* board officer

A Time for Principle

By John B. Anderson

In 1980, I ran for president. Many of those who supported that effort have approached me about another campaign. Let me explain why I am compelled to listen.

On the brink of a new century, we cannot afford complacency. The complexity of our global society and the degeneration of our democracy demand boldness, innovation and frank talk.

But let me make a prediction about next year's presidential election. After winning their respective nominations, the Democratic and Republican nominees will spend far more time avoiding substantive debate than addressing the challenges facing us.

I cast no aspersions on the leading contenders. They include several admirable public servants. But in the zero-sum world of winner-take-all elections, their consultants urge them to focus on safe generalities and a handful of wedge issues to pry support away from their opponents. "Move to the center," they say, but their center is a void rather than the progressive spirit at the heart of the American people.

Elections have too much promise for galvanizing citizen participation and promoting new ideas to be left to pollsters and focus groups. We need authentic voices offering real choices.

Turning to other parties is the obvious solution. Indeed, I have spent much of the last two decades promoting a multi- party democracy in the United States. That is why I passionately support fair access to the ballot, public financing of elections, non-partisan redistricting, instant runoff voting and proportional representation.

Yet the party best positioned to challenge the Democrats and Republicans is in disarray. Building on Ross Perot's campaigns of 1992 and 1996, the Reform Party has great potential to bring Americans together around a package of issues drawing from the best from of all parties, including fiscal responsibility, environmental protection, global problem- solving, responsive government and competitive elections.

Neither of the leading contenders for the Reform Party nomination, commentator Pat Buchanan and businessman Donald Trump, seem well-prepared to offer the optimistic, forward-looking message that is so important to building a lasting third party movement in America.

My 1980 campaign as an independent stands in contrast. Although unsuccessful in the short-term, my campaign inspired many people to challenge the two-party system.

The movement for a multi-party democracy in the United States has grown steadily ever since. In the 1990s, more minor party candidates have run for Congress than in decades. Four states have elected governors running outside the major parties. Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura's victory was due in no small part to supporters of my 1980 bid.

To gain a lasting foothold in American politics, new parties must address the future, not the past. Let me provide three examples.

First, we must urge full participation in the global community, seeing the world as the first astronauts saw it years ago: one world whose political lines fade in the face of such issues as global warming, population growth, fair trade, conflict resolution and nuclear proliferation. Making the United Nations and other global bodies a success is imperative for those wanting a secure future.

Second, we must create a more muscular, participatory democracy. Major party candidates might support democratically financed elections, but actually winning real campaign finance reform in Congress will demand a true outsider ready to challenge the leaders of both major parties.

Third, despite shocking declines in voter participation, particularly among young people, no candidate is talking about the key to bringing people back to electoral politics: systems of proportional representation that promote a free marketplace of ideas, principled candidacies and a fair share of seats for any political grouping able to mobilize support.

It is imperative that we find a candidate willing to promote such an agenda. We cannot afford silence in the face of demands for a better world and more vital democracy.

[John B. Anderson served 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently is a distingished visiting professor at Nova Southeastern Law Center in Fort Lauderdale and president of the Center for Voting and Democracy.]