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Roll Call

Still Independent-Minded:  One-time Presidential Candidate Continues Push for Multiparty System
By Courtney Thompson
February 14, 2002

When Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords announced his departure from the Republican Party last year, former Illinois Rep. John Anderson sent him a letter congratulating him on becoming an Independent.

"It was an act of political courage that I greatly admired," Anderson said. "I would either campaign for him or against him when he runs for re-election - whichever would do him the most good."

Anderson can relate to Jeffords' renegade move because he, too, made the anguished decision to leave the Republican Party and become an Independent. The year was 1979, and after serving 10 terms in the House representing Illinois' 16th district, Anderson decided to "go for the big one" and join the presidential contest of 1980. Realizing he had no chance of winning the GOP nomination, he announced his decision to become an Independent just six months before the election.

Anderson, who turns 80 tomorrow, is still championing the need for a three-party political system in the United States. His involvement with the Center for Voting and Democracy, the World Federalist Association USA and the Reform Party allows him to continue fighting for what he deems to be a better democracy both here and abroad.

"My current work keeps me in touch with the international and domestic politics," Anderson recently said. "Today I am still pursuing the dream of a viable multiparty system."

Anderson is a distinguished professor at Nova-Southeastern University Law School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he has been teaching courses in the electoral process and constitutional law for the past 16 years. That allows him to interact with new generations of law students, which he was once himself.

When reflecting on his teaching experience, the former lawmaker said, "It gives me the wonderful opportunity to bring my quarter of a century active political life to the classroom."

Through his contact with younger generations, Anderson has seen a transformation in the party affiliation of today's young voters.

"In an increasing number, the young people of this country are registering as independents. They are showing their disdain for the principal parties."

When he ran for president, he tried to appeal to that disdain. At the time, he was quoted as saying, "With all the hard choices in 1980, we do have one easy choice: the rejection of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan."

He described his stressful decision to become an Independent to The New Yorker this way: "There is a loneliness in all this that I don't think anyone can appreciate."

Anderson managed to get 6 million votes in the 1980 election, making him the first serious third-party candidate since George Wallace's run in 1968.

These days Anderson and his wife of almost 50 years, Keke, split their time between their homes in Florida and Washington, D.C. It amazes the couple that even today, 22 years after Anderson ran for president, he is still recognized.

"Just recently I had heard Kmart was going bankrupt, so being the thrifty shopper I am, I went over there thinking there might be a sale," Anderson said. A clerk came up to him asking, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like that fellow John Anderson who ran for President in 1980?"

Anderson replied, "Why, yes. My wife tells me that every day."

He and Keke have five children and nine grandchildren living in Washington, Chicago and the Netherlands. None of his children has entered the political arena, choosing careers in the arts, business and social work, instead. While Anderson regrets that none followed in his footsteps, he is "redeemed by the belief that I have raised children that are not only politically aware but socially conscious."

In the 2000 election, Anderson was urged by old friends and colleagues to run for the Reform Party nomination. While he was flattered by the "Draft Anderson Movement" that began in Illinois, he was not interested in running again.

"The time has passed for me to enter the political arena as a candidate," Anderson said. "But that doesn't mean that I won't enthusiastically speak for, work for and vote for Independent or third-party candidates in the future."

Instead, Anderson chose to support the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, saying he "was the viable candidate." Anderson also said Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan's views are "180 degrees removed from mine on almost any issue."

Anderson still regrets the fact that Nader wasn't included in the televised debates between George W. Bush and Al Gore. He cited the incident as being yet another situation where third-party candidates are edged out by powerful Republicans and Democrats.

In his work as the chairman of the Center for Voting and Democracy, Anderson promotes his belief in the need for a massive restructuring of the electoral process. He believes that a political system comprising instant runoff voting, multi-party acceptance and public financing of campaigns would be healthier because it would not exclude any points of view.

Known for often quoting Abraham Lincoln, Anderson said in 1980, "The dogmas of the quiet past are not sufficient for the stormy present."

It's apparent that Anderson has plenty of fight left in him when it comes to political restructuring.

"The label I feel comfortable with is 'a man of progressive views' willing, and indeed seeking, far-reaching changes that will improve our political and economic system."

FIVE QUESTIONS

What are you most proud of from your tenure in Congress?

I am most proud of my civil rights record and promoting open housing, nondiscrimination legislation and promoting the public financing of campaigns.

What do you miss the most?

The day-to-day camaraderie. The high drama of political life on Capitol Hill. And to be an active participant in the affairs of state of the greatest democracy in the world. That's a high honor for any man, and I had that honor for 20 years.

What do you miss the least?

Raising money. It's an awful, awful system. It was awful then and it's become about a thousand times worse since I left.

Was there a particular Member whom you admired the most?

[Rep.] Morris Udall [D-Ariz.]. Ico-sponsored the partial public financing of campaigns bill with him.

And then he honored me by asking me to be his co-sponsor of the Udall-Anderson Alaska national interest lands bill, which put millions of acres of Alaskan land into various forms of federal protection in 1979.

Do you have any advice for current Members?

Fight for a new political system that is vastly changed and vastly reformed. Think of tomorrow. Think of the young people who need to be inspired with the thought that Congress has enough vision to improve our system for future generations.

 
 
 
 
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Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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