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January, 1999 Labor Party Press

Conversation with

Terry Bouricius

Terry Bouricius, a state representative from Vermont was elected — along with four others — on the Progressive Party slate. He spoke on the convention floor in opposition to a proposal that would have allowed the Labor Party to endorse candidates running on the slate of another party.

 I’m very excited that the delegates decided to move forward with serious electoral campaigns. While I think that electoral work should not divert us from basic grassroots organizing, I believe they go hand-in-hand. There are just many people who think you are not serious about politics unless you’re contending for power. And the people who joined the Labor Party are people who wanted to join a party — and that’s what parties do.

But the seriousness with which it is being approached is also encouraging. There is a role I think for third parties that are purely for protest purposes, to try and do voter education — that’s fine. But the Labor Party is not about that.

Ironically, the wording that I defended in my motion on the convention floor is actually far from ideal for me personally, as someone who ran and was elected as a Progressive Party candidate in Vermont. Because the Labor Party was not yet in the electoral game when I ran, those of us locally who were running for reelection did not have the option of using the words "Labor Party." So instead we organized what had been a longstanding coalition into a new party — the Progressive Party of Vermont. Based on the electoral resolution that passed, we will have a decision to make in two years, to run as either the Progressive Party or the Labor Party.

I would have preferred an amendment that only precluded the Labor Party from cross-endorsing or supporting candidates who were running with any political party that accepted contributions from corporations. But my highest priority is to keep the Labor Party from allying with corporate-supported parties. The reason I support the Labor Party rather than the New Party is specifically because I do not want to run the risk of having it absorbed by the Democratic Party, of having Democratic Party opportunists grabbing that label.

It would have been nice to have discussed that question for longer, but when you’re working with a group that large, you could spend all month debating everything. I’m sure some people are frustrated because they had excellent amendments on all kinds of things ready to go and never got a chance to offer them. But practically speaking, how else are you going to handle a convention that big?

The other thing I think the Labor Party should think about is voting reform, such as proportional representation. I’ve also been spending a lot of time on something called "instant runoff voting." That idea is especially exciting because it’s completely politically saleable to the major parties. What it does is this: When voters go to vote in a statewide race, for governor, say, they get to rank candidates in order of preference — first, second and third choice. And then if someone gets a majority of first-choice votes, you’re done. But say there are three or four candidates splitting the vote. Under our current system, you might have a Labor Party or Green candidate taking some of the Democrat’s votes away, and the Republican wins. Under instant runoff voting, if there is no majority winner, you’re not done yet. You have a runoff. But instead of calling voters back to the polls, you just declare the bottom candidates defeated, look at those ballots, and transfer those ballots to those voters’ second choice. So you determine which candidate is actually preferred by a majority of voters.

Now, in New Mexico the Democrats really want this reform, because they keep having to fight off third party people like the Greens. And in Alaska, the Republicans want it because there’s a Perot-style party vying for power.

But while the major parties see this reform as benefiting them in the short term, it also helps us. It eliminates the calculation that voters make now about spoiling and wasting votes — the reason many voters vote for "the lesser of two evils." So this reform completely opens the door for voters to vote for a third party. For labor leaders, this would be great. Because they can go out and support the Labor Party candidate, and still be supporting the Democrat if the Labor Party candidate doesn’t win.

This reform has been offered in New Mexico as a constitutional amendment. It’s also been introduced in Vermont as a tri-partisan bill — I sponsored it, along with three Democrats and three Republicans. There’s growing interest in this nationally.

I’m very excited about the Labor Party’s Just Healthcare campaign and the other new initiatives. Because that’s a weak part of the Progressive Party in Vermont. As individuals, we work with a lot of other groups — for instance, I’ve been very active in the single-payer healthcare movement in Vermont. But as an organization, we are basically mired in elections — which of course is the fear that a lot of people have in the Labor Party. Our out-of-election season work suffers.

So I hope that that segment of the Labor Party that is most excited by those campaigns will do that work. Because it is seductive to fall into the trap of just waiting till the next election comes around.

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WITH ...

Larry Adams
Pres., Mailhandlers Union Local 300

Ron Baker
Organizing Director, UMWA

Terry Bouricius
State Representative, Progressive Party, Vermont

Bob Brown
Labor Party Organizer, Mid-Atlantic Region

Ed Bruno
Labor Party Organizer, New England Region

Shirley Faircloth
A CNA convention delegate; retired nurse

Mike Hendry
Pres., OCAW Local 7-517

David Kitchen
Chief Plant Steward, UE Local 506

Richard Monje
Works with UNITE's Midwest Joint Board

Kim Moody
Director, Labor Notes

Rita Shaw
Member, LP Seattle Chapter and the Transport Communications Union

Brenda Stokely
Pres., AFSCME Local 215

Gaylon Tyler
Member, Kensington Welfare Rights Union

David Walters
Member, LP Golden Gate Chapter and the IBEW

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