From Small City Mayor to Presidential Candidate: Bernie Sanders and a Third Party Success Story

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, an apostate Jew and Independent US Senator from Vermont, recently announced that he would be running for president in 2016 as a Democrat. Sanders has long caucused with the Democrats, despite not running as one. Complementing that, the Democrats dont run candidates against him in Vermont. Sanders does not really expect to win, but as a titan of the far-left, he hopes to give frontrunner Hillary Clinton some things to think about.

It is a somewhat amazing story about a man who was born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn (a fact betrayed by his accent), was active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, spent some time on a kibbutz in Israel, before settling down to bounce around several occupations in Vermont. There, he became a key figure in the local anti-war movement and ran for office with the misnamed “Liberty and Union Party”, a socialist antiwar party. After two times each failing to win US Senate and Vermont gubernatorial elections, he left the party to direct a nonprofit.

Just a few years later, Sanders returned to politics to run for mayor of Burlington, the largest city in Vermont (then 38,000; now 42,000). As an Independent, he won a four-way race, beating a multi-term incumbent Democrat. He then went on to win three more biennial elections for mayor, at one point pursuing a third failed gubernatorial bid. During this period, his supporters began to plan a political organization to elect likeminded people to local and state office. They ran candidates in areas of Burlington in which resided low and middle income voters, as well as students, and won seats. In 1990, Terry Bouricius, a Burlington councilmember was elected the first Progressive Party candidate to the Vermont House of Representatives. He returned four more victories before retiring, to be succeeded by another Progressive in 2000.

Vermont Progressive Party logo

VPP logo

Meanwhile, Sanders ran for Vermonts at-large congressional district, as an Independent, and earned second place (37.5%) to Republican Peter Smith (41.2%). He tried again two years later, having vacated the mayoral seat, and defeated Smith (56-39). Despite being nearly unseated in the Republican resurgence in 1994, he was re-elected seven more times, usually gaining vote share. Back in Burlington, a Progressive mayor replaced him.

During the 1990s, the Progressive Party built itself up from 1 seat out of 150 to 4 in 2002. From there, they expanded to 6 in the 2014 election and elected their first state senator, Tim Ashe, in 2008. They now have 3 state senators in a body of 30. By the 2000s, they had developed a solid political base and became a viable third party. One victory and a strong drive brought them more victories and support. They are now an institution in Vermont. In Burlington, they held the mayoralty for most of the past 34 years, only losing in 1993 and 2012. Currently, they hold five of the fourteen seats on the city council, completely controlling two wards.

The retirement of Republican turned Independent US Senator Jim Jeffords creating an opening for Bernie. He ran again as an independent, and won. In 2012, he was re-elected again. As the 2016 presidential election approached, there were growing calls for the 72 year old to run for president. With the Occupy Wall Street movement and other leftwing groups rising up, and disappointed by Barack Obama, the draft campaign was strong. When also-popular, but electorally lean, Elizabeth Warren declined to run, it was time for Sanders to make a decision. Over thirty years ago, he was a small town mayor, not unlike a former vice presidential candidate; now he is running for president. Albeit, he is running for office as a Democrat, not an independent. He always caucused with them and rightly noted it would require over a billion dollars to run an independent campaign.

While the quest is unlikely to result in victory (he only polls 3-11% against Clinton), he does stand a chance of winning the Vermont primary. He may realign the race and give Hillary a run for her money. It is also important to remember the current president was being mollywhopped by Hillary in the early polls. In any event, it is my firm belief that a Republican will win regardless in 2016. What would be interesting is if it is a race between Sanders and Rand Paul. What would the neocons do? They arent fully certain of him.

LP logo

LP logo

Now why the hell did I write about a socialist party and a socialist dirtbag? Because why havent we libertarians done this or at least tried it. Libertarian candidates clearly can win as Republicans, and presumably as independents. The LP claims to have dozens of dog catchers elected across the country in nonpartisan positions. Unfortunately, the LP has been run by incompetents for decades. Today, they whine about ballot access and media attention, and press all their hopes on Gary Johnson, Mr 1%. As I always say, you cant build a house by putting up the roof before the foundation. Libertarians in New Hampshire tell me the deck is stacked against us there. Maybe so, but not in Vermont, a state that gave Ron Paul 25% in the Republican primary. He won 49 towns and tied in 5, out of 246 total. There is a Libertarian Party there that occasionally runs candidates. There is absolutely no reason they cant replicate the Progressive success. But in my experience, LP boardmembers seem more interested in raising dues money, getting membership cards signed, and email lists filled.

Imagine if we had done this 30 years ago. Where would the LP be now? Even before the Free State Project, New Hampshire was libertarian. So are Vermont and Maine. They are just begging for LP success. Americans want a third party, but a strong ground campaign involving a lot of shoe leather is necessary. I am considering taking up this task when I move to New Hampshire. Anyone can be a candidate. Someone needs to be the organizer. I have faced a lot of resistance when I bring this up to LP officials, but I also have seen support from lesser members. We shall have to see what transpires. What is important is that the trail has been blazed already, even if it was by socialists.

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3 thoughts on “From Small City Mayor to Presidential Candidate: Bernie Sanders and a Third Party Success Story

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