Merrill Cook and Greg Beesley are gathering signatures to start a new political party in Utah, the Independent Party.

In recent history, no "third party" has ever achieved success - as measured by electing a candidate to state or county offices. Polygamist Alex Joseph became a Libertarian after winning the mayoralship of Big Water, Kane County. But municipal elections are non-partisan.We'll see what the Independent Party can do in the 1990 state and legislative races.

Cook, as you may recall, jumped from the Republican Party last year and ran an independent candidacy for governor. He received 21 percent of the vote, the highest independent vote tally in many years. Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter won the three-way race with 40 percent of the vote, Democrat Ted Wilson got 38 percent.

Beesley is the father of the tax limitation movement. He, also, had been active in Republican politics.

Some GOP leaders had talked about wooing Cook back into the party this year. But Cook says he'd never really be welcomed back, and certainly hard feelings would remain for years over his challenge to Bangerter.

The new GOP state chairman, Jack Roberts, says inviting Cook back into the party would be like inviting Benedict Arnold back into the U.S. military.

So Cook and Beesley want their own party, one dedicated to their two new political goals: removing the sales tax from food and tying the state's minimum wage to the federal minimum wage.

The new party comes about in part because Democratic leaders refused a coalition with Cook, Beesley and the tax limitation advocates on removing the sales tax from food.

Cook sought an alliance with Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi. Horiuchi embraced the coalition, but Democratic heavy-hitters, like Scott Matheson and Wilson, objected, saying the outspoken chairman had no right to align the party with such "radicals" without approval of the central committee or delegates.

Horiuchi finally backed off, saying any formal alliance is on hold.

Cook, too, had problems. The Weber County chapter of the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition - Beesley's group - voted not to support increasing the state minimum wage. Cook says a number of "conservatives" within the tax protest movement didn't want to tie themselves to the Democratic Party, who wants the minimum wage increased.

Without the formal backing of the Democratic or Republican parties on the sales tax removal from food, Cook said he has little alternative but to start his own party.

By July 1 he must gather 500 signatures of Utah residents and have the signatures verified by the Lieutenant Governor's Office. The Independent Party will then be official. You can check a buck on your 1989 state income tax returns to be donated to the new party, and all party candidates will appear under the Independent Party symbol on the ballot.

Cook favors the fife and drum - symbols of the American Revolution - as the symbol for the new party.

Cook is a millionaire. His mining explosives company, Cook Associates, spent more than $400,000 on his gubernatorial campaign, recent financial disclosures show.

He's always been willing to spend rather freely on his own campaigns - first for mayor of Salt Lake, then Salt Lake County commissioner and finally for governor. But he clearly doesn't want to foot the bill for a whole new party.

The Check-A-Buck program will more easily allow Utahns to contribute to the new party in time for the 1990 races.

Cook says the party supports responsible tax reduction, which in turn will stimulate Utah's economy and create jobs. Tying the state minimum wage to the federal wage will ensure that those new jobs pay a living wage. By cutting taxes and increasing the minimum wage, the Independent Party will help all Utahns, rich and poor, Cook maintains.

"We'll be a middle-of-the-road party," Cook says. The Republicans and Democrats care only about keeping the status quo. "They are both members of the country club set, in their own ways."

Last year Cook and Beesley decided not to start their own party, opting instead to run Cook as an independent and support legislative candidates who favored the tax-cutting initiatives. Cook lost, so did the initiatives, and no tax protest candidate won in the House or Senate.

Now there's a new approach. But considering that no third-party candidate has won in Utah in recent memory, the new party's chances aren't exactly bright.