Thursday, July 27, 2006

Remembering 2004 - pt. 1

David Cobb speaking from the podiumWith the Green Party of the United States having its national meeting this weekend (in Tucson, AZ), it may be a good time to (re)consider the 2004 convention fight between David Cobb (above) and Ralph Nader.

As I noted earlier, I've started reading Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate, a reader edited by Howie Hawkins. Hawkins, a New York Green, was strongly in the Nader camp, and this book is part of the ongoing post-election spin. This book presents both sides of the argument, by reprinting documents and essays from notable participants, including Californians Peter Camejo, Todd Chretien, Matt Gonzalez, Forrest Hill, Donna Warren, and the late Walt Sheasby.

So far, I've only read Hawkins' introduction, which is nearly 40 pages. But here is my initial reaction: I'm not convinced. I didn't think the Green Party should run a candidate in 2004--certainly not a non-Green who had already run twice on the ticket and refused to face a primary challenge--and I stand behind that conviction.

Nader's supporters from 2004 have tried to frame the debate as one of independence from the Democrats vs. support for the Democrats. In this dichotomy, Nader is the independent, anti-war candidate, and Cobb is the pro-Kerry, not clearly anti-war candidate. To accomplish this, Hawkins makes two arguments: first, that Cobb, by not campaigning in states expected to be up for grabs on election day, was essentially endorsing Kerry; and second, that Kerry and Bush were essentially equivalent.

cover of Independent Politics, edited by Howie HawkinsAlthough I believed, in 2000, that Gore was about as bad as Bush, in 2004 I found the argument offensive. Bush was much worse than anyone could have imagined. Kerry may have shied away from an anti-Iraq-war message, and certainly supported the war in Afghanistan, he would not have gotten us into the mess in Iraq in the first place, and was not nearly the incompetent that Bush is. But Nader and his running mate, Camejo, in their attempt to find support in the polarized electorate, went even farther than equivalating Kerry and Bush. They actively demonized Kerry and the Democrats every chance they got. In criticizing the Anybody But Bush (ABB) coalition, they at times sounded like Anybody But Kerry.

One of the valid criticisms of the 2004 convention is of the method for giving states representation. The formula gives small states a disproportionate percentage of delegates. This is a hard issue to solve, given that people in many states do not have the ability to register Green. Ideally, every primary voter would be equal, but many states use conventions that allow only active members to participate. By some calculations, California could have 40 percent of the delegates, instead, it has much fewer.

Nader/Camejo supporters use this as an argument that the convention was illigitimate and that Nader should have been endorsed. "The big parties, notably California and New York, with two-thirds of all the registered Greens in the U.S. between them, voted overwhelmingly for Nader," Hawkins writes. In fact, Nader was not on the ballot in either of these states. The votes Hawkins counts for Nader were cast for "favorite son" candidates. In the case of California, that was Peter Camejo, who was just coming off two state wide campaigns for governor and participation in televised debates. It is not clear at all that primary voters knew they were voting for Nader when they punched the card for Camejo. At this point, Camejo had not been selected as Nader's running mate. Perhaps the voters were tired of running Nader and wanted a fresh face to head the ticket. Perhaps they wanted a strong run by a registered Green. Or perhaps his was the only name they recognized.

Hawkins alleges that leaders in the national party purposely pushed Nader away after the 2000 election. I have no reason to doubt his account, but I don't think it changes the fact that when Nader asked the convention to endorse him, he was doing an end run around the primary process and running as an independent/coalition candidate rather than as the Green Party candidate he was in 1996 and 2000.

In December, 2003, Nader surveyed the landscape and withdrew his name from consideration as the Green presidential candidate. "Nader went on to cite several factors that he felt made a Green run by him impractical," Hawkins writes. "He said the fact that the Greens were waiting until the June 2004 convention before deciding whether to run a candidate and, if so, whether to run safe states or all out, made it difficutl for a serious candidate to raise funds and seek ballot access."

Nader appears to be expecting a coronation, an image that upset many Green activists, who felt the party was ready for a contested primary. Had he worked within the process, rather than expecting an endorsement from the national party leadership, he probably would have picked up the nomination easily, as Hawkins admits: "Had he chosen to seek the Green nomination, it is likely he would have won it and headed up a Green presidential campaign that still had a solid majority of Greens backing him."

Hawkins believes that the Green Party's decision to endorse Cobb, with his safe states strategy, split the party and the anti-war movement. But it can as easily be argued that Nader's decision to run an independent campaign with or without the Green Party was the decisive split. Either way, it is unlikely a united anti-war and anti-corporate party campaign could have had the impact that Hawkins wishes to believe it could have.

Certainly in retrospect, the Anybody But Bush coalition (which included me) was a failure that led to demoralization among Greens and other progressives, but imagine how much animosity a more popular, united Green campaign would have generated when Bush was reelected. In the event, the Democrats had their open shot at Bush and missed. They cannot blame anybody but themselves. And that opens up the door for the Green Party.

Monday, July 24, 2006

County council update

Yesterday was the first meeting of the new County Council of the Green Party of Los Angeles County. It was a long, hot, and at times frustrating day. The first half of the day was planned as a retreat. The second half was the actual meeting.

The retreat portion went well, although many people decided to skip that portion, so it was not as useful as it might have been. When the meeting started, a proposal was made to suspend the bylaws so that the meeting could be (for the most part) cancelled. The reasoning was understandable, since the agenda had been set by the prior council, and many new members were upset that they did not have input. Nevertheless, I opposed the motion because I wanted to get as much done as possible. If we had stuck to the agenda, we would have had the opportunity to add new items to it.

In the end, the vote to suspend the bylaws passed. We then went forward with a limited agenda: elect interim co-coordinators (until the next meeting); set the time for upcoming meetings; discuss the agenda for the next meeting (time permitting). Alas, time did not permit. However, we did vote on the interim co-coordinators (Donna Warren and I were elected--her unopposed, and me by one vote), and set dates for the next two meetings: August 13 from 4-7 at the Quaker House ( 4167 S. Normandie Ave, Los Angeles); and September 17 (location TBD).

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Expand the Assembly!

Forrest Hill for CA Secretary of StateForrest Hill (above), the Green Party candidate for CA Secretary of State, visited the LA Greens meeting this evening and gave a rousing speech that touched on a lot of electoral reform issues, including public financing, electronic voting machines, same-day voter registration, and Instant Runoff Voting. (The speech was recorded, so I'll try to get a link to the audio soon.)

One interesting point he raised was about the size of state assembly districts. In California, state Assembly districts are so large that it is nearly impossible to run a grassroots campaign for even the lowest of representation. State Senate districts are twice as large -- even larger than Congressional districts. Forrest proposes matching state Senate districts to Congressional districts, and carving each state Senate district into five-seat Assembly districts elected via ranked choice voting. The five-seat districts would give the Assembly a bit of proportional representation and the number of votes to win any one of those seats would be much lower than is currently needed.

Other updates:
* Sunday is the first meeting of the new County Council, which includes yours truly.
* Steve Lopez has an article on Clean Money (or Full Public Financing of Elections, as some people prefer)
* I picked up a copy of Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate at the meeting tonight. It features essays by a number of high profile Greens, including Forrest Hill, Peter Camejo, David Cobb and Ralph Nader. I'll try to post some reactions soon. I also got Peter Camejo's campaign book, California Under Corporate Rule, recently, but haven't started it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Greens fundraisers

The organizer of this fundraiser for