Progressive Party: sovereign entity or barnacle?

Here’s an interesting factoid. Voters in the August 9 primary will have their choice of three ballots — Democratic, Republican, and Progressive.

The latter will be available statewide in printed form. And in most of our precincts, the entire Progressive ballot will contain precisely one name: Boots Wardinski, Capital City Farmers Market stalwart and Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor. He’s run for Lite-Guv twice before, both times on the Liberty Union ticket, with minimal result.

We are all paying (by one account, $80,000*) to put Boots Wardinski’s name on ballots that will be largely ignored by voters. Most Progressives won’t take a Progressive ballot because so many Progs are running in Democratic primaries. Like, for instance, real live actual Progressive David Zuckerman, running as a Dem for lieutenant governor — in a tough race against Democrats Shap Smith and Kesha Ram. How many Progs are going to pass up a chance to influence that race just to cast a vote for Boots Wardinski?

*According to the Secretary of State’s office, the total cost of this year’s primary ballots is roughly $160,000. One-third of that would be $53,333.33. So there’s your Boots Tax.)

Beyond the unfortunate use of public funds for all those straight-to-the-shredder Wardinski ballots, this raises an existential issue about the Progressive Party.

Is it gradually ceding its sovereignty, and turning into nothing more than a barnacle on the Democrats’ underside?

The Progs’ Democratic strategy was a reasonable response to their difficulty in cracking through our political duopoly, and it’s had some positive effects: the presence of solid liberal lawmakers like  Zuckerman, Chris Pearson, and Anthony Pollina, and some healthy competition for Democrats who would otherwise sail to victory.

As a short-term approach, it’s been a winner. But in the longer term, it does nothing to enhance the viability of the Progressive Party as a third force.

It also threatens to spark retaliation from the Democrats, who are getting a little bit tired of Progs sauntering through their open door. The latest evidence of this growing disaffection is the Dems’ refusal to allow Zuckerman access to the party’s carefully developed and maintained voter database.

This isn’t without precedent; in 2014 the Dems formally endorsed Progressive Dean Corren’s bid for lieutenant governor, but withheld their voter lists. But Zuckerman has been pressing his case despite being turned down by the state party committee — twice, from what I’ve been told.

The closer we get to the primary, the less valuable those lists become. But they are still valuable, symbolically if nothing else.

So far, Zuckerman has positioned himself as a candidate who can unify Progressives, progressives, and liberal Democrats — a la Bernie Sanders. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t made a public stink about the voter data.

But if he is worried about his chances against House Speaker Shap Smith, he might just decide to throw a pipe bomb by making a political issue out of the Dems’ refusal.

In closing, back to the larger question. Beyond this campaign season, sooner or later the Progressives are going to face an existential choice. Can they forge a political movement that can succeed under its own name, or will they continue to taste success only by donning the Democratic mask?

And if the latter, at some point do the Democrats adopt party rules that would prevent such crossover candidacies? It would be a harsh reaction, but anti-Prog sentiment is building in Democratic circles.

4 thoughts on “Progressive Party: sovereign entity or barnacle?

  1. David Ellenbogen

    Hey John — How about something regarding Bernie Sanders’ refusal (thus far, at least) to endorse Zuckerman? He’s endorsed Zuckerman in the past, Smith endorsed Clinton way before he had to, and Ram is clearly not yet ready for prime time. Is Sanders afraid of pissing off democrats?

  2. Acarn

    If the democrats try to force progressives out, they will be making a big mistake. Despite only having a handful of representatives/senators, the VPP has influence. The VPP has run candidates for Governor (winning 9.5% in 2000) and for Lt. Gov. (Winning 25% in 2002) if the Democrats try to push the Progressives out, they could see some serious backlash, including losing a number of statewide seats.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I think that’s exactly why the Dems haven’t done something already. And it’s why they will be slow to take any such action. Better to have the camel inside the tent, as they say.


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