December 1, 2007
Irish Greens Enter Coalition Government For The First Time
Historic Accord Provides Chance To Show They Can Govern
by Mike Feinstein, Advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States
What do you do if you’ve been around for 25 years and you’ve been ahead of the political curve on issues like the environment, but your country’s political system has been behind the times in recognizing it? Then all of a sudden you get a chance for real power, but it’s not at all like you thought it would be?
Instead of being swept into office riding a large Green wave of ecological consciousness, you get roughly the same number of seats as you did the last time. But unlike last time, you have a chance to go into coalition government and possibly exercise real power – except that it would be a coalition with a party that many see as your ideological opposite, including many of your own party members.
That’s exactly the choice the Green Party/ Comhaontas Glas has just faced in Ireland. Here is the story of how they answered it.
The Irish Green Party began in 1981 as the Ecology Party of Ireland (EPI). In November 1982, the EPI participated in its first General Election and then changed its name to the Green Alliance/Comhaontas Glas in 1983. By 1985 they won their first race, when Marcus Counihan was elected to the Killarney Urban District Council.
1987 brought about another name change, this time to the Green Party/Comhaontas Glas signaling a growing electoral focus of the Irish grassroots Green movement. Then came the breakthrough of 1989, when Dublin’s Roger Garland became the Party’s first member of Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) or TD (Teachta Dála, Gaelic for “assembly delegate). Building upon this success, 13 Greens were elected to city and town councils in 1991. In 1994, the party won its first seats in the European Parliament, electing Patricia McKenna (Dublin) and Nuala Ahern (Leinster). But they didn’t stop there, as months later the Dublin City Council elected John Gormley to be the city’s first Green mayor, giving the party an increasingly high profile in the nation’s capital.
May 1997 saw the party double its number of TDs, as Gormley and Trevor Sargent were elected to the Dáil, and two years later, McKenna and Ahern successfully defended their European Parliament seats. After 10 years, the party had seemingly secured a solid place in Irish politics and looked forward to stepping up to the next level.
At its 2001 Annual Convention, the Green Party/Comhaontas Glas took steps to make it a more successful electoral force, including establishing the position of Party Leader and electing Sargent to fill that role. These steps paid off, as in the 2002 General Election the Party added four seats, bringing to the Dáil Eamon Ryan in Dublin South, Paul Gogarty in Dublin West, Ciarán Cuffe in Dún Laoghaire and Dan Boyle in Cork South Central.
In 2004, while McKenna lost a close re-election bid and the party’s second seat fell victim to the reduction in the number of Ireland’s seats in the European Parliament following enlargement of the EU, the Greens performed very well in local elections, expanding their number of town and county Green councilors to 26. Among this group was Niall Ó Brolcháin, elected in Galway, Ireland’s third largest city, who then was named Mayor. Branching out to win in many parts of the country, this also represented a breakout from the party’s perceived traditional Dublin base.
All of this pointed to a potential breakthrough in the Dáil for the Greens in 2007, especially with the increasing focus on Green issues like global warming.
The 2007 Campaign
Coming into the May 24th General Elections, the party targeted 15 TD constituencies with the aim of winning at least seven, and hopefully having enough seats to enter government for the first time.
Signaling the party’s hope for such an outcome, its election manifesto was titled: “The Green Party in Government … it’s time,” focused on climate change, public transit, clean politics, a green economy and tax policy, and community-based planning/sustainable development.
The Greens also criticized the sitting government led by Fianna Fáil (FF) -Ireland’s center-right party of the pro-business establishment – on a variety of fronts: automobile-dependent, haphazard development sprawl, a deterioration in the quality of public infrastructure and services, and the undue influence of corporate donations on public policy.
However, despite the fact that the Green candidates intimated that their preferred government partners would be the other parties in opposition – Labor and the centrist party Fine Gael (FG) – the Green Party did not rule out a coalition with FF. In fact, as early as 2005, delegates at the Green Party’s national convention actually voted overwhelmingly not to enter a pre-election pact with FG and Labor. Their reasoning for this was that participation in such an alliance could drown out the Green voice as well as deprive them of vital vote transfers from other left-wing parties, most notably Sinn Féin (SF).
In 2006, the party voted on a position that precluded the leadership from making pre-election pacts with any party. For better or worse, the party stuck to this line through the campaign. This meant that a coalition with FF was never excluded. Nor was one with SF. It also meant that the Greens were officially outside the FG/ Labor “rainbow alliance.”
Throughout the 2007 election campaign, the party maintained a strict discipline in refusing to outline and set ‘preconditions’ for participation in government. Doing so, it argued, would restrict negotiating options and tie the party’s hands. However, in the absence of declared ‘red lines’, green interest groups, media commentators and opposition politicians took it upon themselves to set preconditions on behalf of the Green Party.
Those preconditions included the use of Shannon Airport in the south west of Ireland by American troops, something the Greens have long opposed. So, too, is the construction of a new motorway near the “Hill of Tara” – Ireland’s ancient seat of pagan ritual and tribal kings and an area central to the cultural heritage of the country. Other issues the Party had previously taken positions against – the construction of the ‘Corrib’ gas pipeline in the North West of the country, and the encouragement through tax breaks and other financial incentives of private healthcare services (called “co-location” as the new facilities would be built on existing public hospital sites) – were less central to the party’s core policy agenda, but nonetheless were closely identified with it, especially in the campaigns in late June.
As the election campaign concluded, and before talks had started, the Party did outline three “dealmakers” – areas in which progress would have to be made before the Greens would be interested in participating. These were climate change, education and political reform.
Despite a vigorous campaign that saw the party’s share of national first preference votes increase by 22 percent from 3.84 percent in 2002 to 4.69 percent in 2007, the Greens were “squeezed” by the polarization of the vote between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. While Mary White won a seat for the first time in Carlow-Kilkenny, becoming the party’s first TD in a rural area, Boyle lost his seat, leaving the party with six TDs, the same number as before.
What changed however, was electoral support for the parties of the government. FF went from 81 to 78 seats, while its junior coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats (PD), fell from eight seats to two. Instead of having a solid majority in the 166-member Dáil, FF two-term Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern now needed new coalition partners.
In contrast, FG was the major winner, gaining 20 seats to bring its total to 51, while Labor lost one seat, going into the 30th Dáil with 20. This left FG and Labor – which dubbed themselves the”‘Alliance for Change” with a joint policy platform during the election campaign – with 71 seats, too few to form a government.
At the same time, SF also lost one of its five seats – and, in any event, both FF and FG had ruled out going into government with SF before the election. As a result, barring an extremely unlikely “grand coalition” between FF and FG, the prospects led to either a coalition government including the Greens, the PD and FF, or perhaps an unstable minority government between FF and PD.
As part of its pre-election preparations, the Greens established a committee in 2006 that would already be in place, and had worked at formulating positions and strategies for talks to enter government, should the opportunity arise. Called the Hamilton Committee in honor of the party’s late general secretary Dermot Hamilton, this allowed the party to quickly enter meaningful negotiations with FF soon after the general election concluded.
