A two-party system? Lee County can claim 38
27 have 20 or fewer members
BY GLENN MILLER • GMILLER@NEWS-PRESS.COM • JULY 15, 2010
1:10 A.M. — The Prohibition Party has two members in Lee County.
The Real Food Party - the state chairman of which, Jimmy Carter, once ran for president - has one Lee County member, a surprise to the man who shares the same name as our nation's actual 39th president.
"As far as I know, I was the only one in the party," said Carter, who owns a goat and water buffalo dairy near Live Oak, in Suwannee County.
The Surfers Party of America has five local members, down from six last month. That decrease can possibly be traced to 64-year-old Keith Branstetter, who has moved from Sanibel to Okoboji, Iowa.
Sure, Lee County has Republicans and Democrats, who have a combined total of more than 250,000 members out of about 342,000 registered voters.
But the big two are not alone. Of the 38 parties listed on the Lee County Supervisor of Elections rolls, 27 have 20 or fewer voting members.
The Prohibition Party, with two people, has twice as many local members as the Real Food Party. Lee County may be a relative hotbed for Prohibition activity. Florida has more counties - 67 - than Prohibition Party members.
"The last count I had was 51," said William Bledsoe, the party's state chairman.
Prohibition is just one of 23 principles of its conservative platform, Bledsoe said.
"Our party has always been a social-issue party," Bledsoe said. "We, like most conservatives, believe in less taxes, smaller government."
So many choices. The American Poor People Party and the American Party of Florida each claims two voters in Lee County.
Faith and Patience has three voters. The Christian Party has one member.
The Christian Party's state chairwoman is Arcadia resident Nancy Grant, who founded the party in 2000. She said it has 1,200 Florida members. Its philosophy is simple.
"It's the Ten Commandments," Grant said.
The small parties range across the political spectrum.
The Veterans Party has 20 members in Lee, and it seeks greater respect and benefits for veterans.
"It is a national shame that our president, courts, Congress and Senate are publicly against benefits for veterans and those still on active duty," the website claims.
The Southern Party of Florida has four Lee members. Google the party name and one is directed to The Florida Patriot, which claims it is the "official news agency of the Floridians by Floridians!"
The site goes on to note that the Patriot's ultimate goal "is to become a viable daily print publication that will run competitively against the tainted Yankee transplant yellow rags."
America's Independent Party has six Lee members and bills itself as America's new home of conservatism. It shares many beliefs with the tea party but has some differences, according to Tom Hoefling, its chairman.
"We're focused on electing people to office," Hoefling said. "The tea party is primarily a protest movement, one that is certainly needed. But in the end, policy is set by people in office."
On the other side of the spectrum are the Socialist Party of Florida and the Florida Socialists Party. The Florida Socialists hold an 11-6 lead in Lee registration over the Socialists Party of Florida, which may have the best name for a chapter.
The Southeast Florida chapter calls itself the Bolshevik Beach Bums.
At the other end of the peninsula is Carter of the Real Food Party.
"We're more interested in agriculture and the right to eat food that doesn't kill us," Carter said.
He doesn't plan another presidential run.
"I think I could get more done as a congressman than as president," Carter said. "A third party could not possibly win a presidential race anyway because of the Electoral College."
For Branstetter, joining the Surfers Party wasn't part of a statement of political philosophy.
"I don't know anything about the party," Branstetter said.
He liked the name because it reminded him of his surfing days.
It's highly unlikely anybody from any of these parties will win a significant race, but that isn't the point, according to the Prohibition Party's Bledsoe.
"We want to give people a choice," Bledsoe said.
He is well aware his will not place a candidate in high office.
"We believe that we vote our head and our heart," Bledsoe said. "We vote our conscience."