This week, swing state Colorado gained a new political party. Its slogan: “Not right, not left, but forward.”
The Unity Party, which pitches itself as a centrist safe harbor from the polarized extremes of the left and the right, was this month able to gather enough registered members statewide for consideration as an official third party.
The Unity Party now joins the Libertarian Party (about 44,000 registered members), the Green Party (about 13,000 members) and the American Constitution Party (about 12,000 members) as a minor political party in Colorado. Still, more registered voters here—about 1.2 million— choose no political party at all.
With just over 1,000 registered members, the Unity Party crossed the threshold into the official third-party category as designated by the Secretary of State. “At the end of May, the Unity Party recorded 999 voters, registration records show,” said Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels in a statement. “More joined in June.”
The Unity Party platform puts a premium on term limits and having a balanced budget amendment.
So what was the Unity Party before if it wasn’t a third party?
Prior to its new status, the Unity Party was the only “qualified political organization” in Colorado.
What that means is its members had gone through certain steps to register as an actual political organization with bylaws, and that the organization met at least once a year and selected candidates who petitioned to get on the ballot. To remain in good standing in Colorado, a qualified political organization must place a candidate on the general election ballot every two years.
Now that the Unity Party has moved up the ranks to an official party, it is subject to even more bureaucratic steps. For instance, the party now must hold an assembly at least 73 days before the 2018 primary election to nominate candidates. If more than one candidate runs in an election, the party must hold a primary.
For the Unity Party to continue to keep that status beyond the next two general elections it must run a candidate for statewide office who receives at least 1 percent of the votes cast in a general election or at a minimum keep at least 1,000 registered members.
But party members no longer have to stand out in the hot sun gathering petitions to get on the ballot. Now with enough registered members, these Unity folks will be able put on their own assembly and get their candidate’s names out to voters on a mail-in ballot just like Republicans, Democrats and the others.
Who carried the banner for the Unity Party in past Colorado elections?
That would be a 42-year-old life insurance salesman from Thornton named Bill Hammons. He is chairman of the state and national Unity Party, which he founded in 2004.
The party’s logo looks a bit like that of Delta airlines. Some of the party’s top priorities are to enact term limits and a federal balanced-budget amendment. The party wants to lower the voting age to 16 and allow 16-year-olds to donate money to candidates. The party also wants statehood for Washington, D.C.
Hammons last year ran for the U.S. Senate on the Unity party platform and won 9,336 votes.
“Frankly, Washington is going Chernobyl right now with everything with the former FBI director and so on,” Hammonds said in an interview. “Nothing is getting done in Congress, it’s just more of the same if not worse.”
That’s why he hopes more disaffected voters consider the Unity Party’s centrist platform. Hammons is running for governor this year— in part for the political survival of his own party.
“I freely admit one of the reasons I’m running for statewide office for the 3rd time is to keep ‘Unity’ moving towards full party status,” he wrote in part of a string of emails to Colorado election officials in November as he inquired about his party’s status.
Also in the emails Hammonds provided to The Colorado Independent, was this question:
While we’re on the subject, would you be able to tell me if it’s illegal in Colorado to provide compensation for voter affiliations (and *not* votes)? If we’re to go down that road to get 24 more voters sooner rather than later, needless to say it’d be tongue-in-cheek
A state elections official responded, saying, “I don’t think there is a law the prohibits paying people to affiliate with a party; however, I wouldn’t advise doing it.”
Hammons says he was just kidding.
But he did later send out a news release saying he would offer “$2,000 for Unity voter registrations.” Really, what he was offering was a $2,000 no-cost life insurance policy for the next 15 voters who joined his party as official members. “I’ve confirmed with the Colorado Division of Elections that such encouragement is entirely legal,” he wrote, “and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the Unity Party from Qualified Political Organization status to Minor Party status before our November 4th convention.”
Though it was tongue-in cheek— and also a way to promote both his party and his business— Hammons tells The Independent he didn’t get any takers.
He says anyone who looks at his track record running in elections and talking about public policy would know this is not just a vanity project. His work ethic, he says, doesn’t come from vanity but from trying to make a change.
Isn’t something like this going on in Utah?
Not with the Unity Party, no, but the United Utah Party recently formed to try and attract frustrated Democrats and Republicans looking for some middle ground.
“We are not forming another extremist, fringe political party,” BYU political science professor Richard Davis, a former Utah County Democratic Party chairman, said at a launch event late last month. “We are people who are in the center of the political spectrum.”
What’s the history of third parties in Colorado?
The most recent big news beyond the Unity Party’s new status came in 2016 when the Colorado Libertarian Party’s membership cracked 1 percent of all registered voters statewide for the first time. What that meant for the party in practical terms was that its nominee for U.S. Senate that year was allowed to participate in the first big U.S. Senate debate in Grand Junction put on by a big-time Western Slope business group.
The national Libertarian Party, by the way, was founded in Colorado Springs in 1971. The party’s national archives this spring actually moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado.
The American Constitution Party got attention in 2010 when conservative lightning rod Tom Tancredo, a former congressman, bolted the Republican Party to run for governor that year. He wanted two other GOP candidates to drop out, and they refused. So he went his own way, and enough of his followers signed up with his new party. Some of that party’s goals were to scrap congressional pensions, ban electronic voting, get rid of all campaign finance laws, end gay marriage, and repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
So should I join the Unity Party?
Sorry, voter, that’s one you’ll have to figure out yourself.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated when the American Constitution Party formed. It has been around prior to 2010.
Photo by Martin de Witte for Creative Commons on Flickr.