Thursday, January 24, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 5: Fusing Two Parties

Fusion in the political sense of the word is a controversial reform, even among independents. I probably should have saved it for Lesson 20 or so, but it fits in nicely with our recent ballot discussions, so there you go. Lesson 5 it is.

Here's the deal: Fusion allows a candidate to run as a member of two or more "parties," including as an independent. Partisans on the losing end of the deal hate fusion. Some independents don't like it either, because the fusion candidate is often associated with one of the two big, bad parties and because it gives voters fewer choices.

Case in point: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran, and won, as a Republican and as a candidate with the Independence Party of New York City in his 2002 election and 2006 re-election. His name appeared in the Republican column and the IPNYC column, and in 2002, the number of votes he received in the IPNYC column gave him the win. Had he run only as a Republican, he would have lost, assuming that the IPNYC votes would have gone to a different candidate chosen by the Independence Party. That "different candidate" would have at least given the voters an additional choice, some independents say.

But fusion has several advantages, not the least of which is its face-saving and conscience-saving value. In Bloomberg's case, independents, IPNYC and other third-party members, uncommitteds, and even a Democrat or two were able to vote for him without embarrassment or guilt; by voting for him as the IPNYC candidate, they could neatly circumvent the horror of voting for a Republican.

A second advantage is this, and again I use the Bloomberg campaign as an example: The Independent Party of New York City did not automatically embrace Bloomberg as its candidate of choice. The IPNYC held the cards; Bloomberg had to listen to independents' concerns, address those concerns, and pledge to make them a priority should he be elected. Only when he did so, to their satisfaction, was he named their candidate.

Partisans hate fusion, and you can see why. Running against the opposing major party's candidate is bad enough, but when that candidate has the official approval of independents and third parties, he or she becomes a much more formidable opponent. Not surprisingly, partisans are at the forefront of efforts to ban fusion in states where the practice is legal and to defeat pro-fusion initiatives in other states.

There you have it. Political fusion. Definitely not sexy, but it can liven up an otherwise ho-hum race.


Anonymous said...

I hardly know where to start with this. First of all, Bllomberg ran in 2001 and 2005, not 2002 and 2006. Second, it's the Independence Party, a statewide party, not just NYC, although the city branch does get to name the mayoral candidate. Third, Bloomberg actually had three lines in 2001, not two, including an independent line he created himself just for that election. Because New York's fusion law is limited, his name could appear on the ballot only twice, so his independent line was combined with the Independence Party's line on the ballot. If the Independence Party had not endorsed him, he still would have had a second line, just further down the ballot. So he would not have run only as a Republican. Even if he had, and you make the assumption that the Independence Party line went to someone else -- and the far-fetched assumption that all those voters would have voted for the line rather than the the man --, you would have to assume his Democratic opponent would also have lost his second line. In a straight Dem-Rep election Bloomberg still would have won.

Also, you say the Independent [sic] Party did not automatically embrace Bloomberg. Not true. Even in 2001, the NYC branch of the party was known to be controlled by the Fred Newman-Lenora Fulani cult, so all the Democratic candidates stayed away and refused to be considered for the line. Bloomberg was chosen by Fred Newman over only one other minor party candidate. It was also a given in 2005.

All of this does not necesarily negate the general point you were making, but the devil is in the details. A better example might have been how the small Conservative Party has tried to pull the Republican Party to the right over many years by usually cross-endorsing Republicans but occasionally withholding their line, running their own candidate, or even cross-endorsing a Democrat.

Marcia Ford said...

You are absolutely right, of course, about the years Bloomberg ran and the party name. Some of the other details I wasn't aware of. I'm hoping the information in the book was correct, especially since several members of the Independence Party read it before it was published and hopefully would have made corrections. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.