In the 2015 presidential primary elections, third-party candidates chose to campaign against established democrats and republicans for the nomination of that party respectively. And they lost.
Some folks ask why they didn’t try to win outright, as a true third-party candidate? Well the answer is complicated. A certain French sociologist, Duverger, has a law that says, very generally - systems with plurality-rule election and single-member electoral districts favor two-party systems. That’s what we’ve got in the United States and his law holds true. The law also says that third parties will either, fuse with existing parties or they will disintegrate when they realize they are irrelevant. Thus, third parties normally fuse with a competitor rather than pulling votes from that competitor, to prevent an even more undesirable candidate from winning. So, everything trends back to two parties, unless a third party can affect the defection of a very large or critical mass of people from one or both existing parties to create a third party. If that happens, the third party subsumes one of the existing parties and we are still back to the two-party system.
The phenomena of subsuming an existing party by a third party happened most recently prior to the U.S. Civil War, when the Whig Party fell apart over the issue of slavery. It is a very complicated and long discussion as to why it happened. Usually, the lack of a finite piece of scripture for or against slavery in the Bible is credited. Laws back then were based on Biblical text and the absence of scripture hurt the Whigs ability to have a party platform. The infighting caused their dissolution and the Republican Party subsumed them. The result - Abraham Lincoln was elected.
I proffer that such a mass of voters exists today. Their defection could result in the implosion of the Republican Party as it currently exists. That mass of voters is sportsmen and women, supported by other public land constituencies: hikers, campers, mountain bikers, off roaders – to be called outdoorspeople for the rest of this essay. Outdoorspeople are currently too fractured to come together, which they must before they could have such an affect. A major galvanizing event would be needed to unite such a mass of voters and be the catalyst for such large-scale cooperation. What catastrophic or galvanizing event could do such a thing? The transfer of federal public lands to the states and the subsequent sale of those public lands to the private sector could do it.
Before you call me crazy and start throwing stones, let’s look at the facts.
Rural to urban migration continues to move voters into our metroplexes. The metroplexes grow and solidify the base of the democratic party. The migration resulted in recent popular vote wins for the democratic party, that subsequently became loses in the electoral congress. This further illustrates Duverger’s Law, in that alliances or caucuses are formed for one side or the other in single vote electoral districts prior to the popular elections. In 2000, Gore beat Bush by 543,895 popular votes, but lost by 5 votes in the electoral congress. Bush won Florida by only 537 popular votes, which secured the 29 electoral votes from that state and he became President. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by a very large popular majority – 2,958,691. However, Trump became President because he won the electoral congress by a margin of 77 votes. The part of the country that is often credited with swinging the election to Trump, is the so called “rust belt”, where heavy manufacturing jobs have suffered over the last twenty years. States like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were expected to vote democrat, but they voted republican. The electoral votes in those three states total 46. The “rust belt” swing certainly helped Trump win.
The states with the highest hunting license sales are: Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Sportsmen run deep in those states. Those states total 95 votes in the electoral congress. All five of those states voted republican. Remember, Trump won by 77. Can I prove that sportsmen and women elected Trump? No and I don’t intend to try. The correlation is enough for now.
Americans have a history of voting for personal gain, when one party or the other stands to do something for them personally. They may even vote against their own party to obtain a favorable outcome. The most recent example is conservative farmers who voted for Obama, because of the promised passing of the farm bill, which he got done in 2014. Another example is the great many centrist conservatives who voted republican in 2015, only because of Trump’s ability to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. I’m not making any of this up, just stating facts, to prove that certain issues are sometimes so important, they can cause people to vote for a candidate and in aggregate they can swing an election.
So, we know that Americans will vote single issues that are important to them in a presidential election. We also know it takes a defection from one or both parties of a significant mass of voters to raise up a third party to a level they can subsume an existing party in a two-party system.
Let’s look at the number of sportsmen who could vote. In, 2017 there were 36,820,000 hunting licenses sold in the US. The best data from 2015 says, there was 29,400,950 fishing licenses sold. A round total of hunters and fishers is then 67,000,000. There’s no way to tell how many license holders are not old enough to vote. Similarly, there is no way to tell how many hunters and fishers don’t buy a license, because some states don’t require landowners to do so. Let’s assume the numbers are marginal and balance out. That allows us to keep the number of voters who are sportsmen and women at 67 million. It is not easy to determine how many hikers, campers, mountain bikers and off roaders there are who vote either, but to add them in the mix. I’m going to say it’s 4 million nationally, but it is certainly higher. That puts the number of total outdoorspeople, who could vote, at approximate 71 million. Only once in the history of this Nation has a candidate ever received anything close to 71 million popular votes. In 2008, Barack Obama received over 69 million. The president with the second most popular votes was also Barack Obama 2012, with 66 million. So, it is possible that outdoorspeople could sway a vote in a primary election. The numbers don’t lie.
