Why can’t third-party candidates get a seat at the debate table?

Thanks to a mostly colluding media, you likely don’t know that there are actually five Iowans who are on the ballot for the US Senate race: Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Patty Judge of course, but also Libertarian Charles Aldrich, as well as independents Jim Hennager and me, Michael Luick-Thrams.Last week, two of us non-mainstream candidates — Chuck Aldrich and I — confronted five major Iowa media sources which have consistently sidelined candidates who aren’t a Republicrat or Democan.But, bad news for all Iowans: Our protests met avoiding eyes and deaf ears —and worse, active subterfuge.At 8 a.m. last Wednesday, Chuck and I began picketing the Des Moines Register for its latest grievous violation of journalist neutrality, its deliberately dishonest Senate-race poll asking Iowans to choose between Grassley or Judge, without mentioning the other 60 percent of the candidates, qualified and on the ballot.By coincidence, two election observers from the European Union — a German man and a Romanian woman—happened to be on-hand and watched, shocked and appalled, as seven police vehicles (one a paddy wagon ready to whisk official candidates off to the klink), carrying a dozen  officers, converged on us.They were goaded on by two blustering security guards sent out by Capital Square to intimate us.Domestic observers (oh, say, like reporters) could have caught this scene right out of Putin’s Russia, had any responded receptively to the emails and phone calls through which we had notified local media of our action.The Associated Press baldly responded to our call with, “We don’t cover protests” — an outright lie.At 9 a.m., after the police had to drift off, sans arrests, as our picketing on public sidewalks had in no way broken laws and said privately that we had cause to picket, we moved on to KCCI-TV, which has ignored our requests to cover our candidacies, despite repeated features about Grassley and Judge. After setting up near the station’s bulky sign on busy Keo Way, Chuck went to knock on its door and invite redress.After making him wait for her a quarter hour while supporters and I lined the street with placards, a young woman finally appeared and led Chuck to a small room, where she tried to lure him to buy ad air time — a particularly cynical affront, given that we were there to complain about the media’s election-driven money mongering and total lack of coverage on 3rd-party or independent candidates.Our reception just after 10:30 a.m. at WHO-TV hardly differed, but this time found me knocking on the media’s literally locked doors. News manager Rod Peterson did agree to come down to the foyer to speak with me and a supporter, but only after demanding “No cameras, no cameras!” Red-faced and flustered, he repeatedly asked why we hadn’t approached him, to which I repeatedly replied that we had serially contacted several of his reporters, but were rebuffed each  time. We left, empty-handed.At 11:30 a.m., we set up a presence — fittingly, on “Corporate Drive” — in front of Iowa Public Television, which would have barred us three non-mainstream candidates from its U.S. Senate debate, for having failed to meet four of its five qualifying criteria, one of which is that we be sponsored by the Republican or Democratic Parties.In the end, when Grassley withdrew from it, IPTV canceled the debate, although 100 percent of the remaining four of five Secretary of State-registered candidates were still willing to appear.After slinging down a quick lunch, Chuck and I burned up Interstate pavement as we sped from Johnston to Sioux City, where at 4 p.m. we met with KTIV-TV, set to host that night a live, televised debate featuring only Grassley and Judge.Al Joens quickly interviewed Chuck and me separately for exactly 120 seconds each — a hollow gesture meant to placate us after we had informed the station that we’d be picketing it.When the nervous anchor quipped he “didn’t even know you guys were running until I was told about it this morning,” I wagged my head and challenged “How can that be, when I called KTIV weeks ago?”Directed to discuss that with station manager Bridget Schettler-Breen (married to producer-anchor Matt Breen, who was to monitor the debate three hours hence), she deflected with “We didn’t know about you two last July when we organized this debate” — to which I asked,  “Knowing that only as of August in every election cycle does Iowa’s Secretary of State approve independent candidates, why weren’t unnamed slots reserved for candidates who you knew with certainty would be announced imminently?”Our cat-and-mouse exchange continued when I then asked “Couldn’t you have added us to the line-up, once we’d landed on the Secretary’s web site?” but led nowhere constructive, as she further brushed us off and offered one cardboard excuse after another.By that point, a tense police officer had appeared in the station lobby and concerned colleagues were gathering outside the manager’s door. So, we turned and left, with me promising “Maybe not now, but by the time your children are adults, the groundwork we are laying here will result in something other than the two-party system now strangling our nation!”By 7 p.m., Chuck and I had taken seats in different parts of Morningside College’s Eppley Auditorium.We wanted to know, “If we are on the  ballot, why aren’t we on the stage?” — and were prepared to stand up mid-debate to pose exactly that query. In the end, I decided against such an action for several reasons, including the very real possibility that in trigger-happy America, we could have been shot by the armed police posted at the auditorium’s entry or beaten up by Grassley-crazed fans who dominated the hall.Still, we want to know—and to ask Iowans—why and how it is that, with few exceptions, the very people entrusted to inform their readers, viewers and listeners about which candidates are running for which offices on what platforms, sideline all candidates not peddled by two calcified parties?How should the system change, when almost all media sources refuse to present — in this case — 60% of the candidates for a given race? Who does this media blackout serve, other than big-finance career politicians and the power brokers who orchestrate their campaigns, always with an eye to returning favors to funders?Among other desperately-needed reforms, the length of campaigns must be limited to a few months, not years. (Among other reasons, only the deep-pocketed can sustain interminable races.)Mercifully, this election cycle—the ugliest and most mean-spirited in living memory—will end in a few weeks. As the dust falls, this candidate will retreat physically weary, emotionally bruised and morally sore.More than anything else I will know, firsthand, how our money-grubbing media protects and perpetuates an anti-democratic two-party system. I am sickened by the darkness-shrouded, rigged political culture that has consistently thwarted all of my and other independents’ efforts to challenge and, ultimately, change it.In the process, we have been changed — and that evolution has been neither easy nor encouraging.For additional information, call Chuck Aldrich at 256-620-8021 or visit charlesaldrichlc.com and www.facebook.com/AldrichForIowa/ or contact Michael Luick-Thrams at 641.420.9118 or e-mail MichaelLuickThrams@gmail.com, and visit Facebook.com/MichaelLuickThrams or www.HeartlandParties.US 

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