Nader Loses Ballot Fight, Uses F-Word

Nader loses in federal court but vows appeal for Texas ballot

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

"This is American fascism. We're going to appeal it all." That was Ralph Nader's response to two Sept. 1 decisions rejecting the Nader presidential campaign's applications for ballot access in Oregon and Texas. In Oregon, the secretary of state rejected the campaign's third submission of petitions, saying they still did not comply with state law. And in Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against Nader in his lawsuit to have the Texas regulations governing independent candidates ruled unconstitutional. Yeakel ruled that although independents are required to submit more signatures gathered in a shorter time than are minor-party candidates, the differing requirements are "reasonable, nondiscriminatory, and constitutional." (Nader's campaign had submitted enough signatures by the deadline to meet minor-party requirements, but not the higher standard required of independents.)

National campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese called Yeakel's ruling "a very poor decision, and we will appeal it. ... It's patently unfair to require independent candidates to collect 20,000 more signatures in two weeks less time." The campaign's Texas attorney, Jim Linger, filed an immediate notice of appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and said he will ask the court to act quickly. "I don't think there's a rational basis or compelling [state] interest for the difference – it's a very repressive law, and it's not equally applied." Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, who assisted the Nader attorneys, said, "There have been six [federal] precedents in the past, and one just this year in North Carolina, and they all agreed that it's unconstitutional to have tougher requirements for independents than for minor parties." The state's May 10 deadline is by far the earliest of all 50 states, and Winger says only two or three states still maintain similar distinctions between minor-party and independent candidates.

Equally puzzling to Nader supporters was the timing of the decision; in court on July 22, Yeakel had promised a ruling within two weeks. Linger declined to speculate on what took so long, but Nader's Texas spokeswoman Debbie Russell ascribed the delay to "outside political pressure." Yeakel is a Republican, appointed by President Bush, and Russell said, "I think the Republicans might be afraid – and rightfully so – of having Nader on the ballot. Bush is scared that his lies might be exposed, and it's clear that Kerry is not going to do the job."

Elsewhere, it's mainly the Democrats who have earned the scorn of Nader supporters. Nader's "fascism" remark was most directly aimed at Oregon Democrats. Zeese pointed to instances of petitioner intimidation there and elsewhere and charged, "We have certainly shown the ugly side of the Democratic Party, leaning toward fascism, in that they are very willing to do anything to prevent voters from having a choice this November." Texas Democratic Party spokesman Mike Lavigne declined to trade barbs with Zeese, saying only, "We're for as much ballot access as possible, but the law is the law." He added that the Nader supporters are clearly "good activist citizens, and we just think they should be supporting John Kerry."

Zeese charged that in Oregon and elsewhere, Democratic operatives have been harassing and intimidating Nader supporters, illegally threatening them with prosecution and using other methods to prevent the completion of petitions. He said the Oregon campaign gathered plenty of signatures and followed the instructions of the Oregon secretary of state in preparing the petitions – only to have them rejected on the same grounds. Zeese rejected any notion that the problems reflected only "hardball politics." "They're abusing their power. ... FDR defined fascism as the collaboration of government and corporate power, and that's what's going on here from both parties."

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Erika Soto declined to respond specifically to Nader's use of the "fascism" epithet, instead citing Zeese's earlier statement, "You have to do what you have to do to get on the ballot." She provided a list of instances in which Democratic observers across the country have charged the Nader campaign with generating fraudulent petitions or collaborating with Republican operatives, and said, "We're simply suggesting that Ralph Nader follow the law. We believe the Nader campaign has shown a disturbing willingness to bend state laws, or occasionally even break state laws, in order to get on the ballot."

Meanwhile, Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor released a statement concurring with Judge Yeakel's decision and saying his office was prepared to defend any appeal. A spokesman for the agency said the state's presidential ballots must be certified by Wednesday, Sept. 8, and normally counties begin printing them immediately. Nader attorney Linger said that if an appeal decision doesn't come quickly, he might ask for a delay on the ballot. "Ballots can always be reprinted," said Zeese. By last week, the Nader campaign had qualified for the ballot in 15 states plus D.C., and Zeese expects to qualify in more than 40, including "the battleground states that will make a big impact."

Russell says that whatever the court decides, the Texas Nader campaign will go forward. "We feel like we should be on the ballot, but we'll still be running – if necessary, a write-in campaign for Nader in Texas."

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Ralph Nader, Lee Yeakel, ballot, Texas, Oregon

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