“They gave this election dignity,” asserted actor and debate moderator Ed Asner in his closing remarks at Tuesday night’s Free and Equal third-party presidential debate in Boulder.
The 86-year-old Emmy award-winning actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild was referring, of course, to the three presidential candidates — the Reform Party’s Rocky De La Fuente, Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle — who participated in the lively two-hour forum at the University of Colorado’s Macky Auditorium.
Though complaining endlessly about their own exclusion from the three nationally-televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton earlier this autumn, the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party — both of whom had initially expressed an interest in attending — inexplicably skipped the only significant third-party presidential debate of this election cycle. Independent Evan McMullin, the “Never Trump” candidate who is running neck-and-neck with his major-party rivals in neighboring Utah, was also a no-show.
Stein and McMullin reportedly based their decision on whether or not the Libertarian Party nominee would accept Free & Equal’s invitation to Tuesday night’s debate — a forum he eagerly participated in four years ago. When Johnson declined to participate, they both ducked out.
“It is interesting that some presidential candidates fighting to be included in the Republican and Democratic debates might also exclude themselves from a vigorous discussion with peers on the issues when invited to do so,” said a disappointed Christina Tobin, a longtime election reform and voters’ rights activist and founder of the Free & Equal Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization launched eight years ago.
Tobin, who ran for California Secretary of State in 2010 — garnering more than 214,000 votes as the Libertarian nominee — had served as Ralph Nader’s national ballot access coordinator during the 2008 presidential campaign, a year when the feisty consumer activist, seeking the brass ring for the final time, appeared on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
The 34-year-old Tobin had organized Tuesday’s third-party debate and served as a co-moderator.
Billed as the “People’s Presidential Debate,” the three candidates fielded a wide range of questions, ranging from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to the recent document dumps by WikiLeaks to staggering student debt and the nation’s burdensome and discriminatory ballot access laws, among other topics, and did so without interrupting or insulting their opponents as had happened frequently during the recent Clinton-Trump debates.
There was also plenty of humor. When introducing the candidates, moderator Ed Asner told Rocky De La Fuente — the closest thing to a genuine political centrist in this year’s presidential election, somebody that moderate Democrats, Republicans and independents recoiling at the thought of a Clinton or Trump presidency could easily rally behind — that he had already voted for him 100 times. “Only a hundred?” asked the quick-witted third party candidate. “Well, I ran out of pencils,” quipped Asner.
All three candidates got along splendidly and were able to make the case for their respective candidacies.
Each of them also took some not-so-subtle jabs at their third-party opponents, particularly Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, who didn’t bother to attend Tuesday night’s debate.
“Well, I really think that all the third-party candidates who were invited should have been present today,” said La Riva in her closing remarks. “I think it is a lack of respect for those of us who have fought so hard in this electoral year to have a voice for the people because we fight for the people.”
The Constitution Party’s Castle concurred. “Once again, my socialist friend has hit the nail on the head. Shame on Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, in particular, for not coming. They are so high and mighty. They want to be Democrats and Republicans so badly…But they should be here. As Gloria said,” he concluded, “it is a common struggle. We have to raise up third parties and give people of America another choice. But they are afraid of us. They are afraid to come out and get down on the same level with people like us.”
“They will regret it,” added the Reform Party’s De La Fuente, whose name will be on the ballot in twenty states on November 8th, including thirteen states where he will be listed as the nominee of the recently-formed American Delta Party.
In typical fashion, Ed Asner probably put it best. “I wish to say all third-party candidates should have been present,” he concluded, “but in a way it was a blessing…each of the candidates tonight has stood ten feet tall, each of them. They have spoken eloquently, sensibly, none too radically, and I have learned a great deal tonight.”