Jim Rex wants to be a “significant positive disruptor” of the national political process.
Rex, a former state superintendent of education and a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, says that with 100 dedicated volunteers, he and others can affect who South Carolina sends to Congress. He has joined with Dr. Oscar Lovelace, who ran for governor as a Republican in 2006, to form the American Party of South Carolina.
Rex will discuss the American Party at a Winthrop University forum Monday afternoon.
The party’s goal is to have “moderate” candidates in each of South Carolina’s seven Congressional districts for the 2014 election. These moderate representatives would represent the critical swing votes in Congress and help stop America’s decline across the globe, he said.
“We have a bad political system,” Rex said. “It’s not moving forward, it’s getting worse.” Because it is getting worse, America is losing the global race because it has a “dysfunctional political system that can’t solve problems and adds to them,” Rex said.
To change the political system, the American Party wants to tap into voter anger. Those voters are hungry for someone in the middle, someone who is committed to serving and not getting continually reelected, Rex said. They also want a transparent government, Rex said.
Term limits – 12 years in Congress – are in integral part of the American Party’s platform.
Rex and volunteers such as Martin Goode of Rock Hill saw that anger firsthand when American Party organizers had a booth at the State Fair in Columbia.
“The anger is deep-seated,” Rex said. “It crosses all lines, racial lines, political lines, age, gender.”
Those who stopped at the American Party booth were asked to sign a petition calling for the party to be recognized by the state. When volunteers explained the party’s philosophy – especially term limits – many people signed, Rex and Goode said.
Rex said they collected several thousand signatures at the fair. Currently they have 7,000 signatures of registered voters. State law requires signatures from 10,000 registered voters for a party to be officially recognized.
American Party volunteers are continuing to collect signatures at events such as tailgating before football games and farmers markets. Party organizers also plan to hire a professional firm to put them over the top. Rex estimates the party will need between 12,000 and 13,000 signatures to get 10,000 that are valid.
Voter anger makes it a ripe time for a third-party effort, said Rick Whisonant, political science and history professor at York Technical College.
A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found 60 percent of Americans want to get rid of all the members of the Congress. That’s the highest percentage ever for the “throw them all out” question.
Rex said tapping into voter angst, in the short-term, is important to the American Party.
Whisonant said it will require more than anger to take the American Party from an idea to a reality.
Third parties require money to get their message out and usually rely on a charismatic candidate to attract voters, Whinosant said, citing Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election and Ralph Nader’s efforts with the Green Party. Whisonant said he doubted the American Party could have much impact in the 2014 elections.
He said South Carolina is dominated by the Republican Party and that “straight-ticket voting is alive and well here.” Also, Congressional district boundaries are drawn to protect those in power. Whisonant said he didn’t foresee any change in the political makeup of the delegation, which is six Republicans and one Democrat. Republican Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land represents the 5th Congressional District, which includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Rex acknowledges the need for money and good candidates but disputes Whisonant’s view that one charismatic candidate is needed.
Significant change does not happen from one person at the top, he said. Rex said change will come when there are more middle-of-the-road voices in Congress who are not tied to a major party that believes primarily in getting re-elected and voting against what the opposition proposes.
He said a handful of true moderates should attract middle-of-the-road moderates from the Democratic and Republican parties.
The American Party hopes to be certified by the state by the end of the year. After that, the party will spend time raising money and interviewing candidates. American Party candidates should represent a cross-section of race, gender and age, Rex said. Candidates must be transparent about their fundraising, and the party intends to review – and disclose – all campaign contributions.
Above all, Rex said, candidates must be truthful.
Rex anticipates that honesty could lead to American Party candidates being defined by “sound bite” answers to wedge issues such as abortion. But Rex is optimistic that most Americans want to be educated about candidates’ views on a variety of issues.
“If you are looking for a champion for a single issue, we are not your party,” he said.
The party’s issues are political evergreens. The American Party wants to cut the national debt while maintaining strong defense and social programs budgets. It backs a choice-driven public school system and supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms but with universal background checks. The party also wants a comprehensive immigration policy that includes a strengthened national border and a “responsible” pathway to citizenship.
While the issue are not new, Rex stresses that the American Party’s focus on common-sense solutions is new. That, he said, is what most Americans agree on.
The fundamental challenge for the American Party, he said, will be how the party is seen by voters. Will it represent a “credible alternatives to what they are use to?” If so, Rex hopes the party will expand the races where it competes in South Carolina and beyond the state’s borders.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066