A Republican and a Democrat announced Friday the formation of a new third party that they hope will shake up the political establishment and provide new leadership in a state and country where they say divisive party politics has stalled progress on the most important issues of the day.
The newly formed American Party has garnered the 10,000 necessary signatures in order to be a recognized party in South Carolina, said Jim Rex, a Democrat and former state superintendent of education. He joined Oscar Lovelace, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for his party's nomination in the 2006 gubernatorial election, in making the announcement on the first floor of the Statehouse.
Both said they had no plans to run for any office under the new party but would play a role in recruiting candidates, raising money and establishing priorities.
Rex said that South Carolinians and the rest of America had reached a "tipping point." He believes voters are ready to consider an alternative to Democrats and Republicans who serve special interests, including the corporations who fund their campaigns. The group plans to begin recruiting candidates statewide who want to govern and legislate from the middle, focus on increasing global competitiveness, primarily in the economy, and are not in it for the long haul.
That can include local races as well, they said.
Career politicians who are entrenched in the system are one of the system's biggest problems, Rex and Lovelace said, and the American Party would advocate for term limited-candidates.
"People are ready and they are fed up," Rex said. "Other nations are solving problems and moving ahead."
Rex said he hopes it's something that starts in the Palmetto State and moves elsewhere. "Why not South Carolina? We have in our DNA a sense of revolution. We're asking (the public) to take positive action and help change this broken political system."
Rex said that other third party efforts have failed because they've been top-down, pointing to the third party presidential candidacies of H. Ross Perot (Independent Party) and Ralph Nader (Green Party). The American Party is beginning as a grassroots movement, Rex said.
The party plans to accept corporate donations, leaders said, but would offer a level of transparency - in their candidates and party - in order to instill confidence. Rex said he also believes that politicians who serve shorter terms will be less beholden to corporations.
Jeff Hanson, 53, a retiree from Fort Mill who attended the event, said he'd like to see politicians tackle South Carolina and the country's infrastructure problems. When asked whether a gas tax hike to pay for new roads in South Carolina, as some have advocated, would be governing from the middle, Hanson said: "In the middle, everyone has to foot the bill."
Nelson Hoenig, 70, who also attended the Statehouse event, hopes that the movement catches on to the point where the main political parties pay attention and act accordingly, solving problems instead of fighting. "It'll force the other parties to go along with what we're doing," he said.
Lovelace said he knows there will be many skeptics. But he pointed to Rex, the last Democrat elected in a state that usually bleeds red, as a case-in-point of why change is possible.
"For those of you skeptics that say this can't happen, Jim Rex is an example," Lovelace said.