Desa Jacobsson, Alaska
The Green campaign for governor was a nail-biter, wrought with uncertainty and surprise. In the end, Desa Jacobsson received 3.01% and 6,608 votes, 12 more than she needed to retain ballot status for the Green Party of Alaska until 2002..
Jacobsson, a 52-year-old Yup’ik and Gwich’in subsistence activist with roots in villages and towns across the Alaska, campaigned on a platform of increasing in-state hiring, furthering the state’s recognition of tribal governments, and improving rural sanitation, and running water and sewer systems into villages.
Her overarching issue was ‘subsistence’, a recurring theme in Alaska’s elections, from downtown Anchorage to remote Eskimo villages. Jacobsson herself was raised in tiny Hooper Bay on the Bering Sea, where subsistence hunting and fishing are primary sources of protein for the people who live there, and which Jacobsen believes should be guaranteed as a primary right. “Subsistence is about more than food,” she said. “It provides the foundation for family relationships. It is about our survival as a people.”
Combining her message with a frank style and quick wit, Jacobsson fared well in candidate forums before the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, the Alaska Federation of Natives and on C-SPAN. Jacobsson criticized the state’s elected officials for ignoring the wisdom of the elders. She argued – as the elders do – that declining oil prices should be no great worry for most Alaskans, because a can of Tlingit-styled smoked sockeye is worth more than one barrel of oil’.
Jacobsson came to the Green Party through unusual circumstances. In 1989, she was part of a group protesting a one-net subsistence fishing policy and was briefly jailed for violating state subsistence fishing rules on the Kenai Peninsula. The one-net policy in many cases limited several hundred people to the fish caught with just one net.
While many individuals came to her aid, the only political party to take a stand was the Greens, approving a resolution that named her a political prisoner. Her supporters included a Juneau Green named Robert Willard Jr. – a man Jacobsson never forgot. The charges against her were eventually dropped, and after her release, Jacbosen visited Willard to thank him. In a remarkable twist of fate, the two eventually married, Jacobsson registered Green and then became the Green gubernatorial candidate seven years later.
On election night, Jacobsson had 2.9% of the vote, just short of the 3 percent needed to keep the Green Party on the ballot. But her fortunes (and those of the party) improved after votes from the last rural villages were counted, along with the absentee and provisional ballots. Together, they put Jacobsson over the 3 percent threshold, by the slimmest of margins.
Had she failed to receive 3 percent of the vote, the party would have lost its ballot status and could not have regained it until 2002. That is, unless a voter registration drive raised the party’s total from its current 3,300 to 6,596 (3 percent of the voters who cast ballots for governor).
The narrow survival at 3.01% was a reprieve for the party, which ran a low key campaign with fewer activists than it has in previous elections. In 1990, the Green Party of Alaska became the first US state Green Party ever to receive ballot status, when Sykes received 3.3 percent for governor. In 1994 he ran again, receiving 4.4 percent. Other strong candidacies for the party have included:
- Kelly Weaverling, elected as mayor of Cordova, 1991-3 (non-partisan race)
- Mary Jordan, US Senate (8.3%), 1992
- Joni Whitmore, US House (10.5%), 1994
- Jed Whittaker, US Senate (12.5%), 1996, finishing second ahead of the Democrat).
Pat LaMarche and Maine Greens hang tough, perseveres
Across the United States, Maine Greens have been among the first Greens anywhere to organize, with their roots going back to 1984. By 1992, they began to run candidates. By 1994, they qualified for ballot status, with the party’s gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Carter receiving 6.5%, easily surpassing the 5% needed threshold.
In 1996, the party was thrown off the ballot, after its presidential candidate Ralph Nader received only 2.5%. Maine Greens contested this ruling by the Maine Secretary of State. Since Maine law says “gubernatorial or presidential” in its wording, they claim the 5% requirement law should only apply every four years to the gubernatorial elections, not to the presidential elections in the intervening two years, which would require the party’s presidential nominee also to receive 5%.