The committee consisted of Gormley, Boyle and party’s current general secretary Dónall Geoghegan, and was designed to represent a crosscurrent of internal party tendencies, so that if it reached an agreement, it would likely be representative of the party as a whole.
Six days of intensive talks led to much progress. However during this time, it became clear that FF would budge neither on the controversial motorway near the Hill of Tara nor on the issue of US troops through Shannon. They were also firmly wedded to co-location. Repeated attempts for substantive additional prioritization of public transport were stonewalled.
Greens Walk Away From Potential Deal
On June 9, Sargent released the following statement:
“I wish to announce that negotiations on the formation of a government with Fianna Fáil have now concluded without agreement. At the beginning of this process we set the objective of forming a stable government and securing a sustainable future for this country. While many areas of common ground were identified, it was not possible at this time to construct a program for government that met with the minimum policy objectives of both parties.
“The decision to end the talks was taken after a series of cordial and constructive meetings between both teams of negotiators. These detailed discussions were entered into with good faith and every avenue was explored in order to come up with a workable document. However, despite clear areas of agreement, it was not possible to identify common ground on a number of core policy issues of importance to the Party. These areas include:
• Measures to tackle climate change, including forward-thinking transport and congestion solutions
• Funding to bring the education system into the 21st century
• The transformation of local government, including action to modernize the decision-making and planning processes
• Reform of the health care system
“In each of these areas substantial blockages still remain. Because of this, the Party does not believe it could enter government and stand over the policy proposals.
“I would like to thank our team of negotiators and backroom staff for their professionalism and dedication. I would also like to praise our membership and our elected representatives for the continued discipline shown during the past week. We remain committed to forming a government and will continue to explore all avenues with this in mind. However the current deal on offer is not sufficient and will not best serve the interests of our country.”
As a result of Sargent’s announcement, the Green Party cancelled a special convention scheduled to consider approving the deal, which was required under party bylaws. But with a deadline of June 15 to form a government, this only accelerated the negotiation process.
On June 11, Ahern contacted Sargent directly to see whether the two leaders could bring the process to a successful conclusion. Ahern also created a positive spin in the Sunday morning papers, talking favorably about the negotiations thus far. At the same time, he stated that he would seek to form a government by June 15 with or without the Greens. However, while Ahern could have formed a government with the PD and four independents, it would not have been as stable as one with the Greens. With three parties coming together, supported by the independents, they would have a combined strength of 86 seats, providing a comfortable 12-seat majority.
The Talks Reconvene
Apparently the message that the Greens were not prepared to do a deal at any cost hit home. Ahern and Sargent met privately on the night of Sunday, June 11 and, after an intensive exchange, the two party leaders announced that talks would reopen the next day.
At the end of 10 arduous days of talks, the Green Party’s refusal to specify “deal breakers” or draw “red lines” allowed the negotiating team and the Party Leader to return with a government program and a package of government positions that they believed represented the best deal available. This included a commitment by Ahern to appoint two Green Cabinet Ministers, a commitment brokered by Sargent as part of the agreement to come back to the table.
A “reference group” made up of the parliamentary party and representatives from the different decision-making groups in the Party were also in daily contact with the negotiators. They charted progress and offered tactical and strategic input. Ultimately they signed off on the deal, late on June 13.
As required by Green Party’s bylaws, a special convention was convened the following day, with a 2/3 vote required to approve the deal. Without it, the Greens could not join the government.
The convention was held in Dublin at the historic Mansion House on Dawson Street, official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715. Despite the short notice, more than 500 of the approximately 1,000 party members eligible to vote were in attendance.
The draft program for government was made available to party members at 1 p.m., and the official convention convened at 3 p.m., starting with a presentation and a questions-and-answers session. Debate began at 6 p.m., lasting until approximately 8:30 p.m., after which the vote was taken.
Sargent spoke for 15 minutes, passionately favoring the party’s entry to government, and he received a standing ovation. However the joy was tinged with sadness as he immediately resigned his post as party leader, which he had held since 2001, saying that “integrity was a principle that should not be compromised because during the campaign he had given a pledge to the Irish people that if the Greens were going into government with FF, he would resign as leader.”
Ultimately, the party’s rank and file gave the landmark deal the go-ahead by 441 votes to 67 votes (86.8 percent), easily passing the needed 2/3 threshold for approval.
Despite the disappointment expressed by a number of speakers over many details of the program the party had negotiated, the two full ministerial positions Sargent secured in tough last-minute talks with Ahern helped sway the vote.
Even Cuffe, who had earlier written on his blog that “a deal with FF would be a deal with the devil”, voted Yes. “Having two Green ministers at the Cabinet table is an unprecedented opportunity to have huge influence over the direction of Ireland over the next five years. It is a major step forward. It will be a roller coaster but a good roller coaster.”
Other long-time members like McKenna however did not support the deal. “There is nothing in there on the continuing use of Shannon by the US military. I’m very disappointed on that. I have to vote with my conscience and my conscience says no to this.” Garland agreed, saying he felt “betrayed” by the party leadership and that many party members were disgusted by the prospect of sustaining, rather than overthrowing Ahern.
Why Take the Deal?
There is no question that both the process of negotiating for government and the resulting policy program necessitated major compromises. The experience was a very new one for the party, which had only known 25 years of opposition politics and, as a result, a strength of conviction and moral purity relatively unique in Irish politics. Most public representatives and party members come from backgrounds with NGOs and community groups The negotiation process they experienced radically shifted them from their comfort zones.
On policy, the party’s willingness to walk away from the negotiating table, however, did achieve several important initiatives. On climate change and energy, they negotiated for a carbon tax, an annual greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 3 percent and the establishment of national green building standards. On education, they achieved significant class size reduction through the hiring of more teachers. On agriculture, they set the nation’s first target to convert a minimum 5 percent of acreage to organic farmland by 2012 and took steps towards declaring all of Ireland a genetically-modified organism Free Zone. On political reform, they established an independent Electoral Commission to take responsibility for electoral administration and oversight. And on transportation and land use planning, they got a major commitment to public transport and transparent local government.
(A document summarizing key Green achievements in the deal as well as the full program for government is available at: http://www.greenparty.ie)
But perhaps the most important part of the deal were the ministerial and other appointed positions the Greens achieved – Gormley as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Ryan as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. In addition, Sargent was named the Junior Minister for Agriculture and Food and there is a commitment for the Greens to gain a second junior ministry half-way through the parliamentary term.
There will also be two Green Party Senators either appointed or elected through voting agreements in July. Appointments to the Senate are also key to the medium term future of the party because they offer a much improved platform from which top candidates could launch campaigns for the next general election, due before 2012. One of these two positions is expected to go to Boyle, who was the party’s former finance spokesperson and only lost his seat by a handful of votes. As author of the party’s economics and tax policies he is considered a hugely important asset, and his holding of a Senate seat would be an important way he could remain visibly involved in the party.
Finally, the Party stands to gain somewhere between six and eight new staff posts as a result of its role in government.
