Green Party: Still Seeking Unity


Greens ran more than 60 candidates in the 1996 election and the results are encouraging for Greens and for anyone who wants to see an independent progressive political movement in this country. Among the Greens’ strongest showings were:

  • Arcata, California: A Green Party three out of five majority on the city council of Arcata, California, with Jennifer Hannan and Bob Ornelus joining Jason Kilpatrick.
  • California City Councils: The election of four more city council candidates in California (Dona Spring and Chris Kavanagh in Berkeley, Mike Feinstein in Santa Monica, and Julie Partansky in Davis).
  • Hawai’I: A strong second for Keiko Bonk for Mayor of the big island of Hawai’i, with 33 percent to the Democrat’s 39 percent and the Republican’s 23 percent. Other strong seconds in Hawai’i were Julie Leialoha (33 percent) and Julie Jacobsen (28 percent) for the Big Island county council. Karen Archibald (21 percent) also ran well against a Democrat (53 percent) and a Republican (23 percent) for a Hawai’i State House seat.
  • New Mexico: Peggy Helgeson received 11 percent of the statewide vote for Corporation Commission, the same as Roberto Mondragon received running for Governor in 1993. Mondragon received 35 percent for State Legislature from Santa Fe this year and Fran Gallegos won a municipal judgeship in Santa Fe. Other strong showings were 29 percent for Bob Anderson for State Legislature from Albuquerque; 25 percent for Andres Vargas for District Attorney in Taos, Colfax, and Union counties; and 25 percent for Scott Jones for County Commissioner in Cibola County.
  • Wisconsin: Bill Anderson was re-elected to the Douglas County Board of Supervisors, but the other two Green incumbents, Ted Ciskie and Kay McKenzie, both lost by just 24 votes.
  • Minneapolis: A 25 percent second-place vote for Cam Gordon for Minnesota State Representative from Minneapolis, ahead of the Republican (19 percent) and behind the Democrat (56 percent).
  • Alaska: A second-place finish in the Alaska U.S. Senate race for Job Whitaker, whose 13 percent vote beat the Democrat’s 10 percent.
  • Brooklyn, New York: Craig Seeman’s 7 percent third place for a Brooklyn State Assembly doubled his total from two years ago and put him in a strong position for a March special election for the seat because his Democratic opponent, Eileen Dugan, the 3rd ranked Democrat in the State Assembly, died the day after the election. With Seeman’s name recognition established from the last two campaigns and Dugan’s seniority and power to bring benefits to the district no longer a factor, Seeman will run much stronger in March.

At least seven Greens are already announced for 1997 races. Most are municipal candidates, this being an odd year when municipal races are predominant, but they include Madeline Hoffman, a leader of the Grassroots Environmental Coalition, for Governor of New Jersey.

Local Greens Outpoll Nader

In all but a few races, local Greens received far more votes than the Ralph Nader presidential ticket did in their districts. Nationally, Nader received 682,252 votes, or 0.7 percent of the total vote. In states where he was on the ballot, Nader’s percentage ranged from a highs of 4 percent in Oregon and 3 percent in Alaska, Hawai’i, Washington, and Washington, DC; through 2 percent in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont; to 1 percent in Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin; to less than 1 percent in Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Utah.

In these 22 states where the Greens placed Nader on the ballot through previous ballot status or petition, he received 580,627 votes. Greens also qualified him as an official write-in candidate in 23 more states, where an additional 101,625 write-in votes have been counted (with no totals yet for Alabama, Delaware, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania).

Some perspective on Nader’s vote can be gained by comparing his total of 682,252 votes to other independent progressive candidates in recent decades. On the bright side, Nader’s total is more than any independent progressive party candidate has received since Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party received 1,157,057 votes in 1948 (Vincent Hallinan received only 140,416 for the Progressives in 1952). It wasn’t until the People’s Party of the early 1970s that a non-sectarian independent progressive party ran a national campaign when Ben Spock received 78,751 votes in 1972 and Margaret Wright received 49,024 votes in 1976. The Citizens Party’s Barry Commoner received 234,279 votes in 1980. On the other hand, running as an independent without party affiliation, Eugene McCarthy, the anti-war former U.S. Senator, received 752,728 votes in 1976. McCarthy joined as a plaintiff in an unsuccessful suit by the Green Party USA to get Nader into the presidential debates.

A positive outcome for the Greens was new-ballot status parties in Connecticut, Nevada, Vermont, Wisconsin, and D.C., and reaffirmation of their status in Alaska, California, New Mexico, and Oregon. However, by not meeting vote thresholds in Hawai’i (10 percent) and Maine (5 percent), the Greens may have lost their ballot status in these states unless pending ballot access reform bills in both states are adopted.

