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Rich Whitney has a message for Democrats and Republicans across Illinois: Don’t ignore third parties.

On Tuesday, the Green Party gubernatorial candidate commended people who make serious attempts to get on statewide ballots to challenge the status quo, and called for every qualified candidate to be included in debates.

“I think it’s healthy for democracy, healthy for the voters,” said Whitney, a Carbondale attorney. “That’s really what it’s supposed to be about in a democratic republic.”

Whitney’s remarks came on the heels of the application deadline to get on the Nov. 2 ballot, and after paperwork was filed by one particularly noteworthy candidate.

Scott Lee Cohen filed his application Monday to run for governor as an independent and be listed on the November ballot. He submitted more than 130,000 signatures with the State Board of Elections, 25,000 of which must be determined valid for him to be on the ballot.

In February’s primary, Cohen was elected to be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, but he left the race after past legal troubles arose. He was replaced on the Democratic ticket by Carbondale resident Sheila Simon.

Whitney didn’t comment specifically on Cohen, but said he welcomes any serious candidates into the race and any opportunity for voters to hear a variety of opinions and ideas. Of equal importance, Whitney said, was getting every qualified candidate into statewide debates.

“The idea of debate is to get all of the points of view on the table, and let the voters decide,” Whitney said. “I’m very happy to put my ideas to the test of more than just two opponents. Again, I think the public is the winner when that happens.”

Whitney received more than 10 percent of the vote in the 2006 gubernatorial election. This year, he said he has already received many invitations to take part in public forums and debates with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Bill Brady.

Whitney’s increased exposure mirrors that of the Green Party, a trend the attorney is more than happy to see.

“What it signifies is … one, we’re not going away. We’re here to stay; it’s not a flash in the pan,” Whitney said. “Secondly, we’re running competitive races to win. We’re not in this just to make a statement.”

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