What Is the American Independent Party, Anyway?

What Is the American Independent Party, Anyway?

There’s little mystery about which two political parties dominate in California. About 47 percent of California’s 22 million voters are registered as Democrats, and 24 percent as Republicans.

But what about the state’s third-largest party?

That one’s a little more obscure. With more registered voters than the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, the American Independent Party ranks third overall with 3.8 percent, or roughly 835,000 registered voters as of February.

The news this week that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will appear on the presidential ballot in California as the party’s nominee gave the party a big boost in name recognition. His running mate will be Nicole Shanahan, a Silicon Valley lawyer and investor.

The American Independent Party dates back more than a half-century. It was founded to help the 1968 presidential campaign of Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, a conservative Democrat who had built his career on “states’ rights” and opposition to desegregation. In his 1963 inaugural address, written by a known Ku Klux Klansman, Wallace promised to protect the state’s “Anglo-Saxon people” and ended with the line: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Kennedy’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a liberal Democrat who was also running for president in 1968, and was assassinated in Los Angeles the night he won the California primary. He and Wallace were bitter enemies.

In a video posted to his campaign website on Monday, the younger Kennedy called Wallace a “bigoted segregation supporter” and “antithetical to everything my father believed in.”

But he said the American Independent Party had new leadership now and had reached out to him about heading its ticket. “It’s been reborn as a party that represents not bigotry and hatred, but rather compassion and unity and idealism and common sense,” he said in the video.

The party’s enrollment has been growing in recent years, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

In California, voters who don’t want to affiliate with any party can register as having “no party preference.” They make up about 22 percent of the current voting rolls. But a 2016 investigation by The Los Angeles Times found that many people who registered as American Independent Party voters had checked that box thinking they were registering as independents.

The list of people who had mistakenly registered with the American Independent Party included the actresses Emma Stone and Demi Moore; the owner of The Los Angeles Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong; and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

California lawmakers have at times considered tightening the rules on party names to limit such confusion. After Kennedy’s announcement, State Senator Thomas J. Umberg, a Democrat from Santa Ana, pointed out that he had championed a bill in 2019 — which Newsom vetoed — that would have forbidden political parties in California from having names with the word “independent” in them.

“Many Californians understandably (but mistakenly) believe that this group is a designation for independent voters,” Umberg said in a statement. “Californians should know what R.F.K. Jr. has chosen as his party. We deserve a transparent political process and to know what group candidates align themselves with, and for whom we are voting”

The chairman of the American Independent Party, Victor Moroni, said in a statement that his party “connects positive, visionary and independent candidates with California voters.” He said he was pleased to offer Californians a chance to vote for Kennedy, as “voters crave a real leader who will unite America.”

In the 2020 election, the party’s nominees for president and vice president were Rocky De La Fuente, a businessman and perennial fringe candidate, and Kanye West, the rapper and entrepreneur. In 2016, the party backed Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

If you’re an Angeleno in the mood for live music, you’re in luck. The 33rd season of Jazz at LACMA begins this Friday.

Jazz at LACMA is a celebration of the region’s finest jazz musicians, whom you can watch free while picnicking with your friends and family on the museum’s grounds. The concerts are Friday evenings from May to October.

As a bonus, museum admission is free between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, including Fridays.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Halina Bennet contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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