The first question is, have outdoorspeople already contributed significantly to a liberal candidate winning? In 2008 and 2012, Obama took Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. WI, MI and PA are three of the top five states with the most hunting licenses sold. Pennsylvania has the highest density of hunters per square mile of any state. So, did conservative outdoorspeople vote against their party over the public lands transfer issue? I don’t know. What I do know is that the following items were part of the republican platform back then:
“Because official Washington does not even know how much land it owns, we call for a national audit of all federally-owned properties as a first step toward returning unnecessary properties to the American people or to state and local government for public use.” 2008 Republican Platform
Then in the next election, where Barak Obama also carried WI, MI and PA:
“In this context, Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government's enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership.” 2012 Republican Platform
Why do I think our public lands are currently in jeopardy of being sold to private entities?
“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole.” 2016 Republican Platform
Look back over the last 8 years and the platform statements above about public land. The language has become more imminent and direct. How exactly would the states manage the lands to benefit the, “…nation as a whole”? What state has it listed in their constitution that they should manage their state trust lands to benefit the nation as a whole? None. Not one state has anything to that affect in their state constitution and the Republican Party knows that.
After the federal government annexed the lands that formed our Nation (Louisiana Purchase, Oregon Treaty, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Alaska Purchase, etc.) it held a great deal of land in the public trust. States that were formed after the Civil War were given a certain portion of those federal lands “in trust” for the specific purpose of turning a profit to fund their school systems. To get those lands from the federal government, the states all signed an enabling act, which says they,
“…forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory.”
In those states, land boards were established to oversee the necessary industry, which could turn a profit on their trust lands, to fund the schools. In most of those states, they wrote into their constitutions – that if the land is not turning a profit it will be sold. In the last century, land management has become so expensive and resource rents so low, that states have simply sold off vast areas of their trust lands. Some states had such a bad experience in trying to turn a profit on their trust lands that they passed laws preventing them from ever increasing their trust lands. So, they cannot even keep any new lands given to them by the federal government. YET! The Republican Party wants to give states the lands. Why? The republican party knows the states will only be middle men. They know the states will simply sell the land to private parties. Our public lands will be gone for good.
So, wait a minute, the Republican Party wants to give lands to the states they cannot manage and cannot use? Yes, that is absolutely right. Why? Because they’re greedy and they know the lands will be sold to private stakeholders who funded their campaigns or who will fund their future campaigns.
“We believe in promoting active, sustainable management of our forests and that states can best manage our forests to improve forest health and keep communities safe.” Republican Platform 2016
What agency does any state have to manage their national forests or bureau of land management lands within their boundaries? None, not one state has an existing agency to manage these lands. They rely on regional and local offices of the U.S. Forestry Service and the Bureau of Land Management. If the states suddenly got these additional lands, would they also get federal funding to establish state forestry and land management services? Could the states suddenly improve and enlarge their Departments of Natural Resources or State Parks to do it? No, none could do it. It’s simply not possible. The states could not afford to own the land. They would sell it. They are middlemen.
It is often quoted by hired gun economists, who are looking through a drinking straw in a myopic way, that the federal lands are a sink hole of federal funds. This myth of economic hogwash is used by some legislators to advocate for divestiture of federal public lands. The truth is, that if Congress, not just the Republican Party, wanted to make more money on federal lands to maintain and manage federal lands, they would raise the royalty rate for operating on federal lands.
What is a royalty rate you say? Well, it is a rental rate that local, state and the federal governments charge for doing business on their lands. Oil and gas production, ranching, timber harvest and such must pay a royalty rate. Congress charges the lowest royalty rate at the federal level, 12.5%. All state and local rates are higher – ALL. Congress won’t raise the rates, but they say they cannot afford to manage the lands. Thus, the land needs to be given to the states, who are even more cash strapped than the federal government. Congress knows the lands will be sold to the highest bidder.
You don’t believe me yet? Okay, no problem, let’s look at a Government Accounting Office report:
In, “GAO-17-540, a report to congressional committees”, the GAO states, “One study GAO reviewed found that oil and gas production could decrease by less than 2 percent per year if royalty rates increased from their current 12.5 percent to 22.5 percent, based on fiscal year 2016 production data. Another study stated the effect on production could be “negligible” over 10 years if royalty rates increased to 18.75 percent, particularly if the increased federal royalty rate remained equal to or below the royalty rates for production on state or private lands. One of the studies suggested that raising the royalty rate to 17 percent or 29 percent might increase federal revenue by up to $365 million per year after 2025.”
Congress, both parties now, simply don’t want to charge their supporters in the oil, gas, mineral and timber industries a higher royalty rate. Keeping the rates low on federal lands helps get congressmen support from those industries. Can you say, “Quid pro quo”? Can you say, “greed”? There has been expert testimony before congress on multiple occasions, that raising the royalty rates on federal lands is the right thing to do. It would help the federal government raise money to manage those lands. In fact, done sensibly over time it could make management of our federal public lands closer to budget neutral. Those who advocate for land transfer to the states want you to believe the states would take the lands, charge the higher royalty rates and have a windfall of money to set up their own forest service and land management bureau. That’s ridiculous. The states are already selling the lands they’ve got. Millions of acres have already gone to the private sector, never to return to the public trust. If this transfer, advocated by the republican party, and facilitated by a weak congress happens, the land will pass through the state’s hands to private entities and corporations. Maybe even foreign corporations or foreign private owners. Where does the clean water come from? What if China bought the Rio Grande National Forest from the State of Colorado?
