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Here in Denver, plans are well under way for next year's big, big, big political convention.
No, not the Democratic National Convention, which will bring 5,000 delegates, 10,000 of their closest friends and family members, and 20,000 pesky journalists to town in August 2008 (exactly one century after the Democrats last held a convention here) and has already inspired numerous planning sessions on how to make the scene welcome and Western. (Three words: bolo name tags.)
And no, not the Libertarian National Convention, which will bring 600 to 800 delegates, plus several hundred of their closest friends and family members and a handful of less-pesky journalists to town in May 2008 (26 years after the Libertarians last held a convention here) and has already inspired numerous planning sessions on how to keep the scene free and easy, in keeping with the Libertarian Party's history in this state, where it was founded in 1971.
No, it's the Unity08 convention, which will be held in cyberspace but is tethered to Colorado. The new party -- the "surprise party" -- is the brainchild of several experienced politicos, including Jerry Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan, key strategists behind Jimmy Carter's election as president in 1976, "who believe that neither of today's parties reflects the aspirations, concerns or will of the majority of Americans," according to Unity08.com.
And not only is this third party letting every alienated voter go online and register as a "delegate" for next summer's virtual convention, but through May 15, those delegates can even comment on the draft rules of how that convention will be held. By next year, Unity08 hopes to have as many as ten million delegates, then work its way onto the ballot in all fifty states.
Unity08 got its launch into cyberspace from the Denver office of Peak Creative Media, headed by Jim Jonas, onetime CEO of the political group (Doug Bailey, another member of the Founders Council, is now back in that role). Its official spokesman, Shane Kinkennon, still spends most of his time here. But the party's most prominent spokesman is Sam Waterston, the Law & Order star who'll be stating Unity08's case next Wednesday in Washington, D.C., at a luncheon of the National Press Club.
"There's a huge majority of the American people who are ready for this, who are not represented in the current system," Waterston said a few weeks ago on ABC's This Week.
His Law & Orderco-star, Fred Thompson, hasn't even declared whether he'll run for the Republican Party nomination, and already he's polling second among possible GOP candidates, largely because the rest of that field is so lackluster (and partly, let's hope, because Focus on the Family head James Dobson was clueless enough to assail Thompson for not being a "Christian"). Waterston met Rafshoon when the former political strategist was working on a documentary about Abraham Lincoln -- and who better than an actor who's played Honest Abe to represent an alternative political party?
"He's been wonderful for Unity08, because he's not a political figure by any stretch of the imagination," Kinkennon says. "People are really interested in what he has to say. He brings an outsider's perspective."
An outsider's perspective that meshes well with that of the former insiders -- Bailey, Rafshoon and Jordan (also a staffer for Ross Perot's third-party presidential candidacy) -- who got together shortly before the fall 2005 election and realized they could use the web to overcome many of the problems created by the last technology that revolutionized campaigns, introducing costly TV ads and encouraging inordinate influence by big check-writers. "American politics is long overdue on course correction," says Kinkennon. "Everybody's kind of sick of the strident posturing on emotional, divisive issues; both liberals and conservatives do it. It's so much uglier than it used to be. There's a great mass of disenfranchised people in the political middle who've been so turned off by the divisiveness, they're looking for a way to play an active hand, to shake off the my-vote-doesn't-count syndrome."
They'll get their chance next summer at Unity08's convention, in an online nominating process that will include numerous balloting rounds -- just as major party conventions used to. Ultimately, the delegates are expected to nominate one Democrat and one Republican for the ticket, in what Bailey has called the "first truly bipartisan presidential ticket in American history."
That doesn't leave much room for the Libertarian Party, "the party of principle," which has paid close attention to Unity08 since its office opened two floors above LP national headquarters in the Watergate building. "It's a unique concept," says Shane Cory, executive director of the party. "Even the FEC had a problem categorizing them. They're going to get more people active in politics and thinking outside the two-party system. We wish them the best."
In the meantime, the Libertarians have their own convention to plan. "We came up with Denver long before the Democrats, but they got all the attention," says Cory.
They know it won't get nearly the attention of the Democratic National Convention, for which the host committee has to raise $80 million, but "we don't ask the taxpayers to foot the bill, and we don't ask the city to foot the bill," he adds. In fact, the Libertarians plan to bring the city "a small chunk of change," maybe $100,000 -- which isn't the $160 million to $200 million that Democratic planners are predicting, but it could be a lot more realistic. "We're going to go into the city and spend our money, congregate wherever they offer the best beers."
To convince the party to return to Denver, Michelle Poague threw a party at the Adam's Mark last August, when the Libertarian board met here. "There were a lot of people from Colorado," remembers BetteRose Ryan, Pogue's sister and convention co-planner. "And then more came, and then more came. They were pretty impressed with this state."