According to the Party’s press officer, Damian Connon, who offered the pros and cons of the government victory: “The factors that – in my opinion – convinced the party’s leadership and in the end, a very large majority of party members, that the deal was worth supporting were, a) an acceptance that agreed programs for coalition governments have historically been closer to mission statements than blueprints, and, b) a belief that, with the right ministries, the Greens could achieve significant policy progress that would not happen without their involvement in government, and that this would justify the significant risks involved in making some of the compromises.”
“By contrast,” Connon added “the option of rejecting the possibility to enter government, while desirable in terms of policy purity and the occupation of the higher moral ground, would have involved its own strategic risks.”
After several years of the Irish public’s widespread exposure to key green issues including climate change and environmental protection, and having enjoyed its highest media profile ever in the six months ahead of the elections, the Green Party failed to increase vote share significantly in targeted constituencies this year. The 10 percent polls that they enjoyed as recently as March became 4.7 percent on Election Day. At least three of their TDs endured uncomfortably close counts before they were elected and the four main hopefuls for electoral breakthrough polled at levels much lower than anticipated. Boyle’s loss in Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, may also reinforce the perception of the Greens as a Dublin-based party, despite the success around the country of elected Greens on local councils.
The reasons behind these disappointing results will surely be debated. But it is clear that insufficient resources (both financial and human) compared to FF and FG, and a perceived lack of credibility as a party of government certainly played a part. It is also possible that by failing to align themselves with the opposition FG/Labor alliance, those Irish voters who wanted FF out of government could not be guaranteed to achieve this by voting for the Greens.
Therefore, in an environment where polarization of Irish politics took precedence over voting Green, and skepticism over whether Greens can govern helped limit the Green vote, the Irish Greens had to make a choice. Do they remain in opposition for another five years and hope the breakthrough they expected this time happens then, while perhaps even risking backsliding during that time? Or do they decide to become part of the government now, risking sharing power with a party they’ve considered antithetical to Green policies in the past, in exchange for the opportunity to make significant policy gains, and to demonstrate that Greens can exercise power effectively? Based upon the Mansion House convention’s overwhelming 441-67 vote, it appears the party’s grassroots was willing to take the chance.
As Sargent said of the party’s decision to enter government, “This is a great day, a historic occasion and a wonderful achievement for the Green Party. After 25 years of struggle, the possibility is there to see our policies implemented in government. It’s the day when courage won out, and when a hunger for change prevailed over the status quo.”
December 1, 2007
Scottish Greens Support Minority Government In Holyrood
Accord With Scottish National Party Gains Cooperation On Global Warming
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States
Despite falling from seven to two members in the Scottish parliament, the Scottish Green Party has helped to determine who will govern the country over the next four years.
On May 3rd, Scotland held elections for the 129 seats in its parliament, informally called Holyrood. In 1999, Scottish Green Robin Harper became the first Green elected, after the British government had approved the use of proportional representation for parliamentary election there. In 2003, six more Greens were elected, giving the party seven MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) in the 129 member body.
This time the party hoped to continue increase its share, but instead was met with a rising wave support for Scottish nationalism, reflected as an increase of 20 seats for moderately left-of-center Scottish National Party (SNP), making SNP the largest Holyrood party with 47 seats. As a result, only Harper (Lothians) and fellow Green Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) held their seats, but Harper moved quickly to negotiate with the SNP.
On May 11th, the two parties published a Cooperation Agreement, which committed the Greens to vote for SNP leader Alex Salmond as Scottish First Minister, in exchange for an SNP commitment to nominate a Green MSP to chair a Holyrood committee. The Co-operation Agreement also committed both parties to working constructively together on policy areas where there was common ground.
On May 16, Salmond was elected First Minster with Green Support. Harper said “we voted for Alex Salmond today because we believe the people have voted for a change of government and it signals our intent to engage constructively in the interests of the electorate. We look forward to working with the SNP administration on areas of common agreement whilst at the same time working with all parties to deliver positive Green action over the next four years.
“There are of course significant policy differences between the SNP and the Greens, on transport policy in particular, and on those issues we will continue to promote our distinctive policies.”
Harvie added: “The situation is not ideal for any party, but the central concern of everyone today should be to meet the expectations of the electorate who want politicians to work together and get things done. It is unchartered territory for Scotland, but there are many urgent issues that require politicians to work together in the public interest, not for their own party political interests. We promise to hold the minority administration to account, and to press for change as best we can.”
Salmond added, “The Scottish Greens represent a substantial body of opinion in Scotland, regardless of MSP numbers. Their formula for co-operation across parties short of formal coalition is an excellent example of the consensus we are seeking to build in the Parliament, and sets a positive tone for the incoming Government.”
As part of its Cooperation Agreement, the SNP and Greens committed to working together to enact early legislation to enact binding annual cuts in carbon emissions and to oppose the building of new nuclear power plants. On June 7th, Harvie was appointed Convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee of the Parliament. As a fierce critic of new road-building projects and a strong advocate of public transport, Harvie was a controversial choice to some, but one that pleased the Greens. “Members of the committees must strive to work constructively,” said Harvie, “putting the interests of the country and, in this case, the planet, before short-term political objectives. The decisions we take will have far-reaching impacts long beyond the term of this Parliament, and I welcome the opportunity personally to play a crucial role in this process.”
Despite these positive developments, the original intention of both the Greens and SNP was to establish a stable majority in Parliament for a shared program of government, either under formal coalition or under what is called a “confidence and supply” arrangement, which in a parliamentary system means a minor party or independent MP will support the government in motions of confidence and budget votes.
However, without a legislative majority between the Greens, SNP and enough other parties, this could not be accomplished, leaving the two to work together as other opportunities arise. One such example has already come about, as the SNP also moved forward on proposed action by the Greens to stop a controversial ship-to-ship oil transfer project in the Firth of Forth, which is the estuary of Scotland’s River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea past several key Scottish cities and towns, and serves as host to over 90,000 breeding seabirds every year.
The Forth plan, by Melbourne Marine Services Ltd, aims to transfer Russian oil into ‘Ultra Large Crude Carriers’ en route to the United States and the Far East. Greens argue it could cause massive oil spills by attempting transfer of millions of barrels of oil every year between ships at swinging anchor.
In local elections, also held on May 3, the Greens won seats for the first time, electing three City Councilors in Edinburgh and five in Glasgow, as Scotland changed to Single Transferable Vote (STV) for municipal elections. The three Edinburgh Greens were initially involved in coalition talks with other parties but which eventually fell through.
According to Steve Burgess, who was elected in Edinburgh’s Ward 15, “We stood in all 17 wards in Edinburgh for the first time, some of which were 3-member, some 4-member. All were elected by STV. The three seats were won using a ‘target to win’ strategy used with success by the Green Party of England and Wales, whereby volunteer time and funds are focused on winning in the most promising electoral area rather than being spread across all areas. Once one area is secured, the neighboring areas are targeted next. This time we targeted four priority wards relatively intensively over the course of a year, while a further four wards (“second tier) received a partial leaflet drop in the final month. Relatively little activity was focused on the remaining nine wards.”
