The IAP rattles the GOP
If there is a matriarch of Nevada’s oldest third political party, it is doubtless Janine Hansen.
Once a familiar figure in the Truckee Meadows, Hansen left Sparks in 1989 for the hamlet of Ryndon in Elko County to care for her aging mother. She headed to the former railroad camp just after winning a court victory that has served the purposes of activists, left and right—a ruling that petitioners can gather signatures on public property. The court decision came after Hansen and her son Zachary were arrested while collecting initiative petition signatures at the municipal bus depot on Center Street in Reno.
At the state convention of the Independent American Party of Nevada last weekend, Hansen greeted her network of activists as they arrived, among them the party’s best known recruit, former Republican Cliven Bundy. Hansen has run for numerous offices—local, state, federal—over the years as a candidate of the IAP. “I’ve had a lot of fun running,” she said.
One of her best known ventures came when she jumped from the IAP to the Democratic Party and entered a primary race for the state Senate against familiar Sparks figure Don Mello and nearly beat him.
But most of her races were for the IAP. After the death in 2002 of her brother—party founder Dan Hansen—she felt she should take up his role and has never missed running in an election year since.
“I feel like, as one of the leaders of the party, it’s my responsibility to set the example for people to run,” she said.
She’s been successful. The convention was full of people who have run for office to give the party visibility and help keep it on the ballot.
The party is the surviving Nevada remnant of the American Independent Party, the vehicle for George Wallace’s 1968 presidential candidacy. After founding the Nevada branch of the AIP, Hansen’s late brother, Dan, switched the name from American Independent to Independent American in the Silver State. As a consequence, a few people who wanted to register independent over the years found themselves accidentally registering to vote as a member of Nevada’s IAP. County clerks and voter registrars started explaining the difference to potential voters.
But the confusion continues—Carson City’s Nevada Appeal ran a story this week that referred to it as the “Independent Party” and analyzed it as though its members are political independents: “For those who scoff at those not choosing to vote a straight Republican or Democratic ticket, an Independent is described as one who votes for candidates on issues rather than political ideology or partisanship, though they may lean one way or another. Millennials are not true blue anythings.”
The party’s members would smile at being described as millennials. There was a good deal of gray hair at the convention in Sparks last weekend. The party in January had 65,024 registered voters in Nevada, giving it 4.43 percent of the state electorate.
Although the party has yet to elect anyone to state office, that 4.43 percent slice of the electorate can and has affected other races. And in the small counties, it has elected its candidates to office—a Mesquite mayor, the Nye County public administrator, a district attorney and county clerk in Eureka County, a sheriff in Pershing, and a county commissioner in White Pine.
It is in its ability to affect statewide races that it can be a source of concern to Republicans, who believe the IAP takes votes away from GOP candidates. Adam Laxalt, a very conservative Republican, is likely to head the Republican ticket as candidate for governor this year. The small counties are a Republican stronghold. Given IAP strength there, and Laxalt’s relative obscurity, the GOP has reason for worry.
But so far, the IAP candidate for governor is not known. At the convention it selected most of its slate, but left a couple on hold, and one of them is governor. The list will not be released until it is complete. Asked who the possible candidates for governor are, Hansen said, “I can’t discuss that as long as we have conflict. … We need to figure out the if and who and what of the governor’s race.” The party hopes to work out who the candidate will be in order to file the full list on March 5.
There is no analogous liberal third party to draw votes away from the Democrats, nor is there likely to be this year—third parties tend to get interested in ballot status in presidential years.
If Laxalt faces an IAP candidate, political scientist Fred Lokken said, the Trump era is a good time for the IAP to take advantage of its unique position in the state.
“What used to constitute a conservative in the Republican Party is now another animal,” Lokken said.
So how do the IAPs feel about Trump?
“We think he’s an independent, not a Republican,” Hansen said. “There’s a lot of things that he’s done that we approve of.”
Lokken said the IAP is good at candidate recruitment, and the small counties are fertile ground for it: “These are small turnout counties where a relative small group of people can have an impact.”
The IAP has occasionally lured some figures away from the GOP—most recently Bundy. It also recruited Chuck Horne, a former member of the Nevada Legislature who was elected mayor of Mesquite. On the other hand, sometime candidate Sharron Angle left the IAP for the Republicans.
Bundy said he joined because “I’m not really happy with the Democrats. I’m not really happy with the Republicans.” He would pull items from both their platforms. “Maybe Independent American Party is where it can happen. We can bring both of those parties together.”
The IAP lost its ballot status in 1978 by not getting five percent of the vote in any race. It got back on the ballot in 1992 by petition and has stayed there ever since.