Colorado Greens reach new heights
With over 1,000 Green registrants, the Green Party of Colorado became a ballot status, minor political party during 1998. During June, they held their first nominating convention as a ballot status party, in the historic Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder.
Two candidates were nominated for partisan office: Dean Myerson for University of Colorado Regent at large, a statewide office, and Nancy York for Larimer County Commissioner. Myerson is a member of the Boulder Green Alliance and York, a member of the Poudre Valley Greens living in Forty Collins.
Myerson finished with 3.6%, the highest of any third party candidate for state office in Colorado. York finished with 15%, among the highest for third party candidates for any office in Colorado in a three-way race.
Myerson vowed to focus on the secrecy and backroom dealings of the Regents. Endorsing his candidacy, the Boulder Weekly wrote ‘Dean Myerson, the Green Party candidate going after (incumbent) Martin’s regent seat, confronts these issues directly in his crusade against “crony democracy” at work on the board. Myerson is a capable candidate from an exciting third party. He and other Greens, unlike the CU Regents, do not evade ethics in their approach to policy; they embrace it.’
York was endorsed by the main paper in her county, the Fort Collins Coloradoan, which wrote ‘York would bring a good balance and fresh perspective to the county commission… As a native of Larimer County who has lived here much of her life, York knows the people, the history and the needs of the county. And, as evidenced by her candidacy on the Green Party ticket, she has a deep passion for the environment.
The Coloradoan editorial board continued, ‘She speaks eloquently of the need for sustainability and says she would use the commissioner’s chair as a bully pulpit to talk about sustainable plans and ideas. York has a long history of service on local boards and commissions, experience that would serve her well as a county commissioner. We believe that, as a commissioner, she would be an advocate for alternative, innovative solutions.’
Myerson also received endorsements from local alternative newspapers around the state, including the Colorado Daily, a sort-of student newspaper that is actually independent of the university and students, but is distributed daily all over Boulder. The Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder’s daily newspaper, endorsed the incumbent Republican but mentioned Myerson’s campaign issue of the secrecy of the Board of Regents as a needed issue.
Myerson raised about $1,500, all from individual donors. He was accepted into all of the statewide debates, as the new, more liberal third party laws focused more attention on the Greens and the other alternative parties, and made it easier for them to be included. York raised $5,000, which was more than the Democrat who finished ahead of her. Since the election, three new locals have started in Colorado and some Greens are looking at the possibility of county commissioner and state house acts in 2000.
DC Greens get ballot status on first try
In the nation’s capital, the Green Party took a major step forward in 1998. They set three goals for the fall election: (1) introduce the Greens as a local political force and highlight their issues; (2) get ballot status; and (3) win the election.
Green candidates did inject their issues into the political discourse, advocating small-scale, locally owned, environmentally sound neighborhood development; attacking big business projects such as the new convention center being built at Mount Vernon Square; and supporting statehood and the medical marijuana initiative.
Neither Green candidate – Scott McClarty (City Council, Ward One) or Mike Livingston (shadow representative to US Congress) actually won their race. But each gained 8% of the vote and Livingston received 9,191 votes, easily surpassing the 7,500 necessary to achieve ballot status for the Greens in DC. The Sierra Club endorsed Mike Livingston, and the DC Statehood Party endorsed McLarty. Each endorsement lent important credibility to their campaigns.
The Green Party now becomes the District’s fifth “major party,” along with the Democratic, Republican, D.C. Statehood and Umoja parties. In 2000, DC Greens will now be able to participate in the primary elections, and won’t have to collect thousands of signatures to get Green candidates on the ballot. They will also be on voter registration cards for the first time.
“We feel that we had a victory because we did get ballot status,” said Steven Donkin, a member of the DC Green steering committee that leads the local Green Party. “It was particularly impressive that we accomplished this the first time out” added McClarty.
New Jersey Greens are growing up fast
In only their second year of running candidates, New Jersey Greens gained momentum and stature in 1998. Their candidates averaged 1% of the vote, up from .5% in 1997. They blanketed central New Jersey and Atlantic County with their distinctive lawn signs, gained a lot of new members and appeared in the press more prominently than ever before.
In the 12th Congressional District, Madelyn Hoffman received 0.8 percent of the vote, almost twice as much as either the Reform or Natural Law Party candidates. Among all third party candidates, she came in second to the Libertarians. In the 6th Congressional District, Carl Mayer became the first New Jersey Green to finish first among third party candidates, finishing with 0.9 percent of the total. In the 4th Congressional District, Nick Mellis was close behind the Conservative and Libertarian Party candidates, receiving 0.7 percent.