Alison Johnstone, elected to represent Edinburgh’s Ward 10, said the change in voting system allowed the true Green vote to show through. “This is an historic day for this city. All over the world the Green movement is growing and, in Edinburgh, thousands of people have been Green supporters for years but their views have been ignored because of an unfair voting system. At last we can start making Edinburgh a leader in the fight against climate change – by tackling waste, reshaping the way we use energy and delivering real quality of life into the bargain.
It is worth noting that the only two places where Green MSP were re-elected – Glasgow and Edinburgh – were also the only places where the party ran full slates of City Council candidates and elected new members, suggesting synergy between municipal and parliamentary campaigns.
In keeping with this synergy, soon after the election Edinburgh Councilors joined MSP Harper to support a tram system for the city. “Modern hi-tech trams are a 21st-century solution providing high quality, comfortable and rapid public transport across the city,” said Harper. “This is part of the necessary move to a low carbon economy and delivering viable alternatives to the private car. That is what the frustrated motorist sitting in a traffic jam wants, and that’s what we want.
For more information: www.scottishgreens.org.uk
December 1, 2007
UK Greens And The ‘Balance Of Power’
Accord With Conservatives On Energy And Conservation Program
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States
“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance. In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances.”
- Andrew Cooper
Although the UK Greens don’t yet have a City Council majority, in the city of Kirklees (Yorkshire County), about 180 miles north of London, local Greens won their fourth seat on the 69-member Metropolitan Borough Council. This gave them ‘balance of power’ for the second term in a row, enabling them to leverage policy concessions in exchange for supporting the minority Tory administration (20 seats), together with the Lib Dems (18 seats).
In the just-concluded term, this cooperation led to a subsidy of £21 million (approximately $42 million) to insulate 40,000 homes. According to Green Councillor Andrew Cooper, “households will see their annual fuel bills reduce by an average £150 and at least £5 million will re-circulate back into the local economy each year rather than into the coffers of energy companies.” The scheme will see £10 million of Kirklees Council funding matched by £11 from the Scottish Power private utility, under their nationally-mandated Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.”
“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance,” said Cooper. “In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances. Furthermore, it is making the mandates under the Energy Efficiency Commitment workable and practical, because the geographically-focused scheme enables the utilities to deliver on their commitment in a timely, organized and large-scale fashion, compared to trying to find willing participants on a one-by-one basis.”
While cooperation with the Conservatives remains controversial within the Green Party, this success has led to its continuation for a second term, again based upon delivery of Green Party policy objectives.
This time according to Cooper, the party has gotten agreement on establishing an initial revolving loan fund of £3 million that will subsidize solar panels, biomass boilers and other home-based renewable energy sources, with payback based upon a charge against the sale of the house when sold, with the borough acting as guarantor until that point. Just as with the home insulation scheme, Cooper sees this program as groundbreaking for the UK, with the likelihood that as it proves to be workable, it would also attract private utility funds under the Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.
By contrast, the Green Party has formally withdrawn from the coalition administration with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that had run nearby Leeds for three years. Councillor David Blackburn, Green Group Leader said: “At the start of this new municipal year it is obvious that decisions have to come to a head on incineration and we cannot support a policy that takes us down the route of building an incinerator.”
Should the Greens continue these forms of cooperation? According to party Male Spokesperson Dr. Derek Wall, it’s important to remember that “these are not formal coalitions. Rather, each local Green Party decides who to work with, and the ‘confidence and supply’ model allows them to support specific policies, rather supporting formal coalitions with the ‘grey parties.’ Especially in Green strongholds like Oxford, Norwich and Lewisham, by providing a clear opposition to the grey parties, Greens are growing in seats with each passing year.”
December 1, 2007
UK Greens Run And Win Most Local Government Seats Ever
1,419 Candidates Compete Across English Cities And Towns
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States
Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.
In the May 3 elections, the Green Party of England and Wales ran 1,419 candidates – the most ever in their party’s history going back to 1973 – for what are called Principal Local Authority seats.
In what was called a “breakthough election” by Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall, the party won 63 seats, including holding 39 existing seats and gaining 24 new ones, while losing only seven that they had previously held. This gave the English Greens a net gain of 17 seats, leading to a total of 110 sitting officeholders in local government, also an all-time high.
Scheduled elections took place in 312 District, Borough, Metropolitan Borough and Unitary Councils outside of London.
Districts and Boroughs are responsible for planning, housing, leisure, environmental health, solid waste collection, and local roads. Unitary authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs are all-purpose Councils providing the full range of local services in their area so that, besides the above, they are also responsible for education, social services, libraries, waste disposal, principal roads and other transport matters. They also play a part in running the police and fire services. Councils also have a broad authority to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.
Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.
The biggest gains came in the seaside destination of Brighton and Hove City on England’s south coast, where local Greens held on to six council seats and gained six more; and in Lancaster City in north west England, where they defended seven seats and gained five more.
In Brighton and Hove, the Greens pulled within one seat of becoming the primary opposition party on the 54-member local Council, behind the Tories (26) and Labor (13), which lost ten seats. Among elected Greens was 22 year-old Vicky Wakefield Jarrett, a vegan peace and environment activist who was one of three elected Greens nationally 25 years old or younger, giving them a total of seven now holding office aged 27 or younger nationwide.
According to National Election Agent Chris Rose, “the party’s success in winning more seats was, as usual, largely due to careful targeting of resources so as to hold and to build the majorities required to win ‘first-past-the-post’ elections’ in chosen Wards. A key part of this work is the delivery of newsletters to voters throughout the year. These cover local issues, convey a local angle on global ones and report on action by (aspiring) Green councillors. Critical to success is canvassing (knocking on doors and talking to voters on their doorsteps), both well before and during the election period.”
With nine of the 12 Green council seats concentrated in the Brighton Pavilion House of Commons constituency (district), compared to six (Tories) and 5 (Labor), the Greens’ success also gives the party increasing hope of picking up its first-ever parliamentary seat in the next elections to the House of Commons, which has to be held by July 2010.
Just two years ago, Brighton Pavilion City Councilor Keith Taylor received 22 percent in a four-way race for Westminster, only 1.9 percent behind the Tories for second place. These results come in a district where Greens also received 27 percent in the 2004 European Parliament elections. This time Taylor is contesting the Greens’ selection election (party members’ primary) against fellow Green and European parliament member Caroline Lucas, with the results to be known on July 18.
In historic, medieval Norwich in eastern England – often dubbed the “greenest” in the UK before the election because it had the most Green councillors on a single authority – the party won the highest percentage of the overall popular vote, re-electing all three Green incumbents and gaining a fourth seat. Unfortunately they fell a single vote short (after four recounts) of winning a fifth seat against a Liberal Democrat incumbent, meaning they would have become the primary opposition party on the Council.
Green group coordinator Adrian Ramsay, who himself was re-elected with 62 percent in Nelson Ward after winning there three years ago at the ripe young age of 21, said watching the election returns in this close district coming in during the night had been like a “roller coaster ride” for the party.
