Will a third-party movement emerge?

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By Rob Witwer

As I write this column, I’m looking at an online Denver Post story announcing that my friend and former colleague in the state House, Kathleen Curry, has renounced her affiliation with the Democratic Party and is now officially “independent.” It comes as a surprise only insofar as sitting elected officials rarely leave their parties. That said, Curry, who hails from Gunnison, has always had an independent streak.

Curry’s decision brought to mind the views of a friend of mine who believes that America is on the cusp of a third-party movement. I don’t know if this is true, but my friend has some persuasive arguments.

He points out that polls show more people than ever are disillusioned with both major parties. For example, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey revealed that 35 percent of Americans viewed the Democratic party favorably and just 28 percent viewed the GOP in a positive light. Moreover, a majority of people under 35 choose not to register with any party, adding to the growth of unaffiliated voters nationwide. (Here in Colorado, registration breaks down roughly three ways, with equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents.)

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of either party.

As a Republican, I understand some of the reasons my party lost support. Most Reagan Republicans want to live their lives without unreasonable government interference. Most are fiscally responsible in their own lives, and they expect their government to act the same way. When the GOP acted as a fiscally responsible, limited-government party, these folks were happy. But in the early part of this decade, President Bush and a Republican Congress unexpectedly — and unfortunately — became Big Government Republicans. 

For those who believe in fiscal responsibility, the only thing worse than the Republican Party of the early 2000s is the Democratic Party of the late 2000s, which makes no bones about its role as the champion of expanding the role of government in so many aspects of daily life. The stimulus package, health care reform, blowing the lid off the debt cap, and spending, spending, spending — these things aren’t sitting too well with Americans these days. 

So are we on the cusp of a major third-party movement?  The system favors the two major parties, so the barriers to entry are significant. But if Democrats and Republicans continue down the path of fiscal profligacy, neither party should be surprised if a new movement emerges to challenge the status quo.

Rob Witwer, who grew up in Evergreen and currently lives in Genesee, is a former member of the state House of Representatives.