Fred Disque and Paul Williams became the first New Jersey Green candidates to get more than 1% of the vote. Running for Freeholder in Burlington County, Disque was endorsed by the NJ National Organization for Women and NJ Environmental Federation and received 1.5% of the total. Williams, running for the at-large Freeholder seat in Atlantic County, received 1.1%.
As the strongest progressive ‘third party’, the Greens were seen by the Democrats as their most serious threat, particularly in Hoffman’s and Mayer’s races. This helped them generate more press than the other third party candidates.
A former ‘Nader’s Raider’, Mayer came to the Greens after attempts to win the Democratic Party primary for U.S. Congress failed in 1996 and 1998. He had started his political career running for Congress and State Assembly as an Independent. He had been a Consultant to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Investigations, then was elected to the Princeton Township Committee in 1995 as an Independent.
Thinking he would be able to win a Congressional seat running as a Democrat, Mayer tried twice, then concluded that party bosses would always stand in the way of someone they felt to be too reform-minded and “ultra-progressive.” In Mayer’s past campaigns for Congress and the state assembly, he had been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the National Organization for Women, and the Mercer County Women’s Political Caucus, as well as the Mercer County Greens.
After receiving 37% of the vote in the spring, 1998 Democratic primary in the 12th District, Mayer accepted the Greens’ invitation to become their candidate in the 6th District. At that point the Democrats joined a motion filed by the Attorney General to invalidate Mayer’s petition on the basis that he should not be allowed to run in the 6th after having lost a primary in the 12th. That motion was ultimately denied.
Having high visibility as a “formerly serious Democratic contender”, Mayer was included in most candidate forums and debates. He focused on financial security and quality health care for seniors, and on toughening the Superfund program and cracking down on corporate polluter. The district’s most important daily newspaper, The Home News Tribune, said Mayer’s positions and performance in the forums were “the best” — but in the next sentence told readers not to vote for him because ‘his motives for running were suspect’.
All three Green congressional candidacies ran in adjacent districts, covering approximately the same media market. This resulted in quite a bit of synergy between the three campaigns. They fundraised together, spending about $10,000 in total, and ordered uniform lawn signs, with only the name different from one district to the next. This meant the distinctive Green Party signs “seemed to be all over the place” in central New Jersey.
According to long-time organizer Steven Welzer, after only two years of running candidates, the New Jersey Greens have become the third most significant alternative party in the state. Although still trailing the older, more established Conservatives and Libertarian parties, they beat the Natural Law Party, Reform Party, and Socialist Workers candidates consistently.
After the election, several progressive and environmental organizations made a point of asking the Greens to discuss future campaign strategies. Internally, the Greens also experienced a significant jump in new membership applications, renewals by old members, and requests for information during the campaign.
Grassroots Organization Wins a Ballot Line for New York Greens
by Howie Hawkins
According to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News. New York state has 90% of the ballot access lawsuits in the US. The only way to qualify there for a full party ballot line, is to win 50,000 votes for governor/lieutenant governor.
Over the last eight years, New York Green have had to circulate nominating petitions that require many more times the number of signatures than the candidates of ballot-qualified parties. At the same time, even these signatures are routinely challenged by Democratic Party ‘hacks’, trying to drive Green candidates off the ballot (and sometimes being successful). To survive such challenges, one often has to have double the number of signatures required.
But in the next election, the hacks will be disappointed. The Green ticket of “Grandpa” Al Lewis for Governor and Alice Green for Lieutenant Governor received 52,533 votes in November, enough to give the Green Party of New York State a ballot line for the next four years.
The Greens faced a number of obstacles on the road to 50,000 votes. The most formidable was the competition from eight other independent parties appealing to progressive voters, all seeking the same prize. Two of these parties were organized by Greens formerly active with the Green Party of New York – the Green Choice Party (which failed to get enough signatures to make the ballot) and the Marijuana Reform Party. Others which drew progressive votes were the Unity Party (initiated by the Independent Progressive Politics Network); the Working Families Party (established to replace the Liberal Party as the second ballot line for Democrats under New York’s peculiar tradition of fusion politics); the Liberal Party (a party shell that has mostly degenerated into a crass patronage machine); the Independence Party (conservative on economic class issues, liberal on social issues and good government), as well as the Libertarians and Socialist Workers.
The Greens relied on 240 volunteers to collect 33,010 signatures, which they turned in a week early, the first day of the week-long filing period. The Greens hoped to surprise the Democrats and catch them unprepared to challenge Green petitions within the alloted two weeks, which could cost them up to $1 million to do.
