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