The term 'third party' is used in the US to describe the country's political candidates who are neither Democrats or Republicans. It is rare for a third party and independent candidates to command large shares of votes in elections. In only about 58 presidential elections since 1788, third party and independent candidates have won at least 5% of the votes. Although it is rare for governors to emerge as a winner from third parties, there are some cases where governors from different states have won. Here are 16 third party candidates that were successfully elected as US State Governors.
John Sparks, Silver Democrat, Nevada (1902, 1906)
John T. Sparks (1843 – 1908) was the tenth Nevada governor, nicknamed Honest John, and a member of the Silver Democratic Party. He was elected in 1902 and re-elected in 1906. He organized the Nevada State Police and formed the state engineering office and the railroad commission. Sparks died in office in 1908, reportedly broke.
Ashton Shallenberger, Fusion People's Party, Nebraska (1908)
Ashton Cokayne Shallenberger (1862 –1938) was elected in 1907 as Nebraska’s 15th governor under the Fusion People’s Party. He served until 1911 and he managed to adopt the State Guarantee of Deposits Law and the Oregon Plan. Ashton did not seek re-election.
Hiram Johnson, Progressive, California (1914)
Hiram Warren Johnson (1866 – 1945) served as the 23rd California governor between 1911 and 1917. He later became Theodore Roosevelt’s running mate on the Progressive Party ticket. Johnson was a populist who implemented many reforms. He advocated for candidates to register in more than one political party with his party adding the initiative, referendum, and recall clauses which gave Californians a more direct democracy. Johnson was instrumental in the establishment of the railroad commission and California Alien Land Law of 1913. Being the founder of the Progressive Party, Johnson was re-elected as governor in 1914 and won by a huge margin.
Sidney Catts, Prohibition, Florida (1916)
Sidney Johnston Catts (1863 –1936) was a politician, a racist, and a Catholic critic who served as the 22nd Governor of Florida between 1917 and 1921. He ran and won on a Democratic ticket, but the results were recalled after a vote recount. Catts then secured the Prohibition Party’s ticket that he used to become the governor. He openly supported anti-German statements during World War I and accused Catholics of trying to destroy Protestant churches. Catts was ineligible to vie as Governor in 1920 and therefore vied for Senate as a Democrat but lost.
Floyd Olson, Farmer-Labor, Minnesota (1930, 1932, 1934)
Floyd Bjørnstjerne Olson (1891 –1936) served as the 22nd Governor of Minnesota between 1931 and 1936. He died in office of stomach cancer. He was a member of the Farmer-Labor Party and the first member of the party to be elected governor. Olson is remembered as one of the greatest governors in Minnesota and one of the most influential politicians in the US. Olson proved his political skills by maneuvering the Republican majority and delivering his campaign promises. He is credited for social security programs, progressive income tax, conservation efforts, equal pay for women, instituting a minimum wage, and unemployment insurance.
Phillip La Follette, Progressive, Wisconsin (1934, 1936)
Philip Fox La Follette (1897 – 1965) was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Progressive Party alongside his brother. La Follette was the 27th and 29th Governor of Wisconsin from 1931 to 1933 and 1935 to 1939. During his tenure, he implemented progressive measures of the New Deal. La Follette also attempted to create a nationwide Progressive Party but failed.
Elmer Benson, Farmer-Labor, Minnesota (1936)
Elmer Austin Benson (1895 – 1985) was a lawyer and politician from Minnesota. He was elected Minnesota’s 24th governor in 1936 with the Farmer-Labor Party but was defeated in 1938. Having won with the biggest margin in history, he was also defeated by a significant margin after his massive popularity took a dive within the two years.
William Langer, Nonpartisan League, North Dakota (1936)
William "Wild Bill" Langer (1886 – 1959) was one of the most prominent individuals in North Dakota who served as the 17th and 21st Governor of North Dakota from 1932-1934 and 1937-1934 respectively. He later served in the Senate but died in office. He was a member of the Nonpartisan League (NPL). During his first term as governor, all state employees donated part of their salaries to the NPL and the Leader, a weekly publication owned by NPL officials. Because of this, the then US Attorney brought Langer to trial and was found guilty leading to him losing his seat. Langer then declared North Dakota’s Independence, declared a martial law, and refused to leave the Governor’s mansion. He later relented, and the convictions were overturned on appeal. After creating way too much drama in the trials, Langer was re-elected Governor in the 1936.
