Former Congressman and 1980 presidential candidate John B. Anderson died on December 3, 2017 at the age of 95. We created this tribute page on December 4 and have since updated it.
John helped found FairVote as national chair of its advisory board, and served on our Board for more than 20 years, including as chair from 1996 to 2008. He represented Rockford, Illinois in Congress from 1961 to 1981, including ten years in the Republican Party leadership. He is best known for this 1980 presidential campaign, when he sought the Republican nomination, then mounted an independent campaign where he was on the ballot in all 50 states appeared in one presidential debate, and earned the respect and votes of millions.
For more than a decade John taught constitutional law at Nova Southeastern University. He taught political science and law as a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Bryn Mawr College, Brandeis University, Stanford University, Oregon State University, the University of Illinois and the Washington School of Law.
He earned his B.A. and J.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, received an LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School in 1949, and was awarded honorary doctorates of law from Wheaton College and Trinity College. During World War II, John was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Field Artillery. In foreign service between 1952 and 1955, he was Economic Reporting Officer in the Eastern Affairs Division. He also served as States Attorney in Winnebago County, Illinois for four years. You can read more about John in the Harvard Law Bulletin.
We wanted to pay tribute his brilliant and fervent commitment to a better, more representative democracy for all Americans by sharing examples of his reform writings, link to videos, and commitments from two of his most distinguished colleagues
Tributes from Family and Former Colleagues
On December 4th, the Anderson family issued a statement, FairVote’s executive director shared his remembrances, and two of his former congressional colleagues shared their recollections.
The Anderson Family: John Anderson’s family asked FairVote to share this statement with the media.
FairVote’s Rob Richie: Our executive director Rob Richie wrote Remembering John Bayard Anderson for FairVote’s Voices and Choices.
Rep. Lee Hamilton: Lee Hamilton, a Democratic Member of Congress from 1965-1999 and former chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, shared that:
“We’ve lost a great American, there’s no doubt about that. We were very close friends. John was an extraordinary member of Congress – he was a congressman’s congressman. He was so very quick on his feet, a terrific debater, and highly respected by both Republicans and Democrats. He always wanted to try and solve a problem.
“He was a Republican, and I always told him he would make a terrific Democrat, though I didn’t make much progress convincing him of that. As his uneasiness with the Republican Party grew, he became an independent, and I was not too surprised. He added a lot of dynamics and energy to the presidential race.
“He did great credit to politicians and politics. Very few members of Congress can match him for competence and integrity. He had his biases, as we all do, but it was a really a bias in favor of pragmatism. After he left the Congress, he continued to live an exemplary life of public service. His family can be immensely proud of his life and his service.”
Rep. Jim Leach: Jim Leach, a Republican member of Congress from 1977-2007 and former chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, said:
“I consider him one of the most decent and honorable men to serve in Congress in modern times.This is a real loss.”
Richard Winger: The long-time editor of Ballot Access News detailed John Anderson’s impact on ballot access laws."
FairVote honors John Anderson
Ten years ago, at our 15th anniversary gala, FairVote celebrated John Anderson with this video that looks back on his entire career.
John Anderson interview in 2014
In 2014, we interviewed John in his living room in Washington, D.C.
The 1980 presidential debate
John Anderson debated Republican nominee Ronald Reagan one-on-one during the fall of 1980 in a debate moderated by Bill Moyers. The debate can be seen here:
C-SPAN through the years
C-SPAN’s archives hosts some 30 videos with John Anderson dating back to his run for president in 1980. They include lengthy discussions of the 1980 campaign, the national popular vote, ranked-choice voting, and access to the ballot and presidential debates for independent candidates.
John Anderson's writings on FairVote's reform vision
John Anderson wrote powerfully and persuasively about independent politics and FairVote’s vision of democracy, based on greater choices and stronger voices for voters and fair representation for all Americans. A sample:
“Break the Political Stranglehold” (New York Times, July 24, 1992)
“Would preferential voting have changed the 1980 result? Probably not. However, I might have received 20 percent of the vote, as my candidacy would have been treated more seriously, and more people might have voted. Ronald Reagan likely would have been forced to explain his economic program more thoroughly with me as a serious contender. His mandate as President also would have been clearer...
Most important, the two-party duopoly's stranglehold on political discourse would have been broken. More candidate voices and voter choices would improve our political process, just as a free market in economics results in products more suited to consumers' tastes. We would have a revolution if people were forced to choose between two cars; why should we be forced to choose between only two parties?”
“Tired of partisan gridlock? Reforming electoral rules gives voters real choice,” (Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 1, 2011)
"Winner-takes-all elections in fact lock more than three in four U.S. House races out of meaningful two-party competition, and of course fail to give a chance for third parties and independents to win fair representation. These elections utterly fail to reflect the spectrum of nuanced opinion among Americans, instead fueling partisan polarization and exaggerating the impact of money in swaying the votes of swing voters in the handful of close elections."
“A Time for Principle” (2000)
"Elections have too much promise for galvanizing citizen participation and promoting new ideas to be left to pollsters and focus groups. We need authentic voices offering real choices. … That is why I passionately support fair access to the ballot, public financing of elections, non-partisan redistricting, instant runoff voting and proportional representation.”
News coverage on the legacy of John B. Anderson
The New York Times (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Washington Post (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 4, 2017)
CBS News (Dec. 4, 2017)
NBC News (Dec. 4, 2017)
National Public Radio (Dec. 5, 2017)
Associated Press (Dec. 4, 2017)
Reuters (Dec. 4, 2017)
Bloomberg (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Guardian (Dec. 4, 2017)
U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 4, 2017)
New York Magazine (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Los Angeles Times (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Chicago Tribune (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Boston Globe (Dec. 4, 2017)
The Hill (Dec. 4, 2017)
Politico (Dec. 4, 2017)
Roll Call (Dec. 4, 2017)
Daily Kos (Dec. 4, 2017)
Rockford (IL) Register Star (Dec. 4, 2017) [John’s hometown newspaper]
The Washington Post (Dec. 8, 2017) [Letter to the Editor by Eric C. Olson]
National Public Radio (Dec. 9, 2017)
Remembering John B. Anderson [audio]