Column: Rich Whitney: It’s (third) party time

By Lally Gartel

On Monday, Oct. 16, Rich Whitney, the Green Party gubernatorial candidate, came to campus for a three-part event organized to get out the word about the election coming up on Nov. 7. It included local Greens running for office as well: Joe Futrelle and Kostas Yfantis for county board and Tom Abram for State Representative.

The truth is that most people don’t realize what a formidable candidate Whitney is.

Tribune/WGN-TV polls from Oct. 15 show Whitney at 9 percent statewide, up from about 6 percent a month before. This may not seem like much, but for a recently established third party, this is astonishing.

Moreover, Illinois has only had a Green Party for seven years, and of those seven years this is the first time that the Greens have decided to run statewide candidates. Getting these candidates on the ballot involved 90 days of petitioning to reach the required 25,000 valid signatures of registered voters statewide. Illinois has some of the toughest electoral laws concerning ballot access for third parties, and 25,000 signatures is just the first hurdle. In order to avoid having to gather signatures again in future elections, a third party candidate must receive at least 5 percent of the vote.

Some may attribute Whitney’s growing popularity to the fact that two mainstream choices for governor are mediocre at best; many in Illinois see the decision and choosing the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, the events on campus should have shown anyone who attended that Whitney is a force to be reckoned with not just as a neutral alternative, but as a progressive, intelligent and policy-oriented candidate.

Before his 6:00 p.m. talk in 151 Everitt Lab, I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Whitney directly about his campaign, and most notably, his absence in the Oct. 2 gubernatorial debates at Millikin University in Decatur.

He was absent from this debates simply because he was not invited, most likely at the urging of Governor Blagojevich. Though he sat in the audience and recorded audio answers to all the questions Topinka and Blagojevich answered, he was not allowed to talk directly to or ask either candidate questions.

In the next debate, sponsored by WTTW Chicago and scheduled to be held on Oct. 26, it seems Mr. Whitney will finally be a participant. The only problem is it’s no longer a debate, but a “candidate forum,” and Governor Blagojevich pulled out of the debate as soon as he learned that the invitation had been extended to Mr. Whitney. This means that on Oct. 26, instead of seeing the candidates discuss policy, we’re going to see two individually televised interviews. At no point in this election, it seems, are the voters going to get to see all their choices for governor actually address each other directly, publicly and honestly.

Mr. Whitney believes this is due in large part to the fact that Governor Blagojevich is not prepared to face him in debate. In fact, Whitney has issued statements saying he would be willing to participate in a debate with both candidates at any time given 24 hour notice; neither candidate seems particularly interested in having direct contact with Whitney.

But with 9 percent of Illinois voters considering Whitney, this is unacceptable. No argument about the ultimate irrelevance of third parties can apply; the Illinois Green Party has 650,000 dues-paying members, with the numbers growing every day, as well as countless other supporters. It seems that the candidates are just plain afraid to face third parties and the reality that after this election, they, or at least the Green Party, will emerge as consistent and worthy opponents in the world of Illinois elections.

It’s about time that our Governor, our former Treasurer Topinka, and the media showed Rich Whitney the respect he deserves by granting him the opportunity to address his opponents in open debate; every candidate should be accountable for his or her opinions, even if they are afraid of their opponents.