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Skewes walks the walk

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By Travis Jenkins

Politically speaking, Peter Skewes doesn't just talk the talk.
Skewes, a professor at Clemson University, is the American Party candidate for president and his name will appear on the November ballot in South Carolina. Figuratively, he's running for president, but literally, he's walking. To promote his candidacy and party, he has embarked on a walk across the state... one that began in Clemson and will soon end in Charleston.
Skewes, who has degrees from New Haven, The University of Florida and Virginia Tech, has been a faculty member at Clemson for 31 years and also serves as guardian ad litem. As he watched the long 2016 campaign drag on and heard candidates "spout polarized opinions" he came to the conclusion that his conscience would not allow him to vote for whoever the two major parties would ultimately nominate. He'd already decided that government was ineffective, overly-influenced by wealthy donors and irretrievably bound by gridlock thanks to Democrats and Republicans.
"It's a waste of time for people to think they can infiltrate either party and change them for the better," Skewes said as he wrapped up a day of his cross-state walk in North Charleston Thursday. "They won't self-correct. The corruption is entrenched and it isn't changing."
Skewes has always had a keen interest in politics, but said he never really identified with either party. He did research on candidates and voted for the person he felt was best qualified for the job and if he didn't like his options in any race or didn't know enough about the candidates, he just didn't vote in that race. As the 2016 primaries dragged on, he thought about how he'd always encouraged his students to be politically active. Aside from showing up to vote, though, he said he'd never followed his own advice. So, he started doing research online on third parties and stumbled onto the website for the American Party, which was founded in South Carolina by a Democrat (former Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex) and a Republican (former gubernatorial candidate Dr, Oscar Lovelace). The party believes in "governing from the center" and stands firmly against career politicians whose goal is to retain their seat and power and not serve the people. The American Party wants to reform the campaign system through the elimination of Super PACs, through complete transparency on political contributions and elimination of the electoral college. The party wants a simplified tax code, the end of deficit spending, the return of some federal programs to the state level, elimination of "under the table" or illegal workers from the workforce, an increase in the gap between working wages and government benefits, an increase in both imports and exports, improvement of the efficiency of the nation's educational system to match it to industry needs and to make childcare more affordable for working families, among other things. The party also seeks to take the emphasis off of "distraction" issues like same-sex marriage, immigration and abortion, most of which are either already settled legally or not as dire as the two major parties make it appear. Skewes liked all that and felt the party had a more mainstream approach than some other third parties, which he said have some "fringe" views or focus too heavily on social issues.
Skewes contacted Rex and talked about the possibility of being the American Party nominee. He was nominated as the party's presidential candidate at a May convention.
As Skewes has met and talked with voters, he's found that most of them agree with him about the two-party system being broken. Many have also told him they are less than enamored with choosing between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Still, getting them to deviate from the norm remains a challenge.
"Most have followed the idea for their entire lives that they only have two options. It's easier for them to do what they've always done, which is wrong but comfortable, than do something new, that is right but maybe uncomfortable," he said.
The idea for his walk across the state was actually born a few years ago, long before he'd even considered running for office. He and his wife of 36 years, Teresa (who is the after-school director at Clemson Elementary) went on a motorcycle trip across the country. That 5,000-mile trek from South Carolina to California included a swing through an Arizona desert.
"We were on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, when we saw a guy walking toward us," Skewes said.
It turns out the person was a young man intent on walking from California to North Carolina.
"That kind of put my motorcycle trip in perspective," he said.
That roadside encounter popped in his head as he considered different ways he could promote his candidacy, given the financial limitations of the fledgling American Party. The walk has generated interest and media attention, both of which are good for the party, he said. He has walked at least 16 miles a day since starting on July 16 and has made sure to hydrate himself thoroughly, given the blazing July temperatures.
Realistically, Skewes knows he won't be sworn in as president in January. He'll be on the ballot in South Carolina, but most states have fairly onerous standards when it comes to recognizing a party with ballot inclusion.
"It's not impossible to get on the ballot in most states, but the two historical parties, as I call them, have done a very effective job of creating ballot exclusion laws. You can get on the ballot as a petition candidate, but the demands of doing that are very high in most states by design," Skewes said.
Skewes can, of course, be written in on any ballot in any state. While he won't be elected in November, he still has goals that he thinks are attainable.
"I would be delighted if I came in third place in the state. That would help the party, but it would also put South Carolina front-and-center nationwide as a leader in the third party movement," Skewes said.
He also wants to help the party grow beyond the borders of the Palmetto State. There is some interest in the party in Georgia and the American Party is also looking at trying to get a foothold in Louisiana, which offers the easiest access to the ballot of most any state. He will have work responsibilities when school starts back, but says he'll sink as much time into his campaign as possible, with the bulk of that being in-state. His walk will likely end this weekend, but his run will go strong all the way to November.
For more information on Skewes, visit his website (PeterForPresident.us), search "Peter Skewes 2016" on Facebook or find him on Twitter @PeterSkewes2016.