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Independents' day? Not likely

From a distance, John Dashler appears to have the right stuff for governor. He articulates a clear vision for the state. He seems to understand Georgia's deep-rooted problems. His personal resume is impressive. His photo indicates he possesses the right look for high office. He may even have big bucks at his disposal.

The Dalton businessman is worth serious consideration as a contender for Georgia's highest office, right?

Probably not. The 58-year-old Dashler has made a campaign decision that puts him into just about everybody's fringe-guy file. He has decided to run as an independent. He plans to eschew Democratic, Republican and even Libertarian labels.

"Independent and third-party candidates for statewide races, including governor, have to gather signatures of Georgia's registered voters, approximately 40,000 by mid-July," writes reporter Charles Oliver in the Dalton Daily Citizen. "Dashler said last week he will meet that goal. But he added that the petition requirements are a big hurdle for an independent candidate."

As Oliver notes, if Dashler succeeds in gaining the necessary valid signatures, he would become the first independent candidate for governor to appear on the state ballot.

Georgia has the toughest ballot access laws in the country. You can bet the Georgia Legislature, whether it's run by Republicans or Democrats, is determined to keep it that way.

Georgians did not have the opportunity to vote for independent Ralph Nader in either of his presidential races. Our ballot-access fence kept him out. We were one of only five states in which Nader's name did not appear on the ballot.

In 2000, independent presidential candidate Pat Buchanan managed to get onto the Georgia ballots but received less than 11,000 votes (0.04 percent). In 1992, however, independent candidate Ross Perot received enough votes to throw the state to Democrat Bill Clinton. Most observers agree that Republicans would have easily won the Peach State if Perot had been relegated to the status of write-in candidate.

Proponents of the tough access rules argue that easing requirements would induce more eccentrics (like Perot?) to become candidates, thus further confusing the electorate.

Such an argument makes sense in as much as we already have an abundance of whack-jobs holding office under the Republican and Democratic flags. We certainly don't need to add to their numbers.

Even so, the bar to nonaffiliated candidates may be outdated. Increasing numbers of voters don't identify with either major party. Many voters obviously view the Libertarian Party, which also has statewide ballot access, as an unsuitable option.

Ask almost any Georgian why they might favor Republicans. They're likely to say they lean toward the GOP because it is the "conservative" party.

Oh? The national Republican administration has run up a record deficit, engaged in a costly and bloody foreign war and declined to enforce federal immigration laws.

On the state level, Gov. Sonny Perdue is proposing record-high state borrowing and usurping local control of schools in a half-dozen important management areas. GOP officials are sponsoring creation of new local government entities in a state already overburdened with 159 counties and hundreds of revenue-starved municipalities.

To many old-timers, those Republican efforts smack of out-of-control liberalism.

Democrats have equally serious problems. Their last presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, might have won the 2004 election - if he had been from this planet.

He appeared so far out and so uncertain on important issues that he frightened many otherwise rational Democrats into voting for the re-election of President Bush.

Though Democrats claim to be the party of "all the people," interested in health care and social uplift, the litmus test for serious national Democrats is whether they support abortion rights. For many independent voters, abortion rights are not even on their political monitors.

In some Georgia areas, "Democrat" has become a code word for "black," thanks in part to the "max black" redistricting efforts of key black Democrats such as Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

As a result, many believe the Democratic Party has abandoned its historic "big tent" role and serves mainly minority interests.

Unhappily, no realistic independent vote option exists.

Help for independent candidates once came from an unlikely source. The late state Sen. Culver Kidd, D-Milledgeville, finally succeeded in lowering petition requirements to 1 percent in 1986 and fought vainly for years to reduce them further.

The colorful lawmaker said he believed that easier ballot access for nonpartisan outsiders would scare the daylights out of the controlling parties and thus make both Democrats and Republicans more responsive to their constituents.

Undoubtedly, Kidd was correct, which probably accounts for the lack of interest in Atlanta in helping John Dashler or his kind find a spot on the November election ballot.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.