Labor now holds 15 seats on the local council, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Greens ten and the Tories three. And while that means Labor is likely to continue as a “minority administration”, the Lib Dems have slipped from the party of power just a few years ago, to a desperate fight to remain the largest opposition group ahead of the Greens. Recognizing this, Labor Council leader Steve Morphew said after the election that “we have a good relationship with the Green Party and we will work together on major issues in Norwich.”
Perhaps so, but according to Wall, the Greens’ strong result “places us in pole position to fight for the Westminster seat,” as they hope to replace the Lib Dems as the main challengers to the sitting Norwich South Labor MP in the upcoming 2008 House of Commons elections.
In addition to the raw number of candidates and wins, there were several other measures of success. Political parties in the UK with at least two or more members on a Principal Local Authority are said to have “group status”, giving them the ability to sit on more committees, as well as to second their own motions and ensure debate. Before the May 3rd election the Greens had group status on 17 bodies. Now they have it on 22.
According to Rose, for the 1,412 candidates for which gender was known, 831 (58.9 percent) were male and 581 (41.1 percent) female. As for youth, at least 102 (7.19 percent) were aged 18-30 (age was not known for all candidates), and with the change of national election rules to lower the age limit to run from 21 to 18, at least 22 fell into this age group (1.55 percent.)
Also held on May 3 were Parish and Town Council elections. These are the most local form of government in the UK. They are essentially the same, but with the latter type having a Mayor. There are more than 10,000 such Councils in England, with most holding their elections this year.
They have a selection of statutory local powers such as maintenance of cemeteries, renting land to citizens for growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, bus shelters, community halls and so on. Of particular interest to Greens is that they also have what is called a “power of general competence,” which means they can spend tax revenue up to a certain amount on anything they see fit, so that quite innovative ideas can be pursued. They have recently been granted powers to both promote and spend money on reducing energy consumption in their areas, and on micro-renewables (solar, wind turbines, woodchip [furnaces], etc.).
Many of these Councils are in rural areas where the Greens are weaker. It is often the custom that candidates don’t use Party labels. There are frequently less candidates than seats for election, so it’s easy to get elected “unopposed.”
233 Green Party members were candidates for these elections, of whom 143 were elected (70 unopposed, and 73 in contested votes). Stroud Greens in the west of England retained control of the Town Council there, with John Marjoram being re-elected as Mayor by fellow Councillors. Kirklees Greens won control of Kirkburton Parish Council, where energy expert Andrew Cooper will be trying to stretch the new powers in this area to the limit.
For more information: www.greenparty.org.uk
December 1, 2007
Three Victories Keep The Momentum Building In Illinois
by Nathan Helsabeck, Illinois Green Party
While taxes seem high for many residents, the district’s schools are under-funded at the same time — Carol Larson seeks to turn this trend around by addressing budget shortfalls and directly engaging students who are marginalized by the pressures puts on by standardized testing.
After a successful 2006 campaign where Illinois Green gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney received 10.4 percent of the total vote, a record for any U.S. Green running for governor, the Illinois Green Party (ILGP) followed up in 2007 with three victories in local races this April. Carol Larson was elected to Oak Lawn-Hometown School board, Robert Braam to the Manhattan Library Board, and Kris Campbell was reelected for another term as a Poplar Grove Village Trustee.
These victories now give the ILGP, six members holding elected office across the state. Along with two more ‘near-wins’ in 2007, this signals an increasing presence for the party in state politics. With Whitney’s 10.4 percent of the popular vote, the ILGP is now the third officially-recognized party in the state giving it equal ballot access for Green candidates through 2010.
In 2007, local Green candidates approached their races with a broad array of grassroots approaches to campaigning and a strong commitment to the party’s Ten Key Values.
A 38-year old University of Illinois doctoral candidate in educational psychology, Larson moved to Oak Lawn in 2000 after years in academia and teaching school in Evanston. In her first run for office, she finished first for one of three seats on the south Chicago suburban Oak Lawn Hometown School Board, deciding to get into the race after hearing former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar state many qualified people are afraid to run for public office because the campaigns have become so costly and nasty.
“This struck me as serious,” said Larson. “If we don’t find people with strong competencies to run for public office, we run the risk of experiencing the negative consequences of poor decision-making.”
Larson began her campaign teaming up with local Greens to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. She then stayed on message throughout the campaign with a platform of “children first, fairness, respect, communication and quality of life.” Cognizant of the burden that property taxes place on families and those on fixed incomes, she also pledged to be fiscally conservative by eliminating waste.
Yet complicating matters is that while taxes seem high for many residents, the district’s schools are under-funded at the same time. According to the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, of which the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District is a founding member, “Illinois ranks 48th of the 50 states in education funding, and 49th of the 50 states in providing for equitably funded schools, a gap that goes from less than $4,300 per pupil in the poorest districts to more than $18,000 per pupil in the wealthiest districts in Illinois.”
This inequity plays out locally. Despite a parcel tax increase passed in 2003 to help temporarily balance the budget, the district still ranks in the bottom 6 percent in the state in terms of financial health, is in its third consecutive year on the Illinois State Board of Education’s financial watch list and is facing new budget deficits that will continue to accelerate each year unless major changes are made.
Larson made this part of her campaign and seeks to turn this trend around by addressing budget shortfalls and directly engaging students who are marginalized by the pressures puts on by standardized testing.
Larson highlights a pressure felt by many educators in the state of Illinois by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which threatens to cut funding even further if certain standardized test scores are not met. She said, “NCLB puts pressure on school districts to funnel their resources to particular students for the purpose of increasing test performance. While it is necessary to help students who have fallen behind, it is equally important to make sure the other students have access to resources that promote academic growth.”
“I’ve been in schools in which kids learned science from 10-year-old textbooks. I’ve also been in other schools that provide high-tech science labs stocked with supplies. One does not have to think too hard to figure out who is going to learn more science. If we want Illinois children to flourish and to develop the skills necessary to live in the 21st century, then we must provide each child with a quality education.” Larson said.
Larson, who also teaches online child development courses to undergraduate students through the City Colleges of Chicago, joined the Green Party during fall 2006. “It’s been my experience many people support the same principles as the Green Party – social justice, sustainability, increased community involvement and decision-making. As people become more dissatisfied with the status quo i.e., an under-funded school system at the state level, global warming issues, “pay to play” politics, they will be open to listening to third party alternatives.”
“The primary challenge for the Green Party is to communicate its platform to a wider audience. Since it does not accept corporate campaign contributions, it does not generate the millions of dollars the Republicans and Democrats raise for their campaigns. This requires Greens to be smarter about running campaigns.” She said.
Braam was able to win his seat on the Manhattan Library Board (near Peoria) by running a write-in campaign. His victory gained the attention of the local press Harold News, where he was quoted as saying, “My whole motivation in running was to be part of the community É the whole concept of a library is kind of community-based. It’s a storehouse of literature and information the whole community can access. That kind of plays into our principles, my Green Party stance would make me a very strong advocate of the library.”
