GOSHEN — Andrew Straw, an attorney here, faces a stiff headwind in his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Green Party hopeful.
Third party candidates have historically fared poorly in U.S. elections and he lacks the funding of his Democratic and GOP counterparts, Brendan Mullen and Jackie Walorski. What’s more, to even get his name on the Nov. 6 ballot, state law says he needs the signatures of 3,653 supporters on petitions by July 2 and he’s secured just “a couple hundred.”
Still, he’s not deterred. At least he gives no indication of being fazed.
“Absolutely I think I can win,” Straw says. He’s vying for Indiana’s Second District U.S. House seat, which covers Elkhart County and all or parts of nine other north central Indiana counties.
Indeed, his stream of emails to media outlets touting his varied views — legalize marijuana and create a cabinet-level post to defend the rights of disabled, among others — has continued without ceasing. And he has been relentless in his criticism of Mullen and the leadership of the Democratic Party in the area, making him come off at times as an attack dog fixated on Democrats.
Straw, who initially ran for the U.S. House post as a Democrat but switched to the Green Party last January after feuding with Democratic leaders, rejects the attack dog characterization. And he rebuffs any suggestion that he’s in it just to agitate.
“Every effective lawyer who tests the boundaries of the law could be considered a gadfly,” he writes in an email, hours after an interview at his Goshen home. “The difference is that an effective lawyer or politician does it to help people, such as the disabled, while a gadfly is more considered to be doing it for argument’s sake itself.”
That said, he expresses a measure of bitterness discussing area Democratic Party leaders’ decision to throw their lot with Mullen in the Second District contest. Mullen, making his first bid for office, is a U.S. Army veteran from South Bend who runs a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm.
“I feel insulted that I was rejected by the party for someone who has such a shallow ... amount of experience,” says Straw.
Straw, 43, grew up in Elkhart County, later lived in New Zealand — where his wife and two kids still live — and moved to Goshen in 2010 after working several years in Bloomington at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. He himself has never been elected to anything but Democratic Party precinct chair while living in Bloomington.
‘ON THE LEFT’
Straw doesn’t quite fit the mold of most politicians from the area serving at the state or federal level. In a zone where the “conservative” label is a seeming must to succeed, he’s “on the left” and complains that the choice offered by the Democratic and Republican parties is between moderately right-wing and very right-wing.
The big issues that spur him on are environmental protection, improving rights of the disabled and expanding Medicare, the health care insurance system for the elderly and disabled, to all Americans.
He’s pro-choice, OK with gay marriage and argues that legalizing marijuana and hemp would be a spur to job creation in northern Indiana by opening up the potential for new crop development. It’s time for the United States to leave Afghanistan, he thinks, and killing Osama bin Laden was a mistake.
“I don’t believe in just going in to other countries and assassinating people,” Straw says. The al-Qaida leader should have been put on trial and interrogated.
He’s bipolar, on medication to control the condition and doesn’t shy from discussing it. “If Patrick Kennedy can have it and be a congressman, I can too,” he says, alluding to the former U.S. representative from Rhode Island.
Fighting for third-party rights
If Straw is to win, an array of planets would have to align just so.
With so few of the 3,653 signatures he needs to secure a spot on the November ballot, he’s challenging the state law that outlines the requirement. Democratic and Republican U.S. House candidates don’t have a signature requirement, though they must win their respective primaries, so why should third-party hopefuls?
“Just be fair about it, make the requirements equal,” he says.
He submitted a petition to election officials last Thursday with just one signature, his own, and he sent a letter to the Indiana Secretary of State arguing that the third-party petition requirement violates the Indiana Constitution. Barring success there, he plans to challenge the ballot requirement by suing in Elkhart Circuit Court.
At the same time, he’s created a website to generate online petition signatures, ipetitions.com/petition/s4c/signatures. State law allows only for collection of signatures via paper petitions and the website serves as another challenge, of sorts, to state law.
Addressing the money shortfall compared to Walorski and Mullen, Straw says if he were to win one of the legal cases he’s handling, he’d have sufficient funding to finance his bid. Walorski and Mullen each had a war chest in the $500,000 range as of March 31 while Straw had just $51.01.
Maybe election to the U.S. House post is a long-shot for Straw, though he won’t make any such admission. But he notes that his efforts have a potential silver lining regardless of electoral outcome.
By challenging the state’s ballot requirements for third-party hopefuls, he’s potentially paving the way to make it easier for them in elections to come, he notes, “and I consider that a big deal.”