause.

“Libertarians are the type of people that are really hard to get

involved,” Hosterman said, “you have to engage them in a positive


Today, he regrets giving up so soon and says he should have done more

to promote Peirce.

But Peirce doesn’t blame Hosterman entirely. He pointed only to

already well-established chapters, like at Ohio State, as the

successful campus libertarian groups.

“[Hosterman] put his finger on a real problem,” Peirce said, “not just

among students but among adults, too.”

Peirce was at BGSU in April as part of his signature drive to get onto

the ballot. Working the Union area, he said he got as many signatures

as he normally did on college campuses, a bit of a surprise.

“People were interested, I’ve been told [northwest Ohio] is heavily

Democratic and might not be receptive,” he said.

BGSU’s Economics Club had been trying to arrange for Peirce to return

before election day, but scheduling conflicts now make that doubtful,

said Matthias Paustian, their adviser.

There used to be a libertarian group in Toledo, but Peirce said now

it’s been reduced to an e-mail list.

“I think people got burned out because their candidates didn’t win in

the past,” he said, “which is a problem that all minor parties face.”

Burnout is exactly what happened to the local Green Party presence

after the 2000 presidential elections, when Ralph Nader refused to

exit, taking, some say, enough votes from Democrat Al Gore to swing

the election to George Bush.

Rios said the contentious vote caused the group to become too big, too quickly.

“In a sense, that became unwieldy,” she said.

“There were a number of people [at BGSU] but they’ve graduated.”

Rios and Fitrakis aren’t planning a last-minute stop at BGSU this

campaign season, and Fitrakis said their work has moved toward

observing the election for fairness.

“If things go bad in this election, we don’t think we can count on the

Democrats … to defend the people’s right to vote,” Fitrakis said.

But he still stressed how easily grassroots organization and youthful

desire for change can be combined into the “future of the Green

movement” – even without his appearance here.

“We’re first going to elect people … in the counties and areas where

the large campuses are,” he said.

“Bowling Green is in many ways the most green area in the state,

you’ve actually got windmills up there,” Fitrakis said, “and that’s

the message that’s got to come out. It’s not surprising it’s coming

out of a college town.”

Fitrakis and Rios both gave support to BGSU’s new chapter of NORML,

the marijuana law reform supporters, but NORML is waiting until at

least next year until it starts to get more politically involved, said

Matt Bruggeman, a group officer.

A taste of Europe

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are no socialist or communist groups

registered on campus.

“I’m sure [a local socialist group] exists, I just haven’t sought it

out,” said Peter Barlow, a BGSU sophomore, “I’ve pretty much accepted

it’s going to be a while before there’s a socialist president.”

Barlow is in the “BGSU Socialists” Facebook group, an 11-member

hodgepodge that some said they simply stumbled upon.

“Does anyone else share my dismay in that there are only seven members

of this group?” wrote a member, Justin Sisler, on their message board

in September.

“Socialism is still a dirty word to a lot of people, so I’m not

terribly surprised,” replied Alex Bean, a sophomore who created the


In a later interview, Bean said he started “BGSU Socialists” last

spring to seek out other like-minded students, but not for much more.

“The role [is] … just to let other people know there are similar

views out there in Bowling Green, that the whole world isn’t just

divided into the liberal Democrats and the conservative Republicans,”

he said, “that both sides have their coalitions and their extremes and

their moderates.”

Several members describe themselves as democratic socialists, based on

the dominant politics of northern and western European countries.

“We feel it’s necessary to help one another and that the government

should be involved in helping one another,” Sisler said.

“It’s definitely something to pursue and to work for.”

A chapter of the International Socialist Organization is active at the

University of Toledo, but its president and faculty adviser could not

be reached for this article.

Another Facebook search reveals a group named “Modern Communist

Revolutionaries,” but its members, ironically enough, say it was an

inside joke.

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