Evan Falchuk did not win the 2014 race for Governor. He did, however, barely manage to achieve 3% of the vote, which was enough to give his United Independent Party or UIP (an amusingly oxymoronic name, but I digress) official standing as a party in which people can register. But, you know, the Green-Rainbow folks have official standing too, and they’ve never really made much of it.
So what does the UIP need to really entrench itself in the Massachusetts political landscape? Sure, Falchuk or another UIPer can run for Governor again in four years … and he or she will probably get less than 5% of the vote again and be a non-factor, just like Jill Stein always does. UIP can – and should – run candidates for the state legislature in some carefully-chosen districts, and maybe they’ll even win a couple. That would be the beginning of some kind of presence, though in our top-down legislature, it would be many years before that route would lead to much ability to influence policy in any meaningful way. They have nicely drafted policy positions that in some respects differ (marginally, in some cases) from those of the major parties … but, as we all know, policy positions alone aren’t enough to grab the public’s imagination.
How else could UIP make a splash? Gosh, if only there were some big, controversial, attention-grabbing single issue that the movers and shakers in the two major parties mostly agree on so that there’s space for a third party to stake out some territory; that involves billions of dollars; that people on both sides feel really strongly about; that routinely hits the newspapers’ front pages; that directly affects the lives of the people of Massachusetts; and that has national and even international implications.
Oh right. Bringing the Olympics to Boston pretty much checks all those boxes.
And that, in part, is likely why the UIP is aggressively opposing a Boston Olympics, and why Falchuk is taking the lead on putting a question about a Boston Olympics on the ballot (presumably in 2016, shortly before the International Olympic Committee selects the 2024 host in 2017). He recently filed the paperwork to create a ballot question committee, called the “People’s Vote Olympics Committee.” That committee’s goal would be to put an as-yet-undrafted question on the ballot whose “purpose would be to restrict the ability of the government to put tax money toward the Games.”
It’s a brilliant gambit. Marty Walsh, Charlie Baker, Deval Patrick, and most of the other bigwigs in town from both parties seem to love the idea of a Boston Olympics, and Walsh has (foolishly, IMHO) declared that he doesn’t like the idea of a ballot question. (Seems odd that he’s simultaneously suing the Gaming Commission to give Charlestown a vote on a casino, but again I digress.) So Falchuk’s taking the lead in putting an anti-Olympics question on the ballot places him squarely in opposition to the existing two-party power structure, which is exactly where a new “independent” party needs to be. Furthermore, a serious prospect of a ballot question in 2016 means that nearly every time there’s a news story about the Olympics – which will be often – the question, and Falchuk’s role in it, will be part of it. It’s a way of guaranteeing that his fledgling party stays relevant in a way that most new parties (and some old ones) never manage.
Could Falchuk get the question on the ballot? Of course. Falchuk is wealthy – he reported almost $2 million of income in 2012, and he put over $1.5 million toward his gubernatorial campaign. There is no limit on how much an individual can contribute to a ballot question committee, so Falchuk can personally make sure that the committee has what it needs to gather the necessary signatures. If the underfunded anti-casino folks could do it, an anti-Olympics committee can do it too. I’m not sure where the suggestions in the press that it would be an “uphill climb” to get a question on the ballot come from; they strike me as misguided.
The folks favoring a Boston Olympics bid are, IMHO, making a huge mistake by opposing a ballot question, and an even bigger one by suggesting that even if a vote went against the Olympics they might go ahead anyway (it seems unlikely to me that the IOC, which wants local buy-in, would select Boston if the public had already expressed its disapproval at the ballot, and the boosters would appear anti-democratic at best by proceeding in the face of public opposition). By opposing a public vote, they look weak and afraid. Do they think they will lose? A far better route for all concerned would be for the boosters as well as the opponents to agree that the public should be consulted in the most direct possible way – via the ballot – and then let the chips fall where they may.
In the meantime, Falchuk may just be able to generate enough statewide interest in the UIP via the Olympics to cause some serious headaches for the major parties down the road. And wouldn’t that be interesting.