West Virginia politics has never been hospitable to third parties, and in 1999 the legislature made things harder when it doubled the number of petition signatures needed to get on the ballot. So there was some surprise in 2000 when activists launched the Mountain Party and gathered 13,000 signatures to gain ballot status. Denise Giardina, a noted author with no political experience, agreed to run as the Mountain Party candidate for governor.
Every new party needs a cause, some issue which raises public attention and is ignored by both major parties. For the Mountain Party it was the opposition to strip mining. But the underlying cause for the party’s appearance in 2000 was frustration with what supporters perceived as an entrenched Democratic Party and an unresponsive political system. The new party’s name was suggestive of its ‘‘green’’ image, and the Mountain Party combined its environmentalism with a populist agenda of saving small schools and small businesses. Giardina aggressively took on King Coal in a state identified with and, many argued, dominated by the coal industry.
Although she attracted media attention with her quixotic campaign, Giardina garnered only 10,000 votes or 1.6 percent of the total votes cast. That number, however, was more than the one percent required to qualify the Mountain Party for an automatic place on the next election ballot.
In 2004 the Mountain Party nominated as its gubernatorial candidate Jesse Johnson, a Charleston actor and filmmaker. Johnson received 18,113 votes or two percent of the vote in the general election which was enough to keep his party’s slot on the ballot in the next election. By 2008, the party had expanded its platform to address issues in education, health care, the economy and political reform. In the general election that year, Johnson received 31,486 votes in his second bid to win the governorship. While that number reflected a greater interest in the party’s platform, it was just four percent of the total votes cast. In 2010, Johnson made an unsuccessful bid to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Robert Byrd, receiving less than 2 percent of the vote. In 2012, the party again nominated Johnson as its gubernatorial candidate, while former Richwood mayor Bob Henry Baber was selected as the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Joe Manchin. Each received less than 3 percent of the votes in the general election.
The low totals in each of these elections reflect the continuing challenge facing any third party effort in West Virginia. Whether the Mountain Party survives depends on future elections, but, as with many third parties, its existence indicates tensions within the state’s political system. The Mountain Party is the West Virginia affiliate of the national Green Party.
This Article was written by Robert Rupp
Last Revised on May 28, 2013