Maine Greens argued they should not be penalized within their state, for the status of the Green party on the national level. This case is now under constitutional appeal at the Federal District Court of Appeals in Boston. The Greens contend that Maine Green Party member’s rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution guarantee the Greens the right to form and maintain a political party and that the laws of the state of Maine violate these rights. The state contends that running candidates as “Independents” is sufficient and thus no rights are abrogated. A ruling is expected by the end of March, 1999.
Regardless of that ruling however, for at least the next two years, the Maine Greens are back on the ballot, thanks to Pat LaMarche and her impressive 6.8% in a five-way race for Governor.
LaMarche, 37, has brought strong family, community, and ecological values to her work, from being Director of Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Children’s MiracleNetwork, to serving as the Forest Ecology Network’s spokesperson and outreach educational director for its recent campaign to end massive clearcutting,
A strong campaigner, LaMarche spoke at community centers, factories, and on the streets. She brought many new people into the party, gained a lot of attention for the party from the media, and participated in all of the candidate debates (including the six televised ones).
Long-time Maine Green organizer John Rensenbrink observed, “Pat came across as a person of insight, integrity, and intelligence, standing out among the other four candidates, all men, and winning the hearts and minds of many, including a lot of ‘fence-sitters’.
Many of LaMarche’s big issues — universal health care, child care for welfare moms, higher salaries for teachers, more progressive taxation and corporation paying their fair share — were aimed at helping Maine’s women and poorer people. She also supported small business, while standing at the same time for workers rights.
LaMarche received the endorsement of the Maine chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), the first time a NOW state chapter has endorsed a Green candidate for statewide office.
JoAnne Dauphinee, a member of the Maine NOW board of directors, said “while creating a new view of what a leader can and should look like, Pat is making the connections that economic justice, child care, education, affordable and accessible health care and environmental concerns are not just our issues or women’s issues – they are the issues that all Mainers care about”.
The Green Party also fielded two candidates for the state legislature in 1998 and both did very well. Betsy Marsano ran in a two way race in Portland’s District 30, receiving 28%. A long time community activist, she canvassed the district’s famed Munjoy Hill neighborhood, an diverse urban area of different ethnicities, recent immigrants, yuppies, and poor people. To everyone who opened their door, she presented her platform of education, health care, living wages and community-based economic development within a healthy environment. Former president of the student body at the University of Maine in Orono, Ben Meiklejohn ran in District 31, the west promenade area of Portland. With a solid door-to-door campaign, he received 25% in a three-way race, finishing second, beating the Republican.
After the election, newspaper editorials in the Bangor Daily News, Kennebec Journal, the Times Record, and the Maine Times lauded the Green Party’s persistence and durability. They criticized the 5% presidential requirement as unfair and ludicrous. Afterwards, LaMarche and Democrat and President of the State Senate Mark Lawrence met to discuss the political situation in Maine.
Recognizing that the Greens are in a position to continue getting significant votes for Governor (and possibly preventing the Democrats from winning back the governor’s seat), Lawrence has submitted a bill that would grant a party ballot status, if it registered as members, one half of one per cent of the residents of Maine (about 6,000). This would focus acquiring ballot status on a party efforts to register voters, rather than forcing the party to run for governor as its only option.
Whether this bill survives the Legislature, or is changed so the threshold becomes too high, is not yet clear. But if it passes, it would lessen the burden of staying on the ballot for the Greens significantly.
A simultaneous initiative is underway to persuade the major parties to consider strongly a change in the laws that would permit Instant Run-off Voting (IRV). Vermont is heading in that direction. A Ballot Access Coalition has formed in Maine among six small parties (Green, Libertarian, Reform, Taxpayers, Natural Law, and Labor), the Green Party being one of the chief initiators for the coalition. Greens hope that with IRV, the problem of the so-called spoiler-effect would lessen, voters would be liberated to vote their conscience, and the whole system might inch closer to proportional representation, which is the Greens more long-term goal.
