Grass roots fire fight

Maine Greens, burned by internal conflict, struggle to stay alive
By SARA DONNELLY  |  June 7, 2006

Kevin Donoghue slumps deeper in his chair at the 2006 Maine Green Party convention as a debate over one of the most significant structural changes to the party’s governance in its 22-year history swallows up more of his Friday evening. About 30 Greens sit in the theater of the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, discussing whether to streamline party leadership in a year when many of them think their gubernatorial candidate, Pat LaMarche, could win.

The single Green state legislator, John Eder, is home sick with the flu. Ben Meiklejohn, aka “Zen Ben,” a 34-year-old Portland school committee member and a candidate for state legislature, stands in the front row and objects to the proposal to fire the party’s current group of leaders (who party founder John Rensenbrink recently said didn’t do much of anything this year) in exchange for a smaller group of new leaders. A Green in a yellow tropical shirt interrupts Meiklejohn and berates him so vehemently Meiklejohn walks out of the room. Donoghue watches, amused and dismayed.

Like most young active party members from Portland, Donoghue, 27, is more energized by winning a political seat, like Zen Ben and other Portland Greens have managed to, than he is by debating the state party structure that hasn’t done much to help him run for office in the first place. But whether or not Donoghue cares much about the party, the party is starting to care a lot about people like him.

Around 8 pm, after some impassioned condemnations of the current party leadership, a tiny fraction of the 24,000 Greens registered in the state raise their mint-green placards and votes to create a stronger central governing body whose first priority is to hire an executive director who will help more Kevin Donoghues from around the state run for office. The 13-member steering committee of the Green Party, which chose not to recruit a single candidate for this fall’s municipal or state elections, is dissolved on the spot and replaced with five new politics-minded Greens including Ben Chipman (the party’s most ardent campaign manager), Jonathan Carter (who ran twice for governor), and Carol Schiller (who lost her campaign for city council last year). In about 25 minutes, the party transforms from a chronically decentralized group of activist-skeptics into a maybe, possibly, if-you-squint-your-eyes-could-be a unified party with a palpable lust for political power. And some key Greens think it’s about time.

Twisted roots
While the 30 or so Greens at the convention debated the merits of a smaller governing board, Jacqui Deveneau mills around the room munching on snacks from the lobby. Deveneau is the party’s “Welcome Wagon Lady” — she contacts new Greens and helps them become active in the party — and is one of the busiest Green activists in the state. Deveneau loves the Greens, and wants the party to be strong and happy and functional and all that, but she’s not much involved in politics of the Kevin Donoghue or John Eder variety. She, like many who join progressive third parties as refugees from the middle-moving Democrats, prefers direct action in protests and advocacy work over courting the voting public.

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What Republicans can teach the Greens. By Sara Donnelly

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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