Thursday, March 20, 2014

Theodora "Tonie" Nathan Remembered

Nathan for Lane Co. Commission Card
The state of Oregon lost one of its most interesting political figures of the last fifty years when Tonie Nathan passed away today. She was a founding member of the national Libertarian Party and the first woman in United States history to receive an electoral vote in the 1972 presidential election. She was also the first Jewish American to receive an electoral vote. Beating both Geraldine Ferraro and Joe Lieberman to those historic firsts.

While her electoral exploits from 1972 are mostly remembered for good trivia for Oregon political junkies today; her victory of a single electoral vote in 1972 are due to the thanks of elector Roger MacBride.

A 1972 Hospers-Nathan pin found online
MacBride was a Republican elector from the state of Virginia and unahppy with Nixon and Agnew. He cast his lone vote for the new Libertarian Party ticket of John Hospers and Theodora Nathan. MacBride joined the group of  "faithless electors" that have been around since the election of 1796. These are members of the Electoral College who have decided to not abide by the popular vote of their state elections. Since 1796, faithless electors have switched votes over 150 times. Even in states that have passed laws against this practice, the punishment is usually a small fine or misdemeanor.

Nathan represented the Libertarian Party as the Vice Presidential candidate on the ballot in only two states: Washington and Colorado. The Hospers-Nathan ticket only picked up 3,674 votes. Perhaps the smallest number of popular votes to receive an electoral vote in the 20th century.

Nathan Campaign Button
After her Vice Presidential run she returned to Oregon and raised her family. She would continue to seek office several times for the Libertarian Party of Oregon. She ran for Congress out of the 4th CD for the first time (out of three runs) in 1976.  One of her best vote getting efforts was during the 1980 Oregon U.S. Senate campaign. She appeared in a series of debates with Senator Bob Packwood and Democratic nominee Ted Kulongoski.

The first debate was sponsored by the Coos Bay World. Reporting on the debate, the Eugene Register Guard suggested that she was the real winner of the debate because of the visibility her campaign gained by being able to present itself in a way it had not been able to do before. The next debate would take place in Salem, and then a final debate in Portland. She ended up garnering 43,686 votes (3.83%) in the November election.

While she did not run for any statewide office again after the 1980 campaign, she did stay involved in Lane County politics. She ran for the state legislature and county commission In 1992 she ran against Democratic State Senator Bill Dwyer in her first of two attempts to claim the Senate District 12 seat.

Dwyer would hold the district for the Democrats against Nathan, his lone challenger that year. She did earn nearly 18% of the vote against Dwyer. 1992 was a good year for third party candidates and they were performing better than expected because of Ross Perot energizing new voters. She also didn't have to compete for votes with a Republican like she would have to in 1998 when she tried again to win the seat.

'76 Congressional Campaign Lit

Tonie Nathan was 91 and was still a resident of the Eugene area when she passed away today. One of the many Oregon Vice Presidential candidates to pop up over the years. She may well be the last Oregonian to receive an electoral vote. Time will only tell. 

'76 Reverse of above

As our more senior Oregon folks start dusting off their collections we'll post some more photos of items in this article over the next few days.

Updated 3/21

Oregon APIC member John Silvertooth sent us some more images that included the 1976 flyer she used in her race for Congress against Jim Weaver.

issues from '76 campaign

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