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November 5, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Our two-party system needs more third-party ideas

Third party candidates in this country can't get a fair shake. They simply don't have the money or the organization to get their message out to the masses. What they do bring to our political discourse is a dose of authenticity and independent thinking that seems to be lacking in our Republican and Democratic candidates, whose images and words are meticulously shaped by political operatives within their own parties.

For me, the most pronounced independent voices in this country can be heard at the presidential level. They're usually shunned from the major network and cable debates and can scarcely afford air time, but alternative media (and the Internet) has given them new forums through which they can share their ideas.

I think we'd benefit from listening to their "straight talk." These atypical voices are refreshingly more specific about the need for shared sacrifice in this country than our major party candidates, who are forced to pander to the fickle nature of daily polls and voters who've created near-mythic expectations for the president. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are guilty of promoting rosy messages that make it appear as though we can get out of this economic mess without each of us being asked to give up something.

Buddy Roemer ran for the Republican nomination earlier this year and dropped out of sight after the $35 million experiment known as Americans Elect failed to gain traction with its online effort to produce a viable independent candidate. But I hope he re-enters the public arena because he has the pedigree (Harvard undergraduate and MBA degrees), the resume (former congressman, governor and banker), and no-nonsense approach to governing (he accepts no contributions from special interests, caps all donations from individuals at $100) that's sorely lacking in American politics today. Watch Roemer's January interview with Democracy Now! after being shut out of a Republican debate in New Hampshire. He's blunt and passionate. So exhilarating.

Green Party nominee Jill Stein recently stopped by to visit the Seattle Times. At the time, my colleague John Saul wrote that she caused him to have second thoughts about the ballot he'd just filled out. I was particularly drawn to her message of building and sustaining an economy based on caring for the environment and living sustainably. Her domestic agenda includes a specific plan to create jobs and to forgive student debt. The Harvard-trained physician and mother says she opposes Obamacare (which started as Romneycare in her home state of Massachusetts) and believes that expanding Medicare to all could actually cut down costs and produce better outcomes. Her unique background includes a 2002 run against Romney for governor. She also readily admits she does not agree with all aspects of the Green Party platform. Such independence is rare. Watch her interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman below:

Gary Johnson is the Libertarian candidate for president. I disagree with many of his ideas (turning Medicare into block grants, ending the IRS, eliminating the income and corporate taxes), but I appreciate the former Republican governor of New Mexico's pragmatic views on smaller government, which includes a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, legalizing marijuana and ensuring marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right for all. Johnson, a self-made millionaire and triathlete, is set to be on the ballot in 47 states, giving his candidacy the best shot toward reaching the goal of achieving 5 percent of the popular vote - an accomplishment that would guarantee his party receives federal funding in 2016. To learn more about Johnson, watch this insightful C-SPAN interview below:

Before Gary Johnson, there was Ron Paul. The Texas congressman attempted his second run this year for the Republican presidential nomination, but he remains a Libertarian idol after running as that party's nominee in 1988. Many of his rabid fans had hoped he would pursue the White House as an independent in this year's general election. Paul's supporters love his authenticity and consistency on the issues. They see prescience and wisdom in the congressman's many sermons over the years that have been critical of the country's monetary policy and its military-industrial complex. I question his desire to eliminate the federal government's role in regulating energy and education, but the obstetrician-turned-politician appears to be more forthright than his colleagues when it came to discussing personal responsibility and the role that America should - and can afford - to play on the international stage. Here's a mash-up of Paul's foreign policy responses, taken from his debate appearances:

I lament the common perception that independent candidates are "spoilers" for Republican and Democratic candidates. (Thanks a lot, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader!)

Instead of voting with our hearts, it feels as though we now vote based on strategy.

Washington state's top-two primary system is a step in the right direction toward breaking the hold Democrats and Republicans have on our elections, but it has yet to produce any breakout "independents" who can mount serious bids for higher office. Perhaps we just need more time.

If Democrats and Republicans are destined to monopolize our local and federal elections a while longer, I hope they can at least listen to some of the ideas that are resonating with a growing class of independent voters.

Tonight, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson face off in the Free and Equal Foundation's final third-party presidential debate before Tuesday's election. Watch. You might be inspired to consider some new ideas.

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