December 2007

Going Pro with a Consultant
Green Campaign Consultants Share Their Perspective
by Greg Gerritt, National Committee member, Green Party of Rhode Island and former GP-US National Secretary

“There is a lot of joy in being Green, and that carries over to our campaigns.”
— Lynne Serpe

“We work with candidates to create a plan that basically prioritizes their resources.”
— Sharon Gilpin

In all but the smallest of electoral districts, Green candidates can’t win by themselves. Not only do they require volunteer support, to truly compete they often need to hire campaign professionals who understand the mechanics of running a viable campaign.

Among the vanguard in this field is a small but growing number of Greens who are not only activists, but actually campaign consultants themselves. Maine Green Ben Chipman is one such example. Chipman has worked for numerous Green candidates since 2001, helping them target mailings and phone calls, design literature, organize volunteers, go door to door, and get out the vote.

Among his clients were victorious Portland School Committee candidates Ben Meiklejohn (2001), Stephen Spring (2003) and Susan Hopkins (2005), as well as State Representative John Eder (2002, 2004). Chipman also helped manage the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Jonathan Carter and Green state legislative candidates in 2004 and 2006.

Lynne Serpe is another, albeit more well-traveled. Serpe has not only worked for Greens in California, New Mexico and New York, but also in Canada and New Zealand. She’s known to do a bit of everything, depending on the campaign and the candidate. “Local races, where I am the sole paid staff, I do it all,” she said. “In larger races, I can hire people to do media or fundraising or whatever I might need, as well as find interns.” However, Serpe draws the line at baby-sitting for the candidate, but she will find a volunteer.

Serpe started in New Mexico in 1994 by working on the Roberto Mondragon/Steven Schmidt Governor/Lt. Governor campaign. After stopping off to co-coordinate Green national gathering in 1995 (Albuquerque) and 1996 (Los Angeles), she then coordinated the California campaigns of Sara Amir (Lt. Governor, 1998), Audie Bock (elected, State Assembly, 1999), John Strawn (Santa Barbara City Council 2001) before moving to New York to work on the New York City campaigns of Gloria Mattera (Brooklyn Borough President, 2001) and Robin Sklar (City Council, 2003). In 2004, Serpe capped this off by becoming national organizer for Green presidential ticket of David Cobb and Pat LaMarche, a campaign that not only demanded winning votes, but also winning the Green nomination in the first place. When the Cobb/LaMarche team took the lead in pushing for the post-election Ohio recount, Serpe organized election observers and other key tasks in each county.

Sometimes Green consultants focus on a very specific part of a campaign, as Blair Bobier did as Media Coordinator of LaMarche’s 2006 campaign for Maine governor, in which she received nearly ten percent of the vote. “Pat loves research and statistics and knows exactly what kind of policy she wants. I collected information from her and turned it into policy papers, website content and press releases. I also traveled with her, took photos and interviewed people for the website, and even served as an interim campaign manager for a while.”

In addition, Bobier was instrumental in the LaMarche campaign’s legal effort to close huge loopholes in Maine’s Clean Elections laws that were being exploited by the Democratic and Republican candidates. “We took our case all the way to Maine’s Supreme Court. Though we didn’t prevail, we won the support of every editorial writer and columnist who weighed in on the subject. After the election, our position was also embraced by the state agency that oversees the Clean Elections Act.

Yet because the number of Green candidates who choose to and can afford to hire consultants is still limited, Green consultants generally have to supplement their income. In Chipman’s case, he worked for four years as the legislative aide to Eder and for five years as part time staff for the Maine Green Independent Party. He also worked on paid signatures drives for statewide ballot initiatives opposing clear cutting, promoting community-based water rights and giving students tax credits who chose to live and work in Maine after they get their degree. In Serpe’s case, she’s run electoral reform campaigns for proportional representation and instant run-off voting in three countries.

Given the limited number of Greens doing professional campaign consulting work, sometimes Green candidates have turned outside of the party for help, as successfully elected Santa Monica City Council candidates Mike Feinstein (1996, 2000) and Kevin McKeown (1998, 2002) did in hiring Sharon Gilpin of the Gilpin Group.

“We work with candidates to create a plan that basically prioritizes their resources,” said Gilpin, the only person interviewed for this article who makes a professional living as strictly a campaign consultant. “That’s what a good campaign consultant does. My background in marketing and film production, however, gives me a unique broad media background that I bring to bear for my clients.”

Each consultant commented on the passion of Greens, their willingness to persevere in a very tough political environment and their concern for the issues. “Being passionate, being likable, having integrity and being willing to work really hard against so many barriers” are all Green campaign strengths, according to Serpe. “There is a lot of joy in being Green, and that carries over to our campaigns. If we combine our increased savvy with creativity, hard work and hope, I think we will continue to grow.”

However, Gilpin echoes the other consultants in identifying the weakness of Green candidates as a “general unwillingness to raise money for direct mail and media tools that can persuade voters in our super distracted society.”

Are consultants looking forward to in the next election cycle? Bobier and Gilpin are enthusiastic about looking for candidates to help. Chipman primarily works in Maine and is hopeful the Maine Green Independent Party will keep him busy. Serpe does a lot of nonprofit work, is keeping her options open and is always willing to give advice.

If any Green candidates are looking for people to help a campaign take it to the next step, there are at least a few consultants ready to help. Don’t be surprised if over the next few years there are more and more Greens making a living, helping Green candidates to get elected.

Taking Free Speech to the Highway
Protesters in Houston Call for Impeachment
by Christine Morshedi, Green Party of Texas

Don Cook is a free speech fanatic. He speaks through a myriad of buttons on his straw hat, the stickers on his car, and, most recently, by holding signs from a bridge over Houston’s Southwest Freeway during rush hour. Cook is not alone. An alliance of progressive groups and individual Houstonians has maintained a weekly schedule for Houston-style “freeway blogging” for more than a year.