Based on polling data, many Greens, and Nader himself, had expected a much higher vote. The only national polls that included Nader were taken in the spring when the Los Angeles Times had him at 6 percent and CBS at 8 percent. The polls for California at that time had Nader at 8 to 11 percent. Though he was running ahead of Perot in these polls, the major media excluded Nader from subsequent national polls, hurting the ballot access petition drives during the summer and lowering the visibility of the candidacy. State polls around the country ran during the fall and had Nader receiving many times more votes than he ended up receiving. In New York polls, for example, Nader had 3-4 percent in the 2 weeks before the election, but on election day Nader’s New York vote was only 1.1 percent.

Why the Low Nader Vote?

Why did Nader come in so much lower than polling indicated? Three reasons have been prominent Green post-election evaluations.

First, by refusing to spend more than the $5,000 threshold requiring the filing of Federal Election Commission reports, Nader gave the impression he was not a serious candidate. I certainly ran into this impression constantly while I petitioned for a ballot line and then campaigned in New York. Many people did not want to "waste their vote" on a candidate they perceived as not running the strongest campaign possible.

Second, Nader alienated many natural supporters by his early declaration that he would avoid the so-called "wedge issues" (abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, immigration) in order to keep the focus on his anti-corporate, pro-democracy message. Not only was this approach bad political ethics (i.e., subordinating the particular demands of oppressed groups in order to presumably build a broader front against the common corporate enemy), it was bad political strategy. If you stand in the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides–neither side trusts you. Taking up the particular concerns of oppressed groups builds bridges, not walls. Nader did say he wanted the Greens to take up these other issues, which they tried to do. But the public and media attention was on Nader, the Greens’ candidate. Ironically, Nader has a solid history of practical, effective anti-discrimination legal work, notably against bank and insurance redlining. But the more Nader tried to ignore these issues, the more the focus switched from the anti-corporate message Nader wanted to emphasize to the social issues he wanted other Greens to address. Many Greens, as well as the Independent Progressive Politics Network, urged Nader to change his approach and come out forcefully for abortion rights and gay rights and against the anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action initiatives. And Nader did change somewhat as the campaign progressed, taking progressive positions on these issues in his public statements and when asked in interviews. But it was not enough to dispel the already established public impression that he was not concerned about these questions.

"Progressive" Democrats, of course, did all they could to play up this perception in order to build support for Clinton among progressives, who had every reason–from NAFTA and the swollen military budget to the repressive crime bill and the welfare repeal–to vote for Nader. Peter Camejo, the Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate in 1976 and now a California Green Party member, noted the hypocrisy of this stance in a post-election discussion:

"Clearly [Nader’s single-issue approach] is not the best way to run a presidential campaign. But to try and turn Nader’s decision to run a single issue campaign as somehow even indirectly complicit in the passage of [anti-affirmative action proposition] 209 is a complete misunderstanding of the dynamic of Nader’s campaign. Ralph Nader, a Lebanese-American, is the first person of third world origins to receive over 500,000 votes for President against the two parties of corporate America. His running mate was a Native American (Winona LaDuke).While the Greens fought 209 and racism, the Democratic Party carefully positioned itself to receive the votes of people of color while it stood by and allowed 209 to pass. This is the same way the Democrats positioned themselves with the anti-Latino bill of 187. That is why we are beginning to see a few leading people of color break with Clinton and supporting the Greens, for instance, Bert Corona and Rudi Acuna from Los Angeles. It is sad to see [progressives] in the name of opposition to racism back a racist party, the Democrats, while they oppose voting for a slate of two people of color who have fought their entire lives against discrimination both racial and gender."

A third reason Greens suggest for Nader’s vote being lower than polls predicted is that when voters finally get into the poll, the lesser-evil syndrome asserts its force most strongly in the presidential race, where the greater evil has more power to do more damage. The lesser-evil syndrome helps explain why local Green candidates across the country outpolled Nader.

Nader Campaign Energizes Greens

While the Nader campaign fell short of the expectations of many Greens, the campaign did bring many new activists and energy into the Greens. In New York, for example, the number of solid locals more than doubled from 7 to 18 during the course of the campaign. Across the country, state Green party organizations were formed in the course of petition drives in at least 20 states where the Greens only had a few locals at best.

For the GPUSA, the Nader campaign brought a new group of veteran activists into national leadership. Muriel Tillinghast, an activist since she was a leader in SNCC, Mississippi Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, was recruited by the New York Greens to be their "favorite daughter" Vice-Presidential candidate on the Nader ticket. She ran a vigorous campaign, was elected to GPUSA’s National Committee, and is now coordinator of GPUSA Finance Working Group. Coordinating GPUSA’s legal team is Mark Dunlea, another veteran independent political activist who co-founded the New York Public Interest Research Group, managed Sonia Johnson’s 1984 Citizens Party presidential campaign, and spearheaded the organization of the Green Party in New York, but who had stayed out of national work until the Nader campaign. In California, inner city Los Angeles Greens used the campaign to build what appears to be developing into one of the strongest Green locals in the country. One of the leaders of this organizing drive, Kwazi Nkrumah, a union organizer who was Labor Commissioner of the National Black Independent Political Party in the early 1980s, has been a Green Party member for seven years. With the Nader campaign, he stepped up his national involvement with the campaign, was elected one of GPUSA’s three National Coordinators in December, and coordinates the Organizing Working Group.

