Posted: July 13, 2010
PICK A PARTY, ANY PARTY
By Celia Cohen
A legislative candidate who is a Libertarian has filed to run not just as a Libertarian, but also as a Democrat and a Republican. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Never mind how weird this candidacy looked. It was like a Hydra with too many heads crawling out of mythology and into Delaware politics.
The thing about freaks, though, is they do not last, and this serial candidacy is apparently not long for this world, either. The Democrats and the Republicans may not like each other much, but they like party crashing even less.
There is an old Bulgarian proverb that Franklin Roosevelt used to quote, "You are permitted in time of great danger to walk with the Devil until you have crossed the bridge," and this was one of those times. The Democrats and Republicans figured heaven could wait.
With an allied appeal to the elections commissioner and the Attorney General's Office, the Democrats and Republicans came away with a ruling that would shrink the filing to the Libertarian line alone. A letter was on its way Tuesday to let the serial candidate know.
This should not be a surprise. Since when was filing for office supposed to be a smorgasbord with candidates getting as many helpings as they wanted?
Besides, a serial candidacy is confusing to the voters. Is the guy really a Democrat, really a Republican or really a Libertarian, not to mention maybe just a Machiavellian?
The odd-candidate-out is Will McVay. He is a 25-year-old Dover software engineer, jumping into a race that also includes Brad Bennett, a first-term state representative, for the Democrats and Beth Miller, a lawyer, for the Republicans in a Kent County district.
"As far as I'm aware, this is perfectly legal," McVay said.
How strange is this? Miller is not a Republican, either. She is an independent, recruited by the Republicans. It means the party was on course for a primary between two candidates with neither of them a Republican.
McVay's Democratic-Republican-Libertarian filing was the equivalent of Mrs. O'Leary's cow in a city that was ready to burn.
This moment has been coming since Margaret Rose Henry ran for the state Senate in 1994, although it is not her fault.
Henry was a Democrat, not in politics, when Herman Holloway Sr., a Democratic state senator from Wilmington, died in office. The Republicans recruited her to run in a special election, and she won.
Henry was prevented from formally changing her registration to Republican, however, because the special election occurred in a blackout period. When she filed to run as a Republican for a full term, the Democrats located a Republican ringer who also filed and tried to get Henry thrown off the ballot for not really being a Republican.
It went to court. Henry was allowed to stay as a Republican because there was nothing in the law requiring candidates to file with the party where they were registered. Besides, she was sitting with the Republicans and voting with the Republicans and promised to become a Republican once the blackout was over.
Never mind that some years later, Henry went back to being a Democrat, to the point she is the majority whip in the Senate today. She had left a loophole behind.
In came "fusion" candidates, running on two tickets. They were people like Karen Hartley-Nagle, a Democrat who filed for the congressional seat in 2006 as a Democrat but also found a minor party to put her on the ballot. It meant she could run in the general election even after losing the Democratic primary.
By 2008 there were more than half a dozen fusion candidates, listed with both a major party and a minor party. This was getting to be too much for the Democrats and the Republicans.
"It's intuitively wrong for someone to get a second bite of the apple. The third parties are becoming a place for candidates who couldn't win a primary in their own party to plot revenge," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.
"The way the law is now, it's led to people who want to game the system, or it's sour grapes, because they weren't going to win their own party's primary."
It all could be stopped with a simple fix to the election law by the General Assembly, a one-sentence bill requiring candidates to file where they are registered. Legislation has indeed been drafted but never passed.
It failed in 2006, because the Republicans decided they would rather let Hartley-Nagle make mischief for the Democrats in the congressional race.
It failed again in 2007, and this time it was nasty. The Democrats and the Republicans had a deal, and the Democrats did not know the Republicans were bailing until the bill was voted down in the House of Representatives.
It happened because the Republicans under Terry Strine, their state chair at the time, belatedly became transfixed by a fantasy that Jack Markell secretly planned to run for governor as a fusion candidate, so he could stay on the ballot with a minor party even if he lost the Democratic primary to John Carney.
Strine was never exactly known as a political genius, and here was evidence of it. The Democrats were infuriated when the Republicans reneged. Markell went on to become the governor in 2008 the old-fashioned way, one-candidate-one-party.
Fusion was alive. All that was left was for someone to try for a fusion candidacy that knew no bounds, spreading beyond two parties, spreading onto both the Democratic and Republican ballots. McVay did it.
McVay, who is actually the Kent County Libertarian chair, insisted his motivation was pure. "It's not about making mischief. It's about getting the message out. I believe the Libertarian message can appeal to everybody," he said.
It does not look as though McVay can get away with it. The Democrats and the Republicans found an escape clause for themselves. It is a 1994 opinion from the Attorney General's Office, telling the parties they can reject candidates who have no affiliation with them. So they are.
"I've never seen Mr. McVay, I don't know Mr. McVay, nor has he been involved in the party," said Abby Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair.
It should lead eventually to a straightforward ballot, no problem for the voters to decipher, with Bennett running for re-election as a Democrat, Miller running as a Republican and McVay running as a Libertarian.
The last word belongs to John Daniello, the Democratic state chair who is still fuming that fusion was not outlawed years ago.
"I told you so," Daniello said.