At the party’s post-election state convention, delegates also made a major party goal for the year 2000, to run 50 candidates for the state legislature. LaMarche will chair the committee. It is charged with developing and implementing a plan to accomplish this.
As for now, a twist of fate has led the Greens to officially be know now as the ‘Maine Green Independent Party’.
A new law passed by the State legislature two years ago requires any Independent candidate running for governor who intends to bequeath his or her votes (provided they are more then 5%) to a political party for the purposes of establishing official ballot status for that party, to put on their ballot line (up to three words) the name they wish to run on, and then, that name is the one the party must adopt.
LaMarche ran as an Independent because the Greens had been denied their ballot status. She put ‘Green Independent’ on her ballot petition. Now that is the party’s new name.
Ken Pentel & Susan Jasper, Minnesota
After a strong showing in 1996, when first-ever Green candidate for state legislative Cam Gordon received 26% and finished second (beating the Republican), Minnesota Greens in 1998 ran their first-ever statewide candidacy for any office.
Ken Pentel was the party’s candidate for Governor and Susan Jasper for Lt. Governor. They received 6,983 votes – 0.3% in a tight race in which Reform Party candidate and winner Jesse Ventura took a lot of youth and independent votes that normally might have gone to the Greens. (During one of the candidate debates, when each was asked ‘if you couldn’t vote for yourself, who would you vote for’, Reform candidate Ventura said he would vote for Pentel.)
Despite the low vote total, the campaign was a success, giving the Greens unprecedented statewide visibility, and the momentum to form three new Green locals in the northern part of the state, as well as a quadrupling of the party’s state membership overall.
Pentel brought an 11-year background as a canvasser and field organizer for GreenPeace to the campaign, as well as having spent many hours at the state Capitol as a lobbyist for environmental issues. Along the campaign trail, from downtown Minneapolis to Iron Range towns in northern Minnesota, he communicated a sustainable vision for the state, in which wealth is redefined to include clean water and air, soil, habitats, peaceful communities, and a healthy, well-educated population.
In particular, safe renewable energy production was a key issue for Pentel. Minnesota spends $8-9 billion a year on energy and imports 98% of it (coal, oil, gas, and uranium).
Pentel advocated an efficient locally-based renewable, energy system using solar, wind and biomass (crops grown for distillation into fuels). Pentel also advocated accelerating the development of mass transit systems, to “move people, not cars.”
Faced with the canard of ‘jobs vs. environment’, while campaigning in northern Minnesota, Pentel received high marks with his ‘sustainable forestry alternative’ involving decentralizing the lumber mills, getting the highest possible value for forest products by developing local wood product industries, and promoting ecologically-friendly recreation & tourism. Pentel was able to appear in several of the early debates during the summer, but he was excluded later on when the race got tighter in the fall.
Pentel’s running mate Susan Jasper joined the Green Party during the Nader/LaDuke campaign in 1996. A dancer, chef, mother and grandmother, Jasper has been active in women’s and Native American issues all her life, and brought a commitment to the campaign to end institutional prejudice and protect the dignity and rights of women, children and families, to such basic needs as food, housing, medical care and education.
In terms of electoral reform, both Pentel and Jasper advocated public financing of campaigns, spending limits and a switch from the winner-take-all electoral system to proportional representation.
Blair Bobier, Oregon
A co-founder of the Pacific Party (Oregon’s Green Party) in 1991, Blair Bobier became its first-ever gubernatorial candidate in 1998. With the state’s rich forests and streams at risk from unsustainable logging practices, Bobier made the connection between economic security and a healthy environment a major focus of his campaign.
“If we cut the forests we are destroying one of the cheapest water filtration systems in the world,” said Bobier. Logging on public lands threatens the pure, clean water from healthy forests that is a staple for a important industries in Oregon, including billion dollar salmon fisheries, high-tech companies, tourism-related businesses and recreation facilities.