I digress, let’s get back to the Republican Party Platform of 2016.
“Because we believe states can best promote economic growth while protecting the environment, Congress should give authority to state regulators to manage energy resources on federally controlled public lands within their respective borders.”
State regulators and governments would still have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and all the other federal laws that accompany those lands. They would go bankrupt defending themselves against the lawsuits. The Republican Platform is approaching outright lies at this point. So, even if the states could take the lands, which some legally can’t, they simply cannot afford to own the lands. Setting the litigation that surrounds the Endangered Species Act aside, let’s consider the cost of wildfires. A single major wildfire is enough to bankrupt some states. Yes, bankrupt, really. The bottom line is that the federal government is the only one with the resources to keep these lands “in trust” for the American People. All this discussion about, “the states can do it better” is window dressing for greed.
Access to federal public lands is not just an issue for outdoorspeople. Let’s look at a group whose livelihood is based on access to federal public lands – western ranchers. Western ranchers use federal public lands to graze their cattle seasonally. The arid nature of most western states means that it takes more acreage per animal to produce a pound of beef than it does back east. Most western ranchers simply cannot afford to own that much land. So, they take advantage of the federal public land, which is managed for multiple use and the very cheap 12.5% royalty rate. So, if the federal government divested our public lands, western ranchers would also be hit hard. They would either have to buy enough land to graze their cattle or pay the state royalty rates, which are above 20%. I believe they would side with outdoorspeople. Just how many more votes would that garner? I could not tell, but it is more to add to the 71 million sportsmen and women. Let’s say it’s only 1 million more. So, we are up to 72 million outdoorspeople and ranchers who have a significant vested interest in maintaining federal public lands.
You say, “I am still struggling to see how a vast number of voters could be motivated to form such a coalition and defect from the republican party.”
Well to demonstrate that, I would use a very simple example from my home. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we are blessed to have the Daniel Boone National Forest. If a federal bill were passed that transferred the land of the Daniel Boone National Forest to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we could not manage it. We currently are in such a budget crunch crisis, that we cannot pay the pensions of our state employees and teachers. Coal is not making money anymore, so royalty rates on coal mines couldn’t make up the difference. Neither could timber or natural gas at today’s commodity prices. We simply could not afford to keep the land.
Before it went up for sale, while the federal law was being challenged in the court system, I predict the deep strong network of outdoorspeople would weigh-in to put a stop to the sale. This dynamic would occur all over the country. While the legal battles raged up to the Supreme Court, before the law could be put into effect to give the lands to the states to be sold off to the highest bidder, national level conservation organizations (that did not endorse this article) would mobilize their local chapters. Hypothetically speaking, thousands of outdoorspeople and their families, would be up in arms about the terrible decision to divest us of our natural treasures forever. These people are already politically active at the local, state and federal level. These people already belong to tight-net member groups, with established lines of communication. This mass of outdoorspeople, would be buttressed by ranchers and all those who have a stake in our federal public lands, not the least of which are the people who work in the Department of the Interior (Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management) and their families, who would lose their jobs. There would be a locally organized national mass of opponents. The 72 million number above, grows exponentially when you include family members of the outdoorspeople and ranchers. Let’s simply double it. We will call it the “spouse rule of doubling”, but honestly 144 million is probably still a low number of voters who would seriously consider the divestiture of public lands a serious enough issue to vote for a single party – maybe a third party. Now, remember the highest number of votes a president ever received in history was less than 70 million.
Back to Duverger’s law, where a third party would need established alliances, prior to any election, to insure they receive the majority of the electoral votes in single vote districts. Well guess who already has such organization at local levels? Outdoorspeople do. Insert the name here ___________ Unlimited, is a local organization with boots on the ground, a large membership and has skin in the game. It would take little effort for them and other local conservation chapters like them to be the grass roots ground swell that could carry a third party to winning an election.
I doubt outdoorspeople and ranchers would vote liberal in mass, so I predict the third-party candidate would be a conservative.
In a sensible world, someone from within my party – the Republican Party, saves us from this hypothetical future. That someone must have the intestinal fortitude to live up to the conservation ethic of Teddy Roosevelt. That someone must have the foresight to see the downhill slide of the republicans in national popular elections over the last two decades manifesting into consecutive losses in the electoral congress. It won’t take much to tip the scales. If those scales tip, it might mean more than consecutive Republican loses for president.
It might also mean the rise of a third-party. The third party might not wear blue or red. They might wear blaze orange.
This hypothetical scenario only gets worse if the democrats sit back, smile and watch it happen.
The third-party might not be an elephant.
The third-party might be a short-faced bear, saber-toothed cat or dire wolf.
Those animals didn’t share the prehistoric prairie with donkeys.
They ate them.