That third-party pol­i­tick­ing? Not so easy af­ter all

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - jem­bry@states­man.com; 445-3572

Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives have long sus­pected that their Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts were prop­ping up the fis­cally con­ser­va­tive Lib­er­tar­ian Party to shave votes off the GOP. So some Repub­li­cans have won­dered what would hap­pen if they, in turn, tried to hurt Democrats by help­ing the lib­eral Green Party.

They’re find­ing that help­ing one party to hurt an­other is more dif­fi­cult than it ap­pears.

Last week, Demo­cratic District Judge John Di­etz blocked the Greens from field­ing can­di­dates this Novem­ber be­cause the group that helped the Green Party col­lect the sig­na­tures to get on the bal­lot did so with what Di­etz con­sid­ers an il­le­gal cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tion. The Greens are ap­peal­ing to the Texas Supreme Court.

The group that helped the Greens, Take Ini­tia­tive Amer­ica, has a num­ber of Repub­li­can ties. But the sex­i­est rev­e­la­tion has been that lob­by­ist Mike Toomey paid a Uni­ver­sity of Texas stu­dent to col­lect sig­na­tures for the Greens, the stu­dent says. That ef­fort came up short.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom says a Green Party can­di­date takes more votes away from a Demo­crat than a Repub­li­can, so Toomey’s ef­fort ap­pears aimed at help­ing Gov. Rick Perry beat Demo­cratic chal­lenger Bill White. Af­ter all, Toomey is Perry’s close

ally and for­mer chief of staff.

But Toomey’s in­ter­est in Texas pol­i­tics ex­tends be­yond the gover­nor’s race. He is a key player in help­ing Repub­li­cans win more seats in the Leg­is­la­ture, and as this whole mat­ter moves for­ward, we may learn that his real tar­get was the bat­tle for the Texas House, which is now split be­tween 77 Repub­li­cans and 73 Democrats.

Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­dates have ap­peared on Texas bal­lots much more fre­quently than the Greens in re­cent years, which ap­pears to have

In the end, this could all be aca­demic. The Greens have an­nounced can­di­dates in only a few House races so far. In the mean­time, the pub­lic now knows that Repub­li­cans ac­tively sought to help them.

helped Demo­cratic House can­di­dates.

Demo­crat Mark Strama of Austin won a seat in the House six years ago by beat­ing Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Jack Stick by 569 votes. Greg Knowles, the Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date in that race, got 2,390 votes.

And Demo­cratic for­mer Rep. Robby Cook of Ea­gle Lake beat his 2006 Repub­li­can chal­lenger by 415 votes while the Lib­er­tar­ian got 1,300.

Strama said he and his cam­paign did not help Knowles. He noted that an Austin res­i­dent was the Lib­er­tar­ian pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee that year, likely boost­ing their turnout.

Fur­ther­more, most of the Democrats who have won House seats over the past two elec­tion cy­cles ei­ther had no Lib­er­tar­ian op­po­nent or, based on their mar­gin of vic­tory, would have won any­way if all the Lib­er­tar­ian vot­ers had gone Repub­li­can. So the Lib­er­tar­ian-help­ing-- Demo­crat phe­nom­e­non may be overblown.

Pat Dixon, the Lib­er­tar­i­ans’ state chair­man, con­tends that his can­di­dates take votes from both par­ties. He said he does not know of ei­ther party help­ing Lib­er­tar­i­ans in the six years he’s been in charge, and he said many Democrats have ac­tu­ally op­posed leg­isla­tive changes that would make it eas­ier for his party to get on the bal­lot.

In the end, this could all be aca­demic. The Greens have an­nounced can­di­dates in only a few House races so far. Their can­di­dates must be cer­ti­fied by Fri­day, if the courts al­low it. In the mean­time, the pub­lic now knows that Repub­li­cans ac­tively sought to help them.

If the Democrats have been help­ing a third party all these years, they sure have been a lot bet­ter at pulling it off. When was the last time we could say that in Texas?

JA­SON EM­BRY

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