Thursday, July 17, 2008

White Takes Independent Road in 2nd District

Brian White Takes Independent Road in 2nd District

Brian White is trying to take a tough road to the House of Representatives, but he believes it's the best route. The 31 year old attorney from North Liberty, running in the 2nd Congressional District, is trying to become the first truly independent candidate elected to the House in more than 50 years.

"Nothing has changed in Washington" since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, White told Iowa Independent. "And I'm the type of guy that when things aren't going right, you do something about it

White deliberately avoids party labels, but he sees former 2nd District congressman Jim Leach as something of a role model, and interned for Leach one summer. So, would White describe himself as a Jim Leach Republican? "Well, without the Republican part," he said.

Leach had a moderate and independent image during his tenure, but the Republican label caught up with him in 2006 when he lost one of the nation's biggest upsets to Democrat Dave Loebsack.

Independents Elected to House of Representatives

Frazier Reams, Ohio, 1950-1952. The last true independent, Reams won two three-way races before losing to a Democrat in 1954.

Dale Alford, Arkansas, 1958. Alford ran a write-in campaign on a segregationist platform and defeated a Democratic incumbent. Served as, and later ran as, a Democrat.

Joe Moakley, Massachusetts, 1972. Moakley ran as an independent against anti-busing Democratic incumbent Louise Day Hicks in South Boston. The "independence" was purely strategic and he served three decades as a Democrat.

Joe Skeen, New Mexico, 1980. Skeen was elected as a write-in with Republican support after the incumbent died late in the race.

Tom Foglietta, Pennsylvania, 1980. The ABSCAM scandal broke after the party primary, but incumbent Ozzie Myers wouldn't quit the race even after he was convicted and expelled from the House. Foglietta ran as an independent, with Democratic Party support.

Ron Packard, California, 1982. A new congressional district looked so good for the Republicans that 18 candidates ran. After the primary, the winner turned out to be a fraud, and Packard, who lost the primary by 92 votes, won as a write-in.

Bernie Sanders, Vermont, 1990-2006. Elected to eight terms as an independent with open Democratic support, socialist Sanders moved to the Senate in 2006.

Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri, 1996. Republican incumbent Bill Emerson died late in the race and due to quirks in ballot laws his wife Jo Ann had to run as an independent.

Virgil Goode, Virginia, 2000. Goode was first elected as a Democrat in 1996, and then switched to independent in 2000. He was re-elected as an independent that year, but was already caucusing with the GOP. He officially joined the Republicans in 2002.

"He's putting his party's interests ahead of the district," White said of Loebsack. "He's voting with the leadership 98 percent of the time." That might not be a disadvantage in a district that, in terms of voter registration and performance, is the most Democratic in the state. But White disagrees. "There's a lot of pressure to follow the party" in Washington, he says, pressure he would be immune to as an independent. "(Loebsack's) a freshman playing the D.C. game."

White's web site has little mention of the hot-button social issues that motivate partisan activists of the left and right. He says some of those, like gay marriage are state issues. He's focused on "fiscal responsibility" and supports a flat income tax, but not the sales-tax driven "Fair Tax" that was a prominent issue in the Republican caucuses.  White said his own presidential vote is up for grabs between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

White says partisan posturing has made a solution to the Iraq War more difficult. "We need to move past the status quo of placing blame for past events and move forward to work together to create solutions that will ultimately bring our troops and our money back home without compromising our security," he said.

"If a person of another nationality wants to move to America and become a citizen, it should not take five years to become one," White says on the immigration issue. He supports increases in legal immigration that would immigrants to establish residency after criminal background checks, followed by a faster path to citizenship.

White works as a legal counsel at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The medical connection, and Leach-like positioning, could cut into totals for Republican nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa doctor. Neither the Miller-Meeks nor the Loebsack campaign had anything official to say about White's candidacy, though staffers for both candidates were curious.

White has not filed campaign finance paperwork with the Federal Election Commission yet, though he says he plans to soon. He plans a grass roots campaign centered on letters to the editor and individual supporters. Unlike a party candidate "we don't have county chairs built in," said White.

Another disadvantage White faces is the straight ticket line on the ballot. As many as a third of voters are likely to mark the straight ticket and automatically cast a ballot for Loebsack or Miller-Meeks, but White must earn each vote on his own. He says Iowa is one of only about a dozen states that still have the straight ticket, and while it's a state issue he would like to see it abolished.

White said prominent individual supporters have contacted him from both parties, though he named no names. "Every supporter is important regardless of stature, he said." Ultimately, White expects his campaign to cost in the low tens of thousands of dollars. That's small compared to the $470,000 Loebsack has raised.

"Take out the party, and 80 percent of (Loebsack's) money has come from out of state," White says. "I have no delusions we can raise as much." But White says he's in the race to win and is confident he can help bridge the partisan divide in the House, even if he is the only independent.

There are currently no independents among the 435 member House of Representatives, and the odds are long. Bernie Sanders of Vermont served eight terms before moving to the Senate in 2006, but he functioned as a de facto Democrat. Seven other members were technically elected as independents in the last half century. But those members were all elected under unusual circumstances and quickly aligned with a party.  The last true independent was Frazier Reams of Ohio, who served two terms in the 1950s.

The filing period for independent and third party candidates is July 28 through August 15. The bar is low -- 300 signatures, less than party candidates need for the primary.  White says he's well on the way.  He would be the first independent to run in the 2nd District under its current configuration.  The 2006 race was a two-way fight between Loebsack and Leach. Libertarian Kevin Litten ran in 2002 and 2004, but is not a candidate this time.

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