Once on the ballot, the main competition for progressive votes came fromthe Working Families Party. Working Families went $100,000 into debt, spending $500,000 (not counting the over $10 million spent on their own by the Democratic candidates they endorsed), and received a little over 50,000 votes. Unity spend $10,000 for fewer than 10,000 votes. The Greens spent $15,000 (and had $1,000 left over), receiving slightly more votes than Working Families.
The vote totals for the new parties that were seeking a ballot line:
Green Working Families Marijuana Reform Unity
New York City 12,488 (0.9%) 30,324 9,099 5,428
Upstate 40,045 (1.1%) 20,836 15,655 4,234
Statewide Total 52,533 (1.1%) 51,160 24,754 9,482
Green Slate of Ten Candidates: As the beloved “Grandpa Munster” of TV sitcom fame, Green gubernatorial candidate Al Lewis had the name recognition to get people’s attention. Then people found out he was an 88-year old lifelong radical, who cut his political teeth on the campaigns to save Sacco and Vanzetti and the Scottsboro Boys in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Lewis had been a union organizer with textile workers and sharecroppers in the South, and with the maritime union as a merchant marine during World War II. He also had worked with the Black Panthers and today is still active with his own political talk radio show on the Pacifica affiliate in New York City.
Lewis’ running mate was Alice Green, a well-known African American activist in Albany, who organizes against police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system.
The rest of the state Green ticket included Joel Kovel for US Senate, a Bard College professor of social theory and author-activist on anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and eco-socialist themes; Johann Moore for Attorney General, a gay activist veteran of ACT-UP and the NY Marijuana Buyers Club; and me, Howie Hawkins for Comptroller, a co-op business developer who campaigned for progressive and ecological tax, budget, purchasing, and investment policies.
No debates were held in the races for governor, though the Green candidates consistently called for them. Two debates for US Senate were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, but only for Democrats and Republicans. In protest, Kovel staged his own debates outside against ‘Schumato’, a two faced, double-talking puppet with an Al D’Amato face on one side of his head and a Charles Schumer face on the other.
Lower on the statewide ticket, Greens outpolled all the other smaller parties except Marijuana Reform, whose candidates for comptroller and US senator did better than did their gubenatorial candidate. It seems that 20,000 people voted Green for governor to qualify the Greens for ballot status, then voted for Marijuana Reform further down the ticket to make a statement against New York’s corrupt war on drugs.
Media Politics: Working Families had the editorial backing of the two largest liberal weeklies in the state, The Nation and the Village Voice, both New York City based and pro-Democrat. Both attacked the Greens and backed Working Families.
Upstate, progressive weeklies in Albany, Syracuse, and Rochester gave the Greens good coverage. The Rochester Independent and Albany Metroland endorsed Lewis/Green. The Syracuse New Times, even though they didn’t make official endorsements, put Lewis on its last cover right before the election, along with a favorable article. Metroland endorsed Hawkins for Comptroller.
It was more difficult to get coverage in the mainstream media. But Lewis’ personality drew a considerable amount nevertheless. He was the first Green candidate to be covered in The National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids (ironically, these stories were more issue-focused than most in the “objective” media). He also got a lot of coverage out of his failed court challenge to get him listed as “Grandpa” Al Lewis on the ballot.
Having got peoples’ attention, Greens then focused the media on their issues. They denounced both major parties for allowing one in four New York children to live in poverty, while the richest 20% made 20 times more than the poorest 20%, making New York the most unequal US state.
Lewis fought to “Save NY’s Kids”, with demands for raising welfare benefits above the poverty line, creating jobs for all at living wages with the government as employer of last resort, establishing universal health care, and instituting progressive tax reform to fund quality public schools.
At two well-covered news conferences – one on the environment in the Legislative Office Building of the State Capitol in Albany, and another outside Kodak headquarters in Rochester (as they announced their high third quarter profits) – Green candidates called for revoking corporate charters of repeat offenders of labor and environmental laws. They also called for the municipalization of the New York Yankees, as an alternative to letting its owner blackmail the city for a new stadium, with threats to move the team to New Jersey.
Lewis and Green got the most coverage on criminal justice reform, establishing the Greens as a strong opposition voice to the growing prison-industrial complex in New York, where $650 million in the state budget has been shifted from higher education to state prisons over the last ten years.
Lewis and Green spoke against the death penalty, against a new racially-biased law to eliminate parole and rehabilitative programs for violent felons, and against the war of drugs (which has become a war on black people that is filling New York’s prisons faster than they can be built.
One of the high moments of the campaign was when Lewis was scheduled to be interviewed at a Buffalo TV station whose workers went on strike. Lewis talked to managment, they ‘hatched’ a plan and Lewis went to do the interview. Five minutes from the end, he turned to the interviewer, said now he had a question, pulled out a strike support sign, and demanded to know why the station wouldn’t settle with the workers. The live interview was cut off by the station at that point, but it was too late. The labor movement in Buffalo loved it.