Instead of paying loggers to take trees out of the forests, Bobier suggested Oregon should support reforestation programs that would create jobs. He supported a ban on clear cutting and supported legislation that would phase out logging in all national forests and provide retraining assistance to displaced workers.
Among his other campaign issues, Bobier advocated:
- shifting public spending from prison construction to education.
- taxing companies based on the amount of pollution they generate.
- investing in public transit and bicycle paths.
- creating a universal health care plan for all Oregonians.
Bobier’s campaign soared from the start, as he took journalists on two aerial tours to witness the deforestation in Oregon’s National Forests and private timberlands. The tours helped set a credible and professional tone for the campaign and resulted in extensive stories on television, radio and in several newspapers.
Bobier also made democratizing the electoral process and getting fair and equal treatment for all candidates a major component of his campaign. Because he ‘rattled a lot cages and sabers’, Bobier was invited to participate in one televised (and radio broadcast) live debate. This resulted in the most exposure the Pacific Party has ever had, and most of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
However, despite his strong performance in the first televised debate, Bobier (and all other ‘third party candidates) were excluded from the remaining three. Bobier fought back, filing a lawsuit to participate in the second debate, which attracted statewide media exposure, including the major television networks.
For the third debate, Bobier took on the League of Women Voters and asked the IRS to investigate whether the group qualifies to retain its non-profit, tax-exempt status, if it engages in partisan activities by only promoting the Democrats and Republicans. An IRS review is pending. For the fourth debate, Bobier appeared outside and provided the perfect visuals for TV news – a huge American Flag and gagged protesters.
On the campaign trail, Bobier and supporters handed out 30,000 copies of his literature, distributing at several college campuses, concerts and on the streets. He ended up with 1.4%, finishing fourth out of seven candidates and helping retain ballot status for the Pacific Party by gaining over 1%. With the Natural Law, Reform and Socialist parties not receiving 1% and thus falling off the ballot, the Pacific Party is now the only progressive party remaining.
Susan Lee Solar, Texas
Of the seven Green gubernatorial candidates nationwide in 1998, Susan Lee Solar trekked perhaps the most arduous path – she ran as a write-in candidate in a state with ballot access laws that are prohibitive to ‘third parties’, and before the Greens were organized on a statewide basis.
Hoping to help build the Green Party throughout Texas, Solar focused her platform on healthy local economic development, mass transit, energy conservation and renewable energy, environmental restoration and affordable housing. She opposed the death penalty and promised to stand up against what she called a century-old patronage system in the governor’s office that has used the power of appointments to benefit corporate interests. If elected, Solar promised that her appointees would be chosen on the basis of social justice and diversity, and could come to office with records of curbing corporate abuses of workers and natural resources.
Perhaps the most galvanizing issue for Solar’s campaign was her opposition to the proposed Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump. Waste would be transported from states like Maine and Vermont to just outside of Sierra Blanca, a primarily Latino, and poor west Texas town. The proposed dump would be located only sixteen miles from the Rio Grande, on an aquifer, in an earthquake zone.
Solar believes that her stance against the dump helped push the Democratic candidate into opposing Sierra Blanca, which in turn turned up the heat on Republican Governor George W. Bush Jr. Solar challenged Bush directly on the issue, during a two-minute interview on the evening news in Lubbock, her only time on network news during the campaign. Bush ultimately reversed his position and supported the rejection of the license.
Beyond coverage she received in Lubbock and Austin, Solar found it difficult as a write-in candidate to attract media attention, although she did use public access television to her advantage. Fundraising was another challenge, yet even with her self-imposed contribution limit of $100 (modeled after the new Austin campaign finance reform law, which was initiated by the Austin Greens), she raised more than $5,000. She used these funds to print and distribute literature, to create a web site, and to position 30 second spots on late-night and early morning cable television. Solar ended up with nearly 1,000 write-in supporters, and her candidacy helped energize Greens statewide, particularly in rejuvenating the local in Austin.