Barring Barr from the Ballot is Bad for Tennesseans

August 27, 2008 9:43PM

When Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was gearing up for his 2004 presidential run, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, blamed his party’s loss in 2000 on Nader’s third party candidacy. “Nader cost us the White House last time, and he could again,” Richardson said. The Republicans didn’t seem to mind. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty even declared, “Republicans love Ralph Nader!” But this year, Republicans have their own Ralph Nader problem in the person of Bob Barr. Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is the Libertarian candidate for president. While many Republican pundits publically say that Barr does not present a problem, Sen. John McCain’s own campaign manager said he expected his party to try to block Barr from getting on the ballot in many states. “Republicans are crazy if they aren’t worried about Barr,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. Here in Tennessee, though, third party candidates don’t usually even make it on the ballot. In order to get on the ballot, state election laws require third parties to obtain about 50,000 signatures. The party must then receive at least five percent of the votes in every gubernatorial race thereafter to remain on the ballot. The Tennessee Legislature that crafts election laws is, of course, comprised of Democrats and Republicans. It is in the best interest of both major parties to keep other parties out. Frustrated with the system, the Libertarian Party, along with several other third parties, filed lawsuits against the state of Tennessee. The suits, filed in June, claim that the state’s election ballot rules are too strict. By blocking third parties from the ballot, the state effectively limits the debate in Tennessee to two points of view. Tennessee residents suffer under this system since the lack of differing political opinions means the “marketplace of ideas” has precious little on the shelves. In Tennessee, Barr can run as an independent, but he would be unable to represent the Libertarian Party. That is problematic and unfair since people identify more with a party than they do with a person. Political parties represent a collection of ideas that cannot be replicated by an individual. The Libertarian Party stands for particular political values, and if Bob Barr could represent not only himself, but the entire Libertarian Party’s beliefs, he would have much greater appeal and impact. Sadly, the Libertarian Party’s candidate is essentially – pardon the pun– barred from the ballot in Tennessee because the two major parties are concerned the he, and his ideas, will be too effective. It is unfortunate for all Tennesseans that state lawmakers do not want to give third party candidates like Barr a chance to be heard. Until the state’s policymakers respect the importance of differing opinions in a free society, Tennesseans will have few opportunities to nurture new ideas that could solve the serious problems facing both our state and our nation. # # #