Local Green Groups Were Campaign’s Strength: The key to the entire state campaign, was the more than 30 Green locals that were organized by the end of the campaign. This enabled the Greens to overcome the obstacles of competing against so many other alternative parties, having very little money, being excluded from debates, and limited media coverage. The locals provided the volunteer base to successfully petition for the ballot line, to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets, and then turn out supporters on election day from a base built over the last decade.
With such a narrow margin making ballot status (2,533 votes out of over four million cast), every vote, phone call, leaflet, and conversation to persuade a voter made a difference. If this shows anything, it put the lie to the notion that you can’t make a difference.
Belitskus Makes First Green Run for Congress in PA
Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District, in northern and central Pennsylvania,is rural, conservative but also independent-minded. It includes all or part of 17 counties.
Enter Bill Belitskus, the first-ever Green Congressional candidate in Pennsylvania. In a two-way race against first-term incumbent Republican Charles Peterson, A 49-year old Vietnam veteran and special education teacher, Belitskus received 15% of the vote, and his impact went well beyond the numbers.
By the end of the campaign, Belitskus was treated as a serious candidate. He received the endorsement of the second-largest newspaper in the district (Penn State University’s student-run Daily Collegian). Perhaps even more significantly, the largest newspaper in the district, the State College-based Centre Daily Times, declined to endorse either candidate. After mentioning that Belitskus was “a bit too liberal,” the paper attacked Peterson on many of Belitskus’ issues, from being too anti-environment to not protecting Social Security.
Belitskus also became the first US Green Congressional candidate to be endorsed by the national Sierra Club, in the Club’s 18 history of supporting candidates. Belitskus was one of only 19 other Congressional hopefuls challenging incumbents on the Sierra Club’s selective 1998 endorsement list. The Sierra Club highlighted Belitskus’ past work to end commercial logging on national forests, protect water quality, and prevent siting of a new nuclear waste dump in his district.
“Business-as-usual development threatens the future of our communities”, said Belitskus. “Instead of an economy based on the clear-cutting of state and national forests for short-term gain, we must develop an economy based on sustainable forestry, recreation and tourism.”
Peterson said he would debate Belitskus, but then never accepted any invitations. Peterson did however, send out a campaign mailer, stating that the Greens position on natural resource use was ‘unAmerican’.
Belitskus did back-to-back candidates’ statements with Peterson on AM radio and public TV. Belitskus’ points on education, Social Security, and the environment were reasonably well known in the larger towns by Election Day. In State College, the town where Penn State is located, Belitskus won 43% of the vote. He won 26% in Centre County, arguably the district’s most progressive area. He seemed to do best among young people and the elderly. The 15% Belitskus won was very similar to the 14-17% received by Virginia Greens, including Sherry Stanley, who ran in two-way state legislative races in 1997
Green ticket strong in Rhode Island
For the second time in four years, Jeff Johnson represented the Green Party of Rhode Island as its Lt. Governor candidate. A high-school science teacher who also volunteers at a group home for troubled adolescents, Johnson campaigned on ‘putting a watchdog — not a lap dog — in the State House’.
Johnson won the endorsement of the weekly Providence Phoenix for the second time (also in 1994). It praised him as an issues-oriented candidate “willing to tackle politically unpopular issues.” His constant pressure forced major party candidates to address vital issues such as lead poisoning in the inner cities. His strong stance on this health emergency questioned the Republicrats commitment to poor and minority communities and resulted in the issue becoming a primary debate issue.
But apparently, this record wasn’t deemed good enough to be included in the candidate debates. Early on, both Green and the Reform Party candidate rallied outside the Providence Chamber of Commerce, to protest unbalanced debates which only included Democrat and Republican candidates. In several public statements, Johnson railed against Channel 12 and Channel 36 (RI’s only “public” television station) for routinely barring third party candidates from debates. The result was an invitation from local TV journalist Jack White for Johnson to appear on a “Newsmakers” forum on channels 12 and 64 to discuss whether the media was fair to third parties.
Newspaper coverage was slightly better. In its election edition, the Providence Journal called Johnson “a legitimate and knowledgable candidate”. They printed his press releases advocating universal healthcare, reducing the sales tax and touting views on the development of a local port. Johnson even called for a plan that the state offer free public transportation to all Rhode Islanders, as a way of reducing both traffic and pollution.
After receiving 6% in 1994, Johnson now received 3% of the statewide vote, possibly splitting last year’s 6% with fellow third party candidate John Carlevale.
