By Mike Feinstein, Green Party of California & Annie Young, Green Party of Minnesota

The first-ever Conference of US Green Officeholders was held at Santa Monica College, February 20th-22nd. It brought together approximately 40 elected and appointed Green officeholders, together with future candidates, campaign managers and other party activists, to gather ‘seminar style’ and discuss how to be an effective Green in government.

The weekend was divided into workshops around “Sustainable Communities”, “How to Govern Effectively and Green”, “Social and Economic Justice” and “Democratizing our Communities”. Within each workshop, three or four Greens were presented on areas of their expertise. Each workshop highlighted the initiatives, ordinances and actions that Green Party officeholders were putting forward.

The conference format also allowed for healthy meal and break times, with an airy, open and comfortable indoor/outdoor space as a backdrop for attendees to also informally share their thoughts.

Officeholders quickly found that they had many values and principles in common, even though they live in different parts of the country and (most) had never met before. This understanding allowed the process to proceed quickly from ‘where everyone was at’ to a discussion of direct ways Green officeholders can be effective and make change. This filled two full days with clear, focused, and practical presentations and discussions. As part of this, Santa Monica’s Assistant City Manager made a presentation of her own, that impacted conference attendees greatly.

Immediately preceding the conference, five of the Green officeholders filmed a one-half hour special entitled “Campaign 98: Greens in Government” at the studio of local cable giant Century Communications. The program was hosted by Los Angeles’ pre-eminent public affairs host Bill Rosendahl, and will be rebroadcast literally dozens of times to over a million homes in the Los Angeles area between March and the November election, as well as shared with major cable systems throughout the state.

On Saturday evening of the conference, about 75 people braved some of El Niño’s worst weather, to hear a public panel presentation at Santa Monica College from five of the officeholders, highlighting their performances in office.

Overall, the Green Officeholders Conference marked a threshold for US Greens. First, there are now enough elected Greens to make such a gathering possible and relevant. Second, Greens are taking themselves seriously enough to be trying to improve the quality of their officeholders. Third, in the process, the Conference helped define what it means to be Green in office in the US. Conference attendees included:

Electeds:

Alan Drusys, City Council, Yucaipa, San Bernadino County, CA
Mike Feinstein, City Council, Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, CA
Fran Gallegos, Municipal Judge, Santa Fe, NM
Jennifer Hanan, City Council, Arcata, Humboldt County, CA
Matt Harline, (former) City Council, Columbia, MO
Jason Kirkpatrick, City Council, Arcata, Humboldt County, CA
Karen Kubby, City Council, Iowa City, IA
Bob Ornelas, City Council, Arcata, Humboldt County, CA
Annie Young, Parks & Recreation Board, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, MN

Appointeds:

Steven Schmidt, State Board of Education, New Mexico
Kevin McKeown, Telecommunications Working Group, Santa Monica
Dean Myerson, Environmental Advisory Board, Boulder, CO
Mark Ruzzin, Planning Group, Boulder, CO

Other attendees of the conference included organizers from the United Farm Workers, and representatives from both the Partido Verde Ecologîsta de Mexico, and the Green Party of Canada.

At the end of the Conference, officeholders agreed that a second conference of Green officeholders should be held in 1999, preferably in the San Francisco Bay Area. They also made plans to organize education and outreach at meetings of the League of Cities and other such organizations (and conferences) of elected public officials. First is the National League of Cities meeting in Kansas City, MO in December, 1998. Several Greens from around the country are expected to attend.

The organizers of the Green Officeholders Conference were Lynne Serpe and Mike Feinstein. They were the same team that co-coordinated the 1996 national Green Gathering and Presidential Nomination Convention.