Candidate not happy with being left out

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The Alabama Libertarian Party and its third party candidate, John Sophocleus, are trying to get a federal judge to stop the next gubernatorial debate on Oct. 20 unless their candidate is on the stage.

Sophocleus is showing about 1 percent of support statewide in most recently published polls.

The debate organizers said other party candidates could not participate if they did not poll at least 5 percent of the vote.

Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate will debate on Oct. 20, the second of two scheduled. The only reason his name is on the ballot is because at least one Libertarian statewide race in 2000 captured at least 20 percent of the vote.

The legal action was filed in the U.S. District Court in Montgomery.

Sophocleus says he is being denied equal protection under the law and freedom of speech because Alabama Public Television &uot;arbitrarily and capriciously&uot; decided to limit the debates only to candidates that can show at least 5 percent support in an independent, statewide poll.

The debates are being co-sponsored by four of the state’s largest daily newspapers &045; The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Mobile Register and Montgomery Advertiser &045; and Alabama Public Television and Alabama Public Radio.

Sophocleus says he filed the action because he considers APT to be a public entity.

The state and the federal government through the Public Broadcasting System fund APT. And APT receives private donations to support its news and public affairs programming. The newspapers are privately owned.

Of course, APT says it disagrees and that its programming decisions are of its own doings.

Alabama Public Radio will broadcast the debate live, but it is not named in the court filing.

Sophocleus admitted he had waited to file hoping his numbers would rise, but the most optimistic poll &045; Huntsville Times poll &045; has shown him with 2 percent.

He told The Birmingham News he expects a decision from the court before the scheduled event.

Both of the other major party candidates &045; Gov. Don Siegelman and Republican Congressman Bob Riley &045; say they welcome the third party candidate if the organizers include him.

What would be obvious is that Sophocleus would likely get a good ear from many voters who have been turned off by the other two candidates, and he would receive more publicity than he has at any point in the race so far.

He does not have the millions Riley and Siegelman have, nor will he even raise a million.

The other two major candidates are slugging it out in television ads that cost millions, while Sophocleus is trying to get any headline he can. This action alone will get him on the 5 o’clock news.

APT and the daily newspapers will argue they control the format for their private enterprises. The Libertarians &045; advocates of the doctrine of free will &045; will cry constitutional foul.

It could be an interesting decision, and no doubt the sponsors will have to defend their position before the court.

It could come down to a classic First Amendment, free speech dogfight