Orland Loomis, Progressive, Wisconsin (1942)
Orland Steen "Spike" Loomis (1893 – 1942) was an attorney and governor-elect of Wisconsin. Loomis served during the World War I and later became a Senator and State Attorney General before being elected governor in 1942. Unfortunately, he died of heart attack a month before he was sworn in and a Republican served his one term in the acting capacity.
James Longley, Independent, Maine (1974)
James Bernard Longley, Sr. (1924 – 1980) was the 69th Governor of Maine from 1975 to 1979, the first independent candidate to hold the office in Maine. Being a Democrat, Longley faced obstacles during nominations in 1974 and therefore decided to run as independent on the slogan “Think About It,” a phrase he used as a businessman to sell his products. During his term, he issued a record 118 vetoes. Longley had a reputation for making off-the-cuff abrasive comments. As promised during his campaign that he would only serve for one term, he did not run for re-election in 1978.
Wally Hickel, Alaskan Independence, Alaska (1990)
Walter Joseph "Wally" Hickel (August 18, 1919 – May 7, 2010) was the second and eighth Governor of Alaska from 1966 to 1969 and 1990 to 1994. He resigned as governor in 1969 following his appointment by Nixon as Secretary of Interior. His second candidacy was under the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP). Hickel’s first time as a governor was on a Republican ticket, and he advocated for moderate oil drilling. During his second term on AIP ticket, he failed to publicly support his party’s secessionist agenda which led to his recall.
Lowell Weicker, Jr., Connecticut Party, Connecticut (1990)
Lowell Palmer Weicker Jr. was the 85th Governor of Connecticut between 1991 and 1995 as a Connecticut Party candidate. Wicker ran on a promise of solving the State’s financial crisis without increasing income tax. His main supporters were the state employee labor unions. However, after winning, Weicker supported the tax increment he had campaigned against. This move led to protests against the governor and many people left the state prompting an exodus of insurance companies. For his unpopular but firm decision, Weicker was awarded the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's Profiles in Courage Award. Weicker did not seek re-election because his approval rating was very low.
Angus King, Independent, Maine (1994, 1998)
Angus Stanley King Jr. is a senator from the state of Maine. He was the 72nd Governor of Maine from 1995 to 2003 as an independent having resigned from the Democratic Party. During the campaign, he heavily invested in television advertising depicting himself as an entrepreneur, educator, environmentalist, and job creator, something that made people call him an idealist. He won and was re-elected in 1998. He was the only independent US governor from 1994 to 2003. King provided free laptops to all public middle school students in Maine and supported screening of all school staff to prevent offenders.
Jesse Ventura, Reform, Minnesota (1998)
Jesse Ventura (born James George Janos) is a multi-talented US politician who served as the 38th Governor of Minnesota who got elected on the Reform Party. Ventura was also an actor, wrestler, author, Navy serviceman, TV host, and the first and only member of the party to win a major political post. He would later join the Independence Party of Minnesota. Ventura ran a low-budget campaign focusing on the grassroots and unusual ads. During his tenure, Ventura reformed the state’s property tax and constructed the METRO Blue Line. Ventura did not seek re-election after leaving office in 2003.
Lincoln Chafee, Independent, Rhode Island (2010)
Lincoln Davenport Chafee served as the 74th Governor of Rhode Island from 2010 to 2015. Before he ran as independent, Chafee was a Republican turned Democrat, a mayor, and senator. Chafee endorsed Obama in 2008 and served in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Chafee sought nomination as a Democrat in 2015 but withdrew from the race. During his tenure, Chafee inherited a recession and bankruptcies in several cities. He increased State Aid and developed strategies to counter the effects of the recession. Chafee put in place tax balances on commodities to address the state’s annual budget deficit and introduced 20% financial support for education. Due to low approval ratings and weak fundraising, Chafee did not seek re-election. He is known to be pro-choice and has advised the US to use the Metric System.
Bill Walker, Independent, Alaska (2014)
William Martin "Bill" Walker is an Alaskan Native US Attorney and the 13th and current Governor of Alaska. Walker first ran for governor as a Republican in 2010 but lost. He ran as an independent candidate in 2014 with a Democrat running mate and won. Walker campaigned on a mixed ideological standpoint putting together non-aligned, conservative and liberal views. Walker is a supporter of both green energy and petroleum exploration in Alaska, gun rights, and some level of Sovereignty for Alaska. He supported the Affordable Medicare Act.
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