Grass roots fire fight

By SARA DONNELLY  |  June 7, 2006

“In my opinion, there’s an argument from within on whether we’re an electoral party or a direct action party or a social club,” says John Eder, who, in 2002, became the first Green to win state-level office in a regular election. (In 1999, Green Audie Bock won a seat in the California lower house in a special election.) Eder, who says some of the direct-action Greens “looked at me and were like, eew” when he won his first election, believes the Greens have just started to figure out how to actually grow a political party that includes a lot of people who distrust politics.

“We began winning seats only recently and really running to win only recently,” says Eder. “And it’s sort of created an identity issue. I think some in the party were satisfied to be issues-based, direct-action based and not seriously pursue electoral goals and when we began to take seats in Portland it began to bring [electoral politics] to the fore.”

Rensenbrink, who is now 77 and active with the Topsham Merrymeeting Greens, is concerned that all 12 Green candidates for office this year come from Cumberland County, evidence that the rural Green committees have detached from the electoral game. During an interview at the Little Dog Café in Brunswick in April, Rensenbrink was most animated, albeit with frustration, when talking about what he referred to as the “political dissidence” or the “down with politics” attitude of some Greens.

“If our country goes down the tubes, it’s because of that — the profound alienation of political consciousness,” he said, shaking his head dismally.

But during a phone interview after the convention, Rensenbrink sounded optimistic that the new board will give the party “a greater coherence and sense of direction” by raising money, reconnecting those detached Green committees, and eventually helping more candidates run for office.

“It would be great if we could have enough time and energy to field effective candidates for US Congress and Senate. I hope that will come in the future,” he said. “It’s really important for us to being to devolve power from Washington [DC] down to the states and then down to each locality, we’re always trying to find more effective ways to do that.”

Cutting through
If the new governing board proves to be as strong as intended, it will be a significant change from the origins of the party, which for the first six years of its life functioned exclusively through small, non-hierarchical committees scattered haphazardly throughout the state. These committees focused on platform building and direct action without the benefit (or hindrance) of a strong state party governance. It wasn’t until 1990, six years after the Maine Greens were founded, that the party created a statewide team to even look at running a candidate for office, and it wasn’t until 1992 that they could actually find someone to do it. That someone was Jonathan Carter, who ran unsuccessfully for the US House and, two years later, on a campaign budget of $32,695, managed to attract over six percent of the Maine popular vote as a candidate for governor. This total was enough to exceed the state minimum of five percent to get the Greens official party status in Maine for the first time. Party status is crucial, many Greens say, because it allows candidates to run officially as Greens (which makes for great publicity), it qualifies the party for some state funding, and it allows party leadership to gather a list of registered Green voters. According to the Maine Secretary of State, the Green party registered 24,155 voters in 2004 (the most recent numbers available), up from 16,169 during the last election cycle in 2002.

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Party people

Do third parties make a difference? Depends how you look at it. Here are the number of votes America’s five most prominent third parties earned in the 2004 presidential election, compared with showings from the two major parties:

Republican (George W Bush)      62,040,610 (50.73%)

Democrat (John F Kerry)  59,028,444 (48.27%)

Reform/Populist/Independent (Ralph Nader)      465,650 (0.38%)

Libertarian (Michael Badnarik)     397,265 (0.32%)

Constitution (Michael Anthony Peroutka)            143,630 (0.12%)

Green (David Cobb)          119,859 (0.10%)

Socialist Workers (James Harris or Roger Calero)       10,791 (0.01%)

Source: Federal Election Commission

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