On March 20, to observe the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, more than 300 protesters covered the six Montrose-area overpasses. The Harris County Green Party co-sponsored the event with eight other organizations. Through the afternoon rush hour, they displayed a variety of signs calling for peace. At dusk they joined in a candlelight vigil commemorating all who have sacrificed in Iraq.

Reaction of city government has been mixed. When one Houston city council member tried to have freeway blogging curtailed, 17 supporters appeared at the April 10 council meeting to make the case for free speech. In closing, Art Browning of the Green Party told council members to expect submission of a citizen petition to impeach Cheney first, and then Bush. None of the council members present spoke against free speech.

Houston freeway bloggers literally stand by their signs. Unlike online blogging featuring photos of signs, these bloggers physically hold the signs to comply with a local ordinance against attaching objects to overpasses Ñ often under the watchful eyes of the Houston Police Department.

Houston freeway bloggers kicked off National Impeach Day, April 28, the evening before. Protesters holding large “Impeach” signs populated all six overpasses. Hundreds of motorists, passengers, truckers and bus drivers honked, waved and flashed peace signs in support.

A few drivers disagreed. With multiple bridges to crawl under during traffic, disgruntled commuters had time to scribble signs in response to bloggers. One read, “Get a Job!” Cook, who retired on September 11, 2001, shrugged it off. Free speech is for everyone. Browning agrees, “Do not fear seditious words. Speak up!”

Fighting to Keep Votes Private
Washington Greens file lawsuit against electronic ballot tracker

submitted by the Green Party of San Juan County, Washington

“Make no mistake. The ultimate utility of this auditing scareware is to sideline Greens by ‘proving’ any election result they choose.” — Tom Munsey

On the small islands of San Juan County in Washington State, Greens have filed a lawsuit objecting to the use of an electronic tracking system, which would link ballots to individual voters. As the first binding election in the country to use the “Mail-in Ballot Tracker” (MIBT) in their 2005 primary election, San Juan Greens see the experimental project as an unconstitutional breach of voter privacy.

This untested and uncertified “paperless auditing system” requires election workers to scan an individual voter’s name to the barcode on their assigned ballot. In the process, the vote loses its confidentiality. However,, MIBT’s privately held creator, declared the pilot a “resounding success.”

It wasn’t until Allan Rosato and Tim White of the Green Party of San Juan County’s Elections Working Group raised the concern of voter privacy to county officials and the public, that the community expressed outrage. After Rosato and White faced a stonewall with the County Auditor’s Office and the elections department, other county officials who were not even aware of the pilot project recommended they take legal action.

Taking the lawsuit on as a deep personal commitment, Rosato and White spent weeks of late night research sustained by dogged determination and financed by working construction jobs. Once they released their findings, the loss of the secret ballot resonated across all political lines among the 16,000 rural islanders in the archipelago county. Many Greens contributed logistical and financial support.

Success of the lawsuit is now more urgent than ever as other small counties are being lured to the high tech “auditing solution.” San Juan County residents resent being the guinea pigs to the voting pilot as well as marketed as the “happy poster child” for the expanded use of MIBT, White said.

VoteHere intends to secure election results by integrating military-style cryptography into every electronic voting machine and elections mailroom in the country. The Green Party brief cites multiple violations of provisions in federal and state constitutions, statutes and codes. It contends that MIBT compromises the secrecy of the ballot, engenders widespread suspicion and erodes public confidence towards elections and reduces safeguards thereby increasing the possibilities to influence voters.

“Make no mistake. The ultimate utility of this auditing scareware is to sideline Greens by ‘proving’ any election result they choose,” said Tom Munsey of the local Greens’ Coordinating Council.

Jerry Cronk, the Green attorney who wrote text for Washington’s Instant Runoff Voting effort and is handling the MIB suit, is finding some unexpected difficulties. State code mandates, “There shall be no marks on the ballot cards which would distinguish an individual voter’s ballot card from other ballot cards.” However, 10 days after the Green suit was filed, there was a repeal of that line by the Election Office with no explanation.

Rosato and White have learned VoteHere has strong ties to federal and state government, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ connection to the company by serving on its technical advisory board during the Ballot Tracker’s development. As an influential lobbyist, VoteHere helped write the $3 billion Help America Vote Act (HAVA). White said MIBT went into full deployment in San Juan County without consideration by citizens, the elected prosecutor, county commissioners, councilors, or the Elections Canvassing Board. Similarly, neither the state legislature nor the attorney general reviewed or approved the product because it was paid for with federal HAVA grants.

White pointed to connections between VoteHere and federal politicians; such as chairman Ralph Munro securing what has become a $1.5 million under-the-radar contract with Washington State from Secretary of State Sam Reed. Reed is Munro’s lifelong protégé and successor as the state’s top elections official said White. Although there is no other product like Ballot Tracker, VoteHere claims, “The system was secured in a competitive public bid.”

VoteHere does not plan to stop just in Washington. It is pursuing an aggressive national lobbying effort to get Ballot Tracker software into elections in California and other states. It plans to plug its portable version, Sentinel, into every voting machine in the country.

To counteract the proliferation of Ballot Tracker, a broad group of activists, spearheaded by the Green Party, are distributing DVDs, producing flyers, circulating petitions and raising contributions There are even plans for a Ballot Tracker theme song on YouTube. Presentations in Seattle and Olympia spotlight the issue and have brought in donations from Washington Citizens for Fair Elections and other groups.

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