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The Nose

The Zeese Report

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Kevin Zeese

Posted 12/28/2005

U.S. Sen. John McCain, stumping in New Hampshire in June 1999, famously jabbed the political establishment’s eye. “We,” the Arizona Republican said, speaking of congressional incumbents, “are the defenders of a campaign-finance system that is nothing less than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder.”

This struck the Nose as a case of arming your enemies, à la U.S. arms deals with pre-Desert Storm Iraq. Political mavericks have discharged McCain’s rhetorical ammo with relish ever since, including Kevin Zeese, thus far Maryland’s only independent candidate for the 2006 race to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

“John McCain had it right,” Zeese told 30 or so listeners Dec. 14 at the All People’s Congress Hall, a lefty lair in Waverly. “And it’s amazing he was so honest about it.”

Zeese, who says he’s trying to appeal to all shades of the political spectrum, proceeded to rail against his mainstream opponents in the race: longtime U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, D-3rd District; former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat; and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Washington lobbyists and Republicans, Zeese asserted, are willing to spend “enough to run for president” on Steele’s Senate bid. He called Cardin a “corporate candidate” who unabashedly shills for the health-care industry and “the military-industrial complex.” Zeese cut Mfume some slack—“he’s a fighter” who’s “challenging the Democratic Party machine”—but said he’s disappointed that the former congressman hasn’t taken more courageous stands on the issues.

Zeese, who says he’s determined from polls that Americans are sick and tired of the same old parties, is seeking the nominations of three third parties in Maryland: the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Populists (an outfit organized by Ralph Nader supporters, including Zeese). Altogether, according to voter-registration statistics, less than one-half of 1 percent of Maryland’s 3.1 million-strong electorate are actually registered under these banners. But Zeese points out that independent voters—those who register as something other than Democratic or Republican—are the fastest-growing part of the state’s expanding electorate. In 1984, non-major-party voters comprised 7.8 percent of the Free State voter pool. As of July, there were 477,500 of them: 15.5 percent.

“Right now,” Zeese says, referring to recent polls, “both parties have higher negative ratings than positive ratings, and only 17 percent say they feel represented by their federal elected officials.” Zeese credits the recently deceased former Democratic senator Eugene McCarthy with the observation that “the two parties are alike on all the issues except the unimportant ones.”

Importantly for an outsider with built-in disadvantages—third-party candidates have no track record of success in modern Maryland political history, and their biggest impact has been as spoilers in close races—Zeese is a realist.

“There are Greens out there who hate me,” he tells the Nose before the All People’s Congress address, “because I take more than $100 per [campaign] contributor.” So far, Zeese says, he’s raised about $30,000, but he hopes to raise hundreds of thousands—or even more than $1 million. “I only need to raise enough to get my message out,” he says.

The Nose has heard the phrase “The two-party system is broken, it’s time for a change” so many times that we’ve taken to mocking it with fork-tongued bastardizations, like “The two-pronged system is broken, it’s tine for a change.” But Zeese has a point and clear ideas, and his mainstream looks (he bears an uncanny resemblance to Bill Clinton) combine well with a rational, optimistic demeanor far from the wild-and-woolly stereotype of the third-party candidate. In the Nose’s estimation, he could grace a debate stage as, say, Steele’s equal. And he plans to.

“There will be an anti-war candidate throughout this race,” Zeese says of himself. “I’m going to turn this into a three-way race.”

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