The state’s newest political party is already at risk of fading away
Evan Falchuk has not shied away from uphill battles: He mounted and lost a long-shot third-party bid for governor, meanwhile starting a new political party. More recently the businessman helped thwart Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics before taking on tax incentives to lure General Electric to the city.
But this fall may present his greatest challenge yet: Saving his United Independent Party from political extinction.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Falchuk, 46.
Falchuk formed the centrist party in 2014 after garnering more than 3 percent of the vote for governor — but that didn’t mean the party had a permanent place on the ballot. Now he must enroll tens of thousands of members in the party by mid-October.
He also faces the ire of Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who believes the party’s existence confuses voters and will cost “a lot of money” for the Sept. 8 primary — approximately $58,000 worth of additional ballots, his office estimated.
The United Independent Party must once again qualify for future ballots in one of two ways: Enroll 43,000 members — one percent of registered voters in Massachusetts — or get more than 3 percent of November’s only statewide vote, the presidential election. The latter is essentially impossible because the party is not fielding any presidential candidates this year.
So Falchuk has spent the last several months amassing support to help “tunnel” the party into permanence, he said in an interview. By his count, he has about 23,000 members and needs the rest on board by mid-October.
It’s a task that’s only become more difficult in a presidential election year. Just this spring, 5,000 people left the party in order to vote in the March 1 presidential primary, Falchuk said.
Galvin also sent notices to party members in January to inform them they may have mistakenly enrolled in the party thinking they were registering as independent, and encouraged them to re-register for the primary.
Despite these challenges, Falchuk said the party regained more than 5,000 people within about two months of the March vote.
But Galvin said he is concerned that, just like during the primaries, voters will be confused by the United Independent Party because its name so closely resembles nonpartisan affiliation. His office also cannot afford to send out notices again, he said.
“He would do everyone a big favor if he changed the name of his party,” Galvin said.
What’s more, Falchuk’s party is officially running just one candidate in the primary — Daniel Fishman, a Beverly resident and the New England regional director for the Libertarian presidential campaign — for state representative.
Falchuk chalked up his party’s poor candidate showing to the presidential primary, because people who wanted to vote in that could not run as a United Independent Party candidate. He has begun organizing town committees and holding registration drives.
He said the party plans to hold several sticker campaigns in the fall in the hopes of fielding additional write-in candidates, and the party will also endorse candidates who are not members. Indeed, two other people — teacher Keri Thompson and research consultant Jessica Lambert, who is also on the September ballot as a Democrat — are running as write-in candidates for state representative and will get on November’s ballot if they receive more than 150 votes during the United Independent Party’s primary.
He’s also attracted at least one high-profile supporter: longtime Democrat and former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, who recently announced he was, at least temporarily, switching to the United Independent Party to bolster its numbers and foster political competition in Massachusetts.
Should the party receive the needed number of members, Hashbarger said, it is then up to Falchuk to field candidates and challenge incumbents.
“They deserve a chance to offer that third party alternative,” Hashbarger said. “If they can’t produce, then that’s the end of it.”
In his quest to offer a viable third-party alternative to the state Democrats and Republicans, Falchuk hopes to make elections more competitive. Roughly 53 percent of state voters are not affiliated with a party, and a majority of elections for the Legislature this year are expected to be uncontested.
For John Walsh, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Massachusetts, the United Independent Party has already had — and missed — its chance to produce competitive candidates.
“[Falchuk’s] been in business for three years and they’ve recruited exactly one candidate in the entire Commonwealth other than him,” Walsh said, referring to the party’s single official candidate this year.
Galvin also remains skeptical of Falchuk’s plan. Anyone has the right to form a political party if they meet the state’s requirements, he said. But Galvin said there is no growth in the political activity of the United Independent Party, and that the single candidate is costing his office thousands of dollars in additional ballots.
“He chose to create a party that has no members and no candidates, despite the fact this supposedly was such a big movement,” Galvin said. ‘There is nothing united or independent about this party.”
Though he lost the 2014 gubernatorial race, Falchuk has not been quiet. In the years since, he became a staunch opponent to Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid and pushed to make it a ballot question. He has also voiced his opposition to General Electric’s move to Boston, arguing that there were better ways to spend taxpayer money.
And now, while still building his party out locally, Falchuk said he’s looking beyond Massachusetts to work with third parties in other states. This month, the United Independent Party, the Independent Party of Oregon, and the Independence Party of Minnesota are holding a joint teleconference to discuss building a coalition of “centrist aligned” third parties, said Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon.
“We know we’ve got to get bigger,” Falchuk said.