However, in areas where he focused his campaign such as Providence and South Kingstown Peterson won over 10% of the vote while spending less than $300, in a race where the mainstream candidates each spent around half a million dollars.
In the state legislative race, more than half of all candiates for the General Assembly ran unopposed. Three Green candidates for the assembly ran as the sole opposition to incumbent candidates, and all three garnered significant votes. Bill Martin, running for state senate in Cumberland (Dist. 33) won 15% of the vote. Josh Mandelbaum, running for State Senate in Providence (Dist. 2), used a voter registration drive and a grassroots, door-to-door campaign against an incumbent, winning 23% of the vote. Karen Johnson, running on a pro-environment and public safety platform for general assembly in Narragansett and South Kingstown (Dist. 48), received 30% of the vote. In the 11-way race for 5 seats on the North Kingstown town council, D.J. Hayes received over 1,000 votes.
Looking back at these results, Green Party of Rhode Island co-chair Erbin Crowell summed it up this way: ‘Greens should be very proud of these returns. All of these races were run with integrity, with a minimum of finances (all under $400), no corporate backing or influence, and without an “old boy” political network to fall back on. Our candidates have shown that everyday people can run strong campaigns and make a difference in Rhode Island politics without lots of money or political connections.’
Historic election for Wisconsin Greens
For the first time ever in 1998, Wisconsin Greens had their our own column on the ballot, thanks to Green candidates Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, who met the 1% threshold (1.3%) in their 1996 bid for president and vice president.
Retaining that ballot status for the next four years, then became an important goal for the party. Under Wisconsin law, a political party must receive at least 1% of the total vote cast for at least one statewide office every four years in order to maintain ballot status.
Green co-spokesperson Jeff Peterson gained the Greens’ endorsement to run for Congress. But when no other Green came forward to run for a statewide race that would preserve the party’s ballot line, Peterson decided to run instead for state treasurer. In July, thanks to the help of many volunteers, he submitted 2,235 valid signatures to the State Elections Board, securing his place on the ballot.
His campaign focused on six main planks:
- Promoting a Green presence across the state, and elaborating upon a broad Green approach to sustainability, social responsibility, and democracy.
- Establishing a “Wastewatchers’ Hotline” toll-free telephone number which could be used by government employees and citizens alike to report waste and inefficiency in state government.
- Giving public notice of future tax hikes disguised as fee increases; calling for public hearings before approval of any such increases.
- Challenging the governor’s use of the partial veto, especially in cases where vetoes to appropriations bills result in spending cuts or increases not specifically authorized by the legislature.
- Creating new standards of wealth and value so that quality of life issues are factored into any calculations of Wisconsin’s economic well-being.
- Speaking out for progressive taxation policies and socially and environmentally responsible investment policies for Wisconsin.
Several newspaper editors told Peterson off the record, that he had the most comprehensive, best thought out plan of any of the four candidates running for state treasurer. He did receive the endorsement of the Amery Free Press, a weekly paper with wide circulation in Polk County. The Wisconsin State Journal called the Wisconsin Green Party “feisty.” In the November issue of national magazine The Progressive, Madison, WI-based writer John Nichols wrote that Peterson had “…written an impressive plan for using the treasurer’s office to monitor state investments with an eye toward environmental and ethical concerns…”
In addition to issues directly related to the state treasurer’s job, Peterson also talked about the need to amend the state constitution to allow for some form of proportional representation, as well as citizen initiative and referendum. He also advocated that a “Common Property” or “Seventh Generation” amendment be added to the U.S. Constitution. This proposed amendment was crafted originally crafted by long-time northern Wisconsin Green organizer Walt Bresette, and also formed a key part of 1996 Green vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke’s platform. Its intent is to balance the private property protections already extant in the consitution with a parallel provision for the protection of common property. The complete text reads: “The right of citizens of the United State to use and enjoy air, water, sunlight, and other renewable resources determined by Congress to be common property shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for the use of future generations.”
Peterson raised about $2000 from about 60 contributors. Even with these limited resources, 31,329 Wisconsin voters cast a Green ballot in 1998. Peterson came in third out of four candidates, beating the Libertarian by about 3,000 votes. Not only did this campaign succeed in garnering the requisite 1% of the vote to maintain our ballot status for the next election; the Greens also outpolled every other third party on the ballot. This means that, in the 2000 elections, the Wisconsin Green Party will be listed third, after the Republicans and Democrats. (It is interesting to note that, while the Reform Party elected a governor in neighboring Minnesota, they failed to get 1% of the vote in Wisconsin, and thus lost their ballot status.)