As an eight-year incumbent in his race for reelection to Poplar Grove Village Board (Poplar Grove is near the Wisconsin border, northeast of Rockford), Campbell did not have to overcome the obstacle of name recognition. “I connected with voters at two public debates, in the course of serving my existing term, and through casual conversation everywhere. As I talked to people, I made sure to ask for their vote, and to recommend me to anyone who asked.” Campbell said.
Campbell was initially attracted to the Greens because his personal values matched up well with those of the party. “My positions were mostly established before I read the Ten Key Values,” said Campbell. “I joined the Green Party because my positions and the values were so well aligned.”
Now that he has been reelected, Campbell hopes to entice high quality commercial and industrial businesses, retain and enhance green space and parks, work for water conservation and watershed protection, adequately fund schools and other services for the increased population, and nurture communication between citizens and government groups.
Jason Wallace, 24, another strong candidate finished fourth in a five-way race for three seats on the Heartland Community College Board. Wallace narrowly lost by only 17 votes after a recount in a race where over 33,000 votes were cast. He served as a student trustee for the board from 2005- 2006 and received the 2006 Gigi Campbell Student Trustee Excellence Award. During this time he chaired the Local Issues Subcommittee of the Illinois Community College Board Student Advisory Committee, and represented Heartland Community College with the Illinois Board of Higher Education Student Advisory Committee, of which he is now Chair.
In true grassroots style, Wallace campaigned without spending any money. By setting up free web sites on Facebook and MySpace and sending out emails, he was able to bring new tools to the way local races are run and bring the ten key values to new voters and experienced campaigners alike. In so doing, Wallace gained the attention of local media and earned several endorsements, including the Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly and the Pantagraph, a daily newspaper with more than 107,000 readers in Central Illinois that said Wallace “demonstrates a good understanding of the issues, both financial and academic, and would bring a valuable perspective to the board as a former student.”
With experience serving in the Air National Guard, Wallace is one of at least two potential Ilinois Green candidates in 2008 with military experience, with Iraq War veteran Navy officer David Kalbfleisch ( http://www.electdave.org ) already having announced a run for Illinois’ 10th congressional seat (in Cook and Lake counties). According to Kalbfleisch, who is 28, “the ILGP looks forward to joining forces with Iraq Veterans Against the War to mount a strong campaign in this district. 2008 should be a key year for turning this blue state green.”
December 1, 2007
New York Both Gains And Loses
Greens Win Two Elections
by Mark Dunlea, Green Party of New York State
New York Greens won two school board elections in mid-May, with Rome Celli running opposed for re-election in Brighton (a Rochester suburb), while Dr. Edgar Rodriguez was elected for the first time in New Paltz (about 90 miles north of New York City.)
Both Rodriguez and Celli have a long history in education and community activism in their local areas. Although New York local school boards have nonpartisan elections, both candidates are known in their communities as Greens.
“Since 1973, I have had the experience of putting six children through the New Paltz schools with three children now completing their secondary studies,” said Rodriguez. “Over this time, I’ve been involved in the school district in various ways, including serving on a variety of committees, most recently being the Community Diversity Representative to the New Paltz Central Schools. With my election to the school board, I feel like I’ve finally graduated from this process.”
Rodriguez, 60, campaigned on four main platform points. First, to teach the ‘total child’ with a balanced curriculum, including reducing testing and aiming instead to meet the social, emotional and psychological needs of students. Second, to reform school taxes, with the state providing more funding to schools with less dependence on local property taxes. Third, promoting meaningful public participation in planning for academic and new buildings. And fourth, educating students to respect and defend diversity.
For Rodriguez, respecting and defending diversity means many things. As a long-time participant of Concerned Parents of New Paltz, which provides a voice for parents and students of color, he was successful in getting the district to adopt a two and a half day “Undoing Racism” training for the superintendent of schools and other staff. As a result, five diversity committees were organized.
Rodriguez has also countered phobias towards students’ sexual orientation, and included diversity education to include people with physical handicaps and special education needs. He even adopted a campaign platform of “humane education” for animal awareness. “If you teach children caring and kindness towards animals,” said Rodriguez, “you can also carry across to other areas and make a better human being.”
Rodriguez also saw his election as a choice between two long-standing visions of education in the community. “Some people think education should use a ‘business model’, that operates schools like IBM, to be more efficient. But students are not ‘chips on an assembly line,” Rodriguez explained in a post-election video interview with Green Party state committee member Kimberly Wilder.
“Children are human beings. We don’t know completely how they learn and special education shows there are different ways of reaching different students,” Rodriguez said. “There are many who favor top down management in the schools, especially to meet the needs of capital in this country, in order to train kids to serve the needs of corporations. I don’t agree. I believe we need to teach knowledge for the sake of knowledge rather than only preparing for specific vocations, professions, and instead try and instill in them a love of democracy, environment, social justice and community service.”
This was Rodriguez’s second bid for the School Board. A year earlier, he finished a close fourth among four candidates for three seats. This time he finished second among three candidates for two seats. According to Rodriguez, in his first run, he involved traditionally disconnected voters from the town’s apartment districts, who didn’t tend to participate in local elections. As a result there was a record turnout in that race, but he didn’t win. This time he realized he also needed to pay more attention to frequent voters, especially homeowers who were more likely to turn out to the polls. The result was a victory backed by a diverse constituency built over two elections that he hopes will give him a mandate to be truly effective in office.
In his first term, Celli, 46, worked successfully with members of the community and the school district administration to upgrade nutritional standards and limit access to unhealthy foods and beverages in district schools. This led to the removal of soda from local schools.
A ‘big picture’ thinker and activist, Celli hopes to focus in his second term on helping to reform the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. As a member of the Monroe County School Boards Association and now its vice-president, Celli has already been lobbying local Republican congress member Randy Kuhl, who sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, about the NCLB’s negative effects on all districts schools with its limiting of resources and unrealistic testing standards.
Noting that the first time NCLB was passed, it was drafted in closed-door bi-partisan meetings, “this time” Celli said, “its reauthorization will be made in public, and gives us a chance to truly make a difference for the children this legislation is allegedly meant to serve.”
On the state level, Celli is a former member of the Green Party of New York State Committee and has also been active as vice president of Citizens for Better Government in New York (CBGNY), a “good government” organization seeking to reform the New York State legislature, which has often been cited as the most dsyfunctional in the country. Carrying forward the same theme of open government that he wants to apply to the NCLB authorization process, in January, Celli presented a CBGNY-sponsored petition to the state Assembly and Senate. The petition calls for an end to the practice of governing by “three men in the back room” at the state capitol, and seeks to empower rank-and-file members to develop and pass legislation in a more transparent process.
Rounding out his civic activism Celli, a self-employed small businessperson (real estate broker) for 28 years, is also the vice president of the Brighton Chamber of Commerce.
While New York Greens won two school board races, the big shocker happened a few weeks earlier in New Paltz when Jason West was defeated 514 – 379 votes in his bid for re-election by village trustee Terry Dungan.
West, one of two Green Mayors in New York (along with Mike Sellers in Cobleskill) had skyrocketed to national attention three years earlier when his decision to perform same-sex marriages as mayor helped push the movement into national headlines. West had also won local applause for his innovations on environmental and housing issues.