This new level of energy and organization is what the Greens, and Nader, had intended to gain through the campaign. But whether the Greens can build on this new infusion of energy will depend on whether they can consolidate into a unified national organization with a participatory democratic structure that can harness and sustain the new energy at the grassroots.

The Split

I have discussed the GPN’s attempts to split the Green movement and isolate its left wing in previous Z articles (May 1995, March 1996). To pick the thread up in early 1996, GPN was coming off two Third Parties ’96 conferences in June 1995 and January 1996 where it had claimed to be taking the lead in uniting third parties. This effort was divisive and confusing as it was done independently of the already existing network of progressive third parties, the Independent Progressive Politics Network. The GPN’s theme in these conferences was to go "beyond left and right." So they invited the Libertarian and Natural Law parties, Perot’s Reform Party, and the Newman-Fulani Patriot Party, as well as progressive parties. By the second January 1996 conference, Nader had already agreed to run for President on the Green primary ballot in California and was open to running elsewhere if grassroots organization developed to run the campaign. So in February, Linda Martin of the GPN created a DC-based Draft Nader Clearinghouse (DNC).

With Tom Linzey, a lawyer from Pennsylvania, providing legal advice, the DNC urged Greens to set up Draft Nader Committees (DNCs) independent of the existing state Green parties. The separate DNCs were publicly rationalized as a legal necessity to conform to Nader’s $5,000 spending limits. By being separate and "not authorized by Ralph Nader or affiliated with any organization representing him," the DNCs could raise and spend money on the campaign as "independent expenditures" and these expenditures would not count toward Nader’s $5,000 limit.

GPUSA questioned the legal necessity of separate DNCs. The Green Party of New York, a GPUSA affiliate, was told by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that as a FEC recognized political party, the status of "independent expenditures" would be safer, particularly for ballot access drive expenditures. In addition, the party could make many expenditures–get out the vote, voter registration, buttons, bumper stickers, and literature–which would be exempt from the limits on spending for candidates. So the Green Party of New York and GPUSA proceeded to apply for FEC recognition as state and federal political parties respectively, which they eventually received in October for New York and November for GPUSA.

In retrospect, it is now clear that the GPN leadership of the DNC used the presumed legal necessity for separate DNCs to build up its own network outside GPUSA. Nader was not talking to either DNC or GPUSA during the campaign to avoid the appearance of coordination which would make DNC and GPUSA campaign expenses count toward his. Since the election, Nader has stayed out of the split.

While GPUSA knocked itself out campaigning in the fall, the DNC was organizing a mid-November meeting to launch a new national Green Party, the Association of State Green Parties. GPN has been calling without success for an Association of State Green Parties independent of the existing GPUSA since 1992. But the November 16-17 meeting brought about 100 people to Middleburg, Virgnia, where the GPN core was joined by a larger group of new activists who had hooked into the Greens through the DNCs. Unlike their previous attempts to split the Green party movement, the GPN has attracted a base this time. Eleven states have joined the Association of State Green Parties, though most of them fledgling groups formed out of DNCs or states that have also affiliated with GPUSA and are pushing unity. Several state parties have not affiliated with either side nationally, partly because local work has kept them fully occupied and partly because they haven’t wanted to get into the middle of a fight. But the Nader campaign has made it clear that the Greens need a unified national organization to be more effective. So the state organizations are getting involved nationally, more so than ever before.

Call for Unity

The problem with the dynamic set up by the ASGP’s drive for affiliation is that every state is now debating their affiliation, sometimes to the detriment of staying on top of local work. ASGP has called a founding convention for April 2-4 and is trying to recruit more states to participate. GPUSA, looking to alliances with other independent progressive parties, is encouraging its affiliates to participate in the National Independent Politics Summit in Decatur, Illinois, May 2-4, where electoral alliances among all the independent progressive political parties will be a major discussion theme. GPUSA will hold its 1997 National Green Gathering in New York, tentatively around Labor Day Weekend. In the meantime, a third force of Greens calling for unity is developing.

If anything is clear it is that most Greens are sick of the squabbling. Hopefully this grassroots majority will be an irresistible force for unity from below. Hundreds of Greens, several state parties, and the National Committee of GPUSA have signed a call for unity. The call points out the stupidity of two national Green organizations competing for state affiliations and FEC recognition and projects an all-sides unity conferencing process to work out an agreeable unified structure. That would be the rational resolution. It would let the rank-and-file decide. Unity conferencing could work out a structure with broad support that would be ratified by state and local Green organizations. The problem is that ASGP leaders have not signed on and have a history of "leadership" by unilateral action instead of grassroots authorization. But the grassroots of the Greens can reject those divisive maneuvers and enforce unity from below. The big question now is, will they?

Howie Hawkins is active in the Syracuse Green Party and a New York representative on the Green Party USA’s National Committee.