There are about 24,000 registered Green Independent Party members in Maine. That’s about half the number of Mainers who cast ballots in 1854 for the Know Nothing Party. Of course, the Know Nothings had a way cooler name.
If you laid all the Greens in the state end to end, they wouldn’t stretch from Bangor to Ellsworth. The combined weight of all party members doesn’t equal the tonnage of lobsters landed on the Maine coast in an average half hour. According to the FBI, there are about as many Greens in the state as there were larcenies and thefts in 2004.
That last one may be a coincidence, but just to be on the safe side, lock your doors when the Greens campaign in your neighborhood.
Which isn’t likely, unless you live in Cumberland County. The Green Party is contracting, to the point where that’s about the only place it has any political impact. Even calling it county-wide is stretching it. Once you get outside Portland and South Portland, Green candidates for the Legislature are rare as profitable paper mills.
This year, the party is contesting just 12 of the 186 seats in the state House and Senate. Of those, seven are in Portland and two are in South Portland, with one each in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, and Brunswick. Compare that to 2004, when the Greens put forward 23 candidates from places like Auburn, Biddeford, Blue Hill, Camden, Rockland, Winslow, and Oakland. Contrast this year’s slate with that promised for 2006 by party officials at the 2002 state convention, when they predicted they’d offer 50 legislative hopefuls as well as contenders for both US House seats and the US Senate. Now, party founder John Rensenbrink says that much growth might take another decade.
If the party even exists by then. There’s already a split over goals and directions between state leaders and Cumberland County activists.
State Green officials have devoted themselves to getting gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche on the ballot and helping her qualify for public campaign funding. They say that left no time for recruiting legislative candidates in the hinterlands. Nor is such recruiting likely to be a priority in the near future. The large number of candidates in 2004 was “an anomaly,” according to Green co-chair Betsy Garrold.
“We’re a small party, and we can only support a small group of candidates,” Garrold said. “We may have overreached a bit in 2004.”
One big reason the state party is focused exclusively on the governor’s race is because the Greens need to win at least 5 percent of the vote in that contest to remain an official party. If LaMarche comes up short, the Greens will no longer have automatic ballot access and will be relegated to the political limbo inhabited by the likes of the Libertarian Party, the Veterans Party, and the Keg Party. (OK, I may have made that last one up.)
Many Cumberland County Greens disagree with the decision to concentrate so intensely on the gubernatorial race, arguing the only way to build the party is from the grassroots through legislative campaigns. They intensified their local recruiting this year, actually increasing the number of Greater Portland seats the Greens are contesting.