Mayor West’s defeat was the material of a Greek tragedy. His opponent defeated him by embracing West’s agenda over the last four years Ñ even though it was a 180 degree shift from the prior administration Ñ but contending that he could it better, primarily by doing a better job of ‘bringing the community together.’ Dungan ran an effective door-to-door campaign attacking West’s personal style.
Perhaps overconfident owing to West’s high name recognition and the strong community support for the direction the Greens had taken the Village, West and local Greens started their own campaign only a month before their election. In addition, the candidates backed by West for the village board two years previously had overwhelmingly defeated the slate put forth by the village’s old guard Ñ and now the old guard wanted payback.
In summarizing his accomplishments, West said “Four years ago, I ran for Mayor promising to bring environmentally sound infrastructure, expand involvement in village government, protect tenants’ rights and expand affordable housing. Since 2003, we’ve built the first phase of a reed bed system to turn our sewage into compost, rather than mix it with toxic chemicals and ship it to landfills in poor communities. We installed a solar panel array on the public works garage which has so far generated 15,333 kW of electricity, saved taxpayers $2,299, supplanted the burning of 1,127 gallons of oil and 1,533 lb. of coal and kept 16,743 lb. of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. We’re exploring the feasibility of building a 500,000-gallon-per-year biodiesel fuel facility, which could supply every public works truck, fire truck and school bus in New Paltz with a non-toxic, biodegradable fuel, with 80 percent fewer emissions than petro-diesel. And we’ve recently finished writing a pair of laws that will protect wetlands, streams and the Wallkill River; one law defining what is protected and how, and a second law creating a wetland and watercourse.”
“Under the leadership of Deputy Mayor [and fellow Green] Rebecca Rotzler, we’ve also passed our first affordable housing law, requiring 15 percent of new construction be affordable, and giving priority to residents at most need based on a point system for senior citizens, emergency services volunteers, and others vital to the community who may not otherwise be able to afford to live in the popular municipality. Not surprisingly, because of the affordability requirement, this is now being challenged in court by the biggest developer in town. I’ve also written an affordable housing law that would give incentives to developers to build more affordable housing than the bare minimum currently required”
West actually received more votes in losing in 2007 than he did in winning four years previously. The difference was that the old guard Democratic Party had fractured in 2003, running two competing candidates for Mayor. In addition, at that time local Greens were able to mobilize the large number of students at local State University of New York at New Paltz to vote as well, by tapping into the strong campus anti-war movement there where they played a strong leadership role. But this time, the local anti-war movement was not as strong as it was four years earlier when the US-led invasion had just occurred; and with the U.S. occupation continuing seemingly indefinitely, students lacked the same sense of urgency that also carried them to the local polls four years before.
Looking back, West and Rotzler transformed village politics in their time in office. “What we did in four years was change the paradigm for elections around here,” said West. “Students won’t be ignored anymore; we’ve effectively brought half the village population back into the body politic. And maybe most importantly, people understand that it’s not just about water, sewer and potholes any more. You’ve got to keep the big picture in mind and you’ve got to act on that knowledge.”
Rather than being a rubber stamp for developers, West and Rotzler provided leadership on affordable housing and the environment, as well as West’s groundbreaking stance on conducting gay marriages, which drew him national attention until his practice was shut down by the state court. Because of his success, opponents were forced to adopt his agenda, while only running one candidate against him in 2007. Unfortunately, West’s Achilles heel was that Ñ motivated by his strong desire to make change and make change quickly Ñ he tended to move on issues too much by himself and be out ahead of his colleagues, managing to alienate several of his supporters on the Village Board. The fact that Rotzler herself decided not to seek re-election Ñ choosing to focus on her national Green Party work Ñ may also have weakened the get-out-the-vote operation. And as Tip O’Neill famously pointed out, you need to ask voters personally for their support, no matter how much good you have already done for them.
Reflecting back Rotzler added, “we were able to enact the Ten Key Values of the Green Party here, and as a result many neighboring communities now view New Paltz as a model for positive, effective local government. It will be exciting to see the projects initiated under Green leadership continue to thrive, not just in New Paltz, but elsewhere as well. I wholeheartedly believe we all need to act locally in order to achieve goals that will benefit society globally.”
December 1, 2007
Wisconsin Keeps On Winning
Seven Greens Gain Seats In April Elections
by Jill Bussiere and Ron Hardy, Wisconsin Green Party and Mike Feinstein, Green Party of California
With seven victories in 2007, the number of Greens in the state holding elected office is now at an all-time high of 22.
The Wisconsin Green Party has been on a steady winning streak gaining elected local officials across the state. With seven victories in 2007, four whom were women, the number of Greens holding elected office statewide is now at an all-time high of 22.
It all started in 1986 when Wisconsin Greens David Conley and Frank Koehn were first elected as county board supervisors in the northern part of the state. In 1994, there were six Greens holding elected office in Wisconsin, and by 1998 there were ten. By 2006 the number more than doubled, with 21 Greens holding seats on county boards, city councils, school boards and town councils.
In 2007 that number continued to grow, even though several incumbents stepped down and most Greens are elected during even-numbered years, when seats for county boards are contested. Despite this, 16 Greens ran for local office across the state, the largest contingent ever seeking office in an odd-numbered year.
Returned to office was Madison Common Council member Brenda Konkel, a well-known, respected community leader and political force, who ran unopposed for the second time in a row. Since she was first elected in 2001, Konkel has championed tenant rights, affordable housing and inclusive zoning ordinances. Re-elected three times, she has served as president of the Madison Common Council in 2004-2005 and today is also the executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and on the board of directors of the Social Justice Center and Community Shares of Wisconsin. In her spare time, she helps coordinate the national Green Officeholders Network.
Fellow incumbent Pete Karas of the Kenosha-Racine Green Party was first elected to the Racine Common Council in 2003, and was re-elected in 2005. There he used his role to fight for municipally-owned utilities forming the Bright Public Power Initiative, a citizen group with wide community support whose mission is to bring public power to his local area; and also diligently worked to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Greens to fight a high-profile, but unsuccessful campaign against new coal plants in the area.
Karas, who also serves as Board President of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, was outspoken against Wisconsin’s 2004 and 2006 proposed concealed carry legislation. He authored and got passed the first-ever municipal resolution in the nation opposing a state Carrying of Concealed Weapons (CCW) law before it became law. This effectively kicked off the statewide campaign against more gun violence and was instrumental in keeping Wisconsin as one of two states where people cannot carry hidden weapons in public places.
An often-heard voice on both local and Wisconsin radio and television, Karas has gained statewide notoriety for this work on gun violence issues, even forming a coalition of Wisconsin elected Greens to concurrently proposed local budget amendments to cover the costs to municipalities if a CCW law were to pass in the state.
Karas faced strong opposition in 2007 from an aggressive candidate in his self-described urban ‘middle America’ district, but held his seat with 53.3 percent of the vote despite being physically limited during the campaign due to recent spinal surgeries.
