Nader hits Md. leg of race for presidency

Independent highlights plight of third parties

July 28, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader opened his Maryland campaign yesterday in trademark style: with a stack of petitions, a clutch of earnest volunteers and a blunt attack on big business - in this case, the costly business of electing a president.

Nader said the Democratic and Republican parties - "what we call the Republicrats" - have sold their principles for campaign contributions and "are becoming more look-alike parties, essentially one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup."

The veteran consumer crusader, who won the Green Party's presidential nomination in June, vowed his low-budget campaign will be "the beginning of the end of the current two-party system."

Getting signatures

In a brief ceremony at the state board of elections in Annapolis, activists from the fledgling party filed petitions signed by more than 16,000 registered voters - well over the 10,000 signatures required to place the party on the state's presidential ballot in November, with Nader as its candidate. Signatures came from every county, said petition coordinator Isaac Opalinsky, with about 40 percent from Montgomery County and most of the rest from Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

Once the signatures are authenticated, Maryland will become the 20th state where Nader's name will appear alongside the Democratic and Republican parties' nominees.

Nader predicted he will be on the ballot in 45 states, in spite of a hodgepodge of petition procedures he called "unconstitutionally burdensome."

Party files suits

The Green Party has filed lawsuits in three states challenging procedures for getting third-party candidates on the ballot. Nader said the obstacles range from high filing fees and short deadlines to requirements that the petitions be printed on odd-sized or odd-colored paper. In some states, Nader said, Democrats and Republicans have colluded to "erect barriers so they can retain control of the political process.

"Historically, third parties have spearheaded one movement after another ... from the anti-slavery movement to women's right to vote," Nader said. "Discouraging small starts in politics further entrenches the two-party system, discourages public participation and discourages new ideas from entering the political arena."

His second bid

Nader has also filed suit against the commission administering the presidential debates, charging that corporate sponsorship of the debates amounts to an illegal campaign contribution. He hopes the court challenge and grass-roots pressure will force the commission to include him and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan in the debates along with the likely Democratic and Republican nominees, Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Nader is making his second presidential run. In 1996, he got about 1 percent of the vote, and polls this time show he has the support of less than 10 percent of likely voters.

If he wins a seat at the debate, Nader said, "anything can happen."

He said, he hopes a turnout substantially higher than in 1996, when fewer than half of the country's eligible voters went to the polls, will be "an important byproduct" of the Greens' campaign. He said he especially hopes to energize young, disaffected non-voters.

"We are going to make this the most interesting race that [young Americans] have ever seen in their lifetimes," said Nader, "so stay tuned."

He pledged that the Green Party, with only one paid staff member and a pro-environment, pro-labor platform that places it well to the left of the Democrats, would be active in Maryland.

"Maryland is up for grabs for the two parties, I suppose, but we're going to make major inroads here," he said. "There are lots of independent-minded people here who don't like their choices."

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