Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Political Choices
by James Glaser
May 21, 2010
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Since I moved to the South, I have come to understand that down here you are either a staunch Democrat or a dyed-in-the wool Republican. So, I was going to write about how there were so many other choices of party affiliation up North.

I was thinking about Gus Hall.

Gus Hall (born Arvo Kustaa Halberg) (October 8, 1910 - October 13, 2000) was a leader of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and its four-time U.S. presidential candidate. As a labor leader, Hall was closely associated with the so-called "Little Steel" Strike of 1937, an effort to unionize the nation's smaller, regional steel manufacturers. During the Second Red Scare, Hall was indicted under the Smith Act and was sentenced to eight years in prison. After his release, Hall led the CPUSA for over 40 years, often taking an orthodox Marxist-Leninist stance.

I lived for decades in Northern Minnesota, and up there, the generation before me was filled with Socialists, and Communists. That was pre-cold war days, when the Russians were our ally in fighting the Germans, and the Union movement was strong.

Gus was a local boy, from the Iron Range, and he was a hero in some circles.

Hall was born Arvo Kustaa Halberg to Matt (Matti) and Susan (Susanna) Halberg in Cherry, a rural community on Northern Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range in 1910.[2] Hall's parents were Finnish immigrants from the Lapua region, and were politically radical: they were involved in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and were early members of the CPUSA in 1919.[3] The Mesabi Range was one of the most important immigration settlements for Finns, who were often active in labor militancy and political activism. [4][5] Hall's home language was Finnish, and he conversed with his nine siblings in that language for the rest of his life.[2] He, however, did not know the political terminology in Finnish and used mostly English when meeting with visiting Finnish Communists. [2]

Well I knew a lot of older people up North: Finlanders, Norwegians, and Swedes. They all worked in the mines, and they all were Union members to the hilt. I can't tell you how many times I heard "Solidarity Forever" sung by these old people. They had hard lives, and they made life in the mines better for their children and grandchildren. Like I said, Gus Hall was a bit of a hero, and every election he would garner a fair share of votes in Northern Minnesota, even if he was a Communist. He was also a Union man, and that meant a lot to the people who fought the corporations to get decent wages and benefits.

Sometime in the 70's I was an election judge in Reedy Township in Koochiching County, Minnesota. That was right on the Canadian border, but way North of the Iron Range. Well, I was young, and heck, I gave Gus Hall a vote. I knew he couldn't win, but then my other choices were Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford. By then I had already figured out that corporations owned both the Republican and Democrat political parties.

When it came time to hand count the votes, the other judges were shocked that somebody voted for Gus Hall. Gus got one vote out of 117 cast. They wanted to call that ballot spoiled, and not count it. I know if I hadn't been there that is what they would have done. I made them count it and said I had joined the Marines to protect our form of government, and the right to vote for whomever you wanted to. They went along with me, but they didn't like it. I felt like I was in Chicago. Also, I never said that was my ballot, but I think a couple of people figured it out. I was the new guy, and nobody but a Democrat or Republican candidate ever got a vote there before.

I think Gus got 13 votes in the county that year, but I'll always wonder how many spoiled ballots had his name on them. After that, voting kind of lost its luster for me. I knew third party candidates would never have a fair shot at winning. It didn't matter who you voted for, as long as it was a Republican or a Democrat.

Now I am down in the South—in fact in the rural South. I figured that in rural North Florida, the Republicans would have the white vote, and the Democrats would have the black vote, and that would be that. Well, those two parties are not your only choice in Florida. To quote Gomer Pyle, "Surprise, Surprise!"

Here are some other choices: The American Party, American Patriot Party, American Reform Party, America's Independent Party, British Reformed Sectarian Party, The Christian Party, Constitution Party, Ecology Party, Faith & Patience Party, Family Values Party, Florida Socialists Workers Party (Maybe Gus could have run down here, too.), Florida Whig Party, Green Party, Independence Party, Independent Democrats Party, Independent Party, Libertarian Party, The Moderate Party, Objectivist Party, Party of Socialism and Liberation, Possibility Party, Progressive Libertarian Party, Prohibition Party, Real Food Party of the United States, Reform Party, Socialist Party, Surfers Party of America, Tea Party, Twelve Visions Party, Unity 08, and Veterans Party of America.

After reading that list, I have to admit that the people of Minnesota don't have much to pick from when it comes to election time.

I am signing up to be a poll worker down here in North Florida. I can't vote for Gus Hall, but I can't see me voting Democrat or Republican either. It will be interesting to see how they handle an obscure party getting a local vote. Of course, maybe now everything is handled by a machine, and judges will have no power to pick which ballots they want to judge as spoiled. But then again this is pretty rural, and they could have written ballots. Something comes to mind about punch ballots with hanging chads—this is Florida you know. Maybe down here there are more choices, and maybe the election judges have more power. Either way, it will be interesting.

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