A third incumbent, Robbie Webber, has been serving on the Madison Common Council since 2003. In 2007 she joined the Greens and received the Four Lakes Green Party’s endorsement for the first time, after working with local Greens on issues like minimum wage. Facing a strong challenge from a local realtor, she was re-elected with 55.4 percent of the vote in one of Madison’s older, more desirable districts that includes some of the city’s highest property values, with a voting population made up of half students and half professors, business people and Madison’s “old money.” An outreach coordinator for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, Webber opposed urban sprawl by promoting increased public transit and bicycling, and by pedestrian and transit-oriented development and land use policies.
Four elected for the first time: in Madison, Oshkosh, and Stevens Point
In Madison, the election of first-timers Marsha Rummel and Brian Solomon increased the Green Party’s representation on the twenty-member Common Council from three seats to four. In District 6, one of the city’s politically greenest, Rummel won with 71.3 percent of the vote. Active in her local Marquette Neighborhood Association since 1994, and its president since 2002, Rummel is a strong advocate for neighborhood identity, voice and historic preservation. Her campaign focused on improving local water quality, creating living wage jobs, and keeping neighborhoods diverse and affordable. In addition, she brings prior governmental experience, having previously served on the city’s Inclusionary Zoning Advisory Oversight Committee and its Tax Increment Financing Policy Committee.
A member of the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission, Solomon was elected with 72 percent of the vote on a platform of bringing economic development (including family-supporting jobs) and equal opportunity to his district and Madison as a whole.
Like Rummel, Solomon brought a history of involvement in his local neighborhood organization, including changing the local Edgewood Park and Pleasure Drive from an auto throughway into a biking and pedestrian refuge. Solomon is also co-founder of the Wisconsin AIDS Ride, as well as founder of the Wisconsin Employment Transportation Assistance Program, which combined four state and federal funding sources to encourage municipalities to help their workers and employers overcome the spatial mismatches between where people work and live. Unlike the other Greens elected to the Common Council, Solomon did not seek the endorsement of the Four Lakes Green Party.
In Oshkosh, located 70 miles north west of Milwaukee, three of six Common Council seats are elected at large every year, in an area containing over 64,000 residents. Tony Palmeri finished second out of six candidates to become the first Green even on the Oshkosh City Council. A University of Wisconsin communication professor, Palmeri has co-hosted a local cable access program, a university radio program, writes a monthly column for the Fox Valley Scene, and maintains an award winning website, http://www.tonypalmeri.com.
Palmeri last ran for office in 2004 for state assembly against a Republican incumbent, Democratic challenger, and an independent. He received 8.8 percent of the vote, drawing accusations of ‘spoiler’ from the Democrats, when the Republican incumbent won with less than 50 percent for the first time ever. Despite this, less than three years later, Palmeri’s campaign for Common Council found support not only from Greens, but also social progressives and labor, as well as fiscally conservative blue-collar voters.
Palmeri’s primary campaign theme was open, accountable government, and especially transparency in regards to development schemes. This resonated so well that, following his stellar performance at the editorial board meeting and candidate forum of the local Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper, he even received that paper’s endorsement, despite that as an active blogger and local media critic, he frequently had criticized it for how it covered local issues.
In Stevens Point, former Wisconsin Green Party co-chair Amy Heart ran unopposed to earn a seat on the common council. A membership and outreach coordinator with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Heart also has a strong local electoral history. Months after earning 35 percent of the vote in a bid for mayor in 2003, she earned 16.5 percent of the vote and the endorsement of the Stevens Point Journal in a four-way special election for State Assembly in 2003.
Now in office, Heart hopes to add Stevens Point to the growing number of cities in the Eco-Municipality Network who “seek to develop an ecologically, economically and socially healthy community for the long term, using the Swedish Natural Step framework for sustainability as a guide, and a democratic, highly participative development process as the method.”
Incumbents Stepping Down
Four Wisconsin Greens did not seeking re-election in 2007, including Madison’s Brian Benford, Austin King and Shwaw Vang.
Up until 2003, Madison’s District 12 had been represented by a conservative aldermember, until Benford broke through and served the district for four years. Benford championed high profile citywide progressive causes like the minimum wage ordinance, inclusionary zoning and smoking ban, as well ‘in-district’ efforts to combat gang activity, keep local schools and make the local Warner Park Community Center more inclusive.
King was elected in 2003 at the age of 21, and re-elected in 2005 with 79 percent of the vote. In 2006, at the age of 24, he was elected Madison Common Council president, the youngest ever to serve in that role. In his two terms, he sponsored several public policy initiatives such as leading the Madison Fair Wage Campaign to the victorious adoption of the nation’s fourth municipal minimum wage, slated to rise to $7.75 per hour and be indexed to inflation thereafter. The success in Madison spread as Milwaukee, La Crosse, and Eau Claire followed suit, eventually leading to the first statewide increase in eight years. This resulted in more than 200,000 low-wage workers getting a pay increase in Wisconsin.
King also won passage of a landmark local tenants’ rights law allowing tenants with negligent landlords to make needed repairs to dilapidated housing and deduct the cost from their rent. He even helped repeal Madison’s Prohibition-era Cabaret License law, which has prohibited dancing in more than 80 percent of Madison bars.
Also stepping down was Vang, who served six years on the Madison Metropolitan School Board. Highly respected for his quiet, thoughtful comments, Vang tirelessly made sure the voice of low income and minority students was heard. For example, Vang made it a priority for the board to reexamine how local schools treat students with behavioral problems. He said, “statistics shows most of the kids that receive punishment were youth of color, particularly African American students.”
In March 2006, many of Madison’s Latino students wanted to participate in a massive local march against proposed federal policies sponsored by Wisconsin Congressmember James Sensenbrenner, which would criminalize undocumented workers and those who assist them.
A special Board meeting was planned to vote on the matter, because it was not clear whether students could be excused from school if they attended. But the administration found that parents could provide a written excuse for their children to attend the rally, so the meeting was cancelled.
Vang felt the Board should have met anyway. “We have a very high local profile population of Latinos. We should have allowed them to speak out against policies that will split their families and send their parents back. And the Board should have affirmed our belief that if there are policies or state laws that are going to affect our students, we will speak on behalf of them. Those are valuable lessons that our community and schools should be teaching.”
Vang’s first election was also a historical milestone. Wisconsin has the third-largest Hmong population in the nation, behind California and Minnesota, with more than 800 Hmong students in the Madison School District. But since the late 1970s when the Hmong first began arriving in Madison as refugees of Laos, none held a visible public position until Vang was elected in 2001.
“Being able to serve on the school board affirmed that the Hmong people, the Southeast Asian people who had chosen to settle in Madison were now a part of the daily life of this city and that we were accepted as a part of this community,” Vang said.
In his first run, Vang won a close election with a team of grassroots activists distributing more than 25,000 leaflets across town. In 2004 he was re-elected with 70.8 percent against a well-funded extreme conservative challenger. Earlier he also survived a recall effort by right-wing activists promoted by Rush Limbaugh. Vang said he might run for office again in the future. “I’d love to run for a political office where I may deal more with social issues.”
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