The key to understanding Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle may be the fact that she has not always been a Republican.
For at least six years in the 1990s before she held state-level elective office, Angle was a member of the little-known Independent American Party, a right-wing party that combines elements of Ron Paul’s doctrinaire libertarianism — pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy, pro-states’ rights — with Christian social conservatism and fear of the “North American Union” and other forms of “global government.” The small party attracted considerable controversy in 1994 when it took out a newspaper ad titled “Consequences of Sodomy: Ruin of a Nation,” which suggested HIV could spread through the water.
Three members of the Independent American Party tell TPM that Angle, a Nye County, Nevada, school board member at the time, was an active member of the party in the 1990s. They say she only left the Independent American Party and became a Republican out of political expediency when she decided to seek a seat in the state assembly, to which she was elected in 1998.
“It was because she wanted to run for office. And it was difficult for members of our party to get elected at that time,” Janine Hansen, executive director of the Independent American Party, tells TPM. “It was a strategic move on her part.”
Hansen’s brother, the late Daniel Hansen, founded the Independent American Party in 1967 “after realizing that the Republican Party was growing too corrupt and socialistic,” according to the party website. The party lost its ballot position in the late 1970s and didn’t get back on until a push by Hansen in 1992. That year, Angle signed the petition to get the Independent American Party back on the ballot, according to multiple party members and news reports.
That was a heady time for the reborn party. A 1992 Los Angeles Times article (via Nexis) describes Hansen at a political rally wearing a Stetson hat and bearing a sign that read, “If Guns Are Outlawed, How Can We Shoot the Liberals?” His rhetoric would not be out of place at a 2010 tea party.
“Don’t give up your guns, folks,” he told a crowd. “That’s all we’ve got to protect us against the advance of socialism. America is in a survival phase.”
Angle’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But a campaign spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, which first noticed Angle’s membership in the party, that she had been a Republican before she was an Independent American member. She re-registered with the GOP in 1997.
Lynn Chapman, the chair of the Independent American Party in Washoe County, where Angle lives, tells TPM that she remembers Angle leaving the party “because she was going to be running for assembly and she knew that — at that point in time the party was still growing very slowly — she had a better chance of getting into the assembly if she was a Republican.”
During the period that Angle was a member, the party bought a red, white, and blue 16-page advertising insert in several Nevada newspapers to promote an effort to add a clause to the state constitution stating that “objection to homosexuality is a liberty and right of conscience and shall not be considered discrimination relating to civil rights,” according to a 1994 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The so-called Minority Status and Child Protection Act would have explicitly allowed discrimination against gay people in jobs and housing.
The party then picketed a newspaper, the Reno Gazette-Journal, that refused to run the ad.
These days, some longtime Independent American Party members feel bitter about the arc of Angle’s career.
Christopher Hansen, brother of party founder Daniel Hansen and himself a former chair of the party, tells TPM that “I think Sharron in her heart is a very good person.” But he remains upset that “she decided to go over and join with the fascist Republicans.”
“The national Republicans are going to come in here and teach her how to be a good Republican stooge,” he predicts. “She’ll just be another dyed-in-the-wool stooge Republican.”