State employees group petitioning for new party

Not all the people frustrated with special-interest control of the two party system are associated with the Tea Party movement. Nor do all disgruntled citizens necessarily oppose the health care legislation recently enacted by Congress.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is expressing its ire by trying to form a new political party. SEANC, and is parent group the Service Employees International Union, have hired 100 canvassers to collect the nearly 90,000 signatures needed to put the North Carolina First Party on the ballot in November.

SEANC represents more than 55,000 state government workers. SEIU has 2,000,000 members nationally, with nurses, janitors, and bus drivers comprising the core of the union.

The spark that ignited the campaign was the vote by Democratic U.S. Reps. Larry Kissell, Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre against the health care bill.

“The impetus for this effort was the three Democrats who had promised to vote for health care for working families instead voted with the insurance companies,” said Greg Rideout, a  party spokesperson. While health care is the issue that started the effort, he said that the party will eventually move on to advocate for other issues, including jobs.

Dana S. Cope, SEANC executive director, told the Washington Post that their agenda was to send a message to Democrats that they no longer can count on blind support.

“We’re going to support you because you’re right on the issues and if you’re not right on the issues, we’re going to remove you from office,” he said.

But for now their primary focus is on ballot access. Rideout said that party organizers recognize the enormous barriers they must overcome.

“The major hurdle to overcome is to get the nearly 90,000 signatures required by the draconian laws of North Carolina,” he said.  “There’s no doubt that the severely restrictive ballot access laws of our state favor the two-party system.”

Libertarians know just how difficult and expensive it is to get on the ballot. Barbara Howe, N.C. Libertarian Party chair said that she supports any group that wants to participate in the electoral process.

“I will be interested to see if they can pull it off,” she said. “They may have the necessary financial resources to get the approximately 120,000 raw signatures they will need to meet North Carolina’s signature requirement.”

Howe may be right. SEIU spokesman Lori Lodes told the Washington Post “this is not a fly-by-night kind of thing. We’re making a very strong commitment to doing this. There is significant money behind it … there’s not a ceiling to what we’re willing to do.”

While the Libertarians have gained ballot access in every election since 1996, it has come at an enormous financial and resource cost. The last ballot access drive Libertarians completed in 2008 take nearly three years and cost the party more than $130,000 and nearly 3,000 hours in volunteer time.

Since getting on the ballot is such a high hurdle, Rideout said party organizers are considering other options. They are looking at the possibility of targeting Congressional district and running campaigns in those areas.

The dissatisfaction with the two-party system goes beyond the health care vote.

“Sadly for working families the two parties seem to be always siding with corporations,” Rideout said. “North Carolina First is an apropos name for a political party because we want to put the people who work everyday for a living first as opposed to putting bankers and insurance executives first.”

Rideout said that SEIU represents a wide-range of people who typically have the most important jobs in our communities. “They are health care workers, hotel workers, clerks and all the people who take care of everyone every day.”

“Our intention is to be a party that supports the hopes and dreams and aspirations of these people — members of the middle class,” he said.

“Our first focus is to become a party and everything else will flow from that,” he said. “Certainly health care and jobs. I can’t think of two bigger issues for families in North Carolina.”

Rideout said that he hoped Libertarians, Greens, Democrats and Republicans would be “willing and enthusiastic” signers of their ballot petition because more choice is “better for democracy.”

“Down the road, once we’re past of of these roadblocks the state puts up, we’re going to look at ways to give voters good choices and those good choices can come from anywhere,” he said.

Under North Carolina law, new parties get to nominate by convention, not by primary. That means the North Carolina First Party would be free to run candidates in any partisan race, including U.S. Senate.

It is unclear who the 100 canvassers are, who hired them, who they work for, and how they are being paid. SEANC did not respond to several attempts get answers to these questions. The ballot access petition does not appear on the party’s website, nor on the SEANC or SEIU websites.

There is no mention of support for the new party on either the SEANC or SEIU websites, although the SEANC site does have links to articles in the Washington Post and the News & Observer.