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Some Orange County Voters Prefer More Intimate Parties

Politics: Dotting the local landscape are Whigs, Prohibitionists, Puritans and more--even a few parties of one.

November 05, 1996|DEXTER FILKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Politics in Orange County doesn't end with the Republicans and the Democrats.

You've got the Whigs. And the Prohibitionists. And the Puritans and the Real Americans. And the Communists.

Even in California's most politically staid county, scores of rebellious and free-thinking voters are finding philosophical homes in tiny parties.

The groups range across the spectrum--and sometimes over the edge of it--and together claim the allegiance of dozens of voters who are disaffected with mainstream politics.

And while some of the parties were formed as lighthearted attempts to jazz up the political scene--there's the Rock and Roll Party and the Mickey Mouse Party--others claim the allegiance of the serious and the committed.

Take, for instance, 87-year-old Gerald Pridmore, a Marxist. He may be in the heart of Republican Country, but he isn't budging an inch.

"Once you have a clear picture of what's going on, it's very hard to be talked out of it," said Pridmore, who joined the Socialist Labor Party after he was laid off from a Pittsburgh factory in 1929. "It's sort of like discovering the world is round."

Pridmore is one of 30 voters in Orange County who registered as a Socialist. Fifteen more have declared themselves members of the Socialist Workers Party.

Or consider Vincent Alessi, a retired businessman who lives in Trabuco Canyon. Over the years, Alessi became steadily disenchanted with the two major parties, moving away first from the Democratic Party and then the GOP.

Both parties, he decided, had strayed from the original intentions of those who framed the Constitution. Both the Democrats and the Republicans, he decided, were dedicated to increasing the size of government and impinging on individual freedom.

So Alessi formed the Constitution Party, of which he is, today, the only member.

"I believe we have departed from this wonderful document called the Constitution," said Alessi, who moved to Orange County 18 years ago. "I believe the Constitution has been turned on its ear."

Alessi said he hopes a third party--whether it's his or someone else's--will break through and renew American politics. But he's not sure that will happen.

"The Democratic and Republican parties have the same lock on the system that the PRI does in Mexico," he said. "I am always optimistic about the American people, though. I think there is hope."

Alessi and Pridmore are part of a growing trend away from the Democratic and Republican parties. This year in Orange County, voters signing on with small political parties and as independents were the fastest growing category.

Of the 200,716 voters in Orange County who did not register either as Democrats or Republicans, some 1,290 voters signed on with small or little-known parties, according to records obtained from the Orange County registrar of voters.

Some, like La Raza Unita Party, have as many as 29 members. The Patriot Party has seven members. The Christian Heritage Party has four members. The Environmental Party has two.

The Prohibition Party, dedicated to preventing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, has seven members.

Membership records are unclear for a number of parties, so it isn't certain how many members are signed on with the Communist Party, or with the joke parties like Mickey Mouse, My Own and Birthday Parties.

"They are all registered voters to us," Orange County Registrar of Voters Rosalyn Lever said.

Any citizen is free to choose whatever party, no matter how obscure or ridiculous, she said.

The Whig Party, which spun off from the Democrats in 1832, has six members. Orange County's Whigs say they are proud of the party's roots, which date back to the American colonists' rejection of British rule.

"A lot of the early presidents were Whigs," said Kyle Pamson, an artist who lives in Anaheim. "I'm against a huge centralized federal government."

Who does a Whig vote for in 1996?

"I may just bite the bullet and vote for Dole," he said.

The Whigs are not, evidently, united on the subject.

Across town, in Santa Ana, another registered Whig said he will be supporting Bill Clinton.

"I'm an independent," George Walker said. "Registering as a Whig was an original thing to do."

Pridmore, the Marxist, has lived in Orange County since 1989. He acknowledges that there isn't a lot of support for his views here, but he says he is looking forward to the day when his creed makes a comeback.

"All I can do is sit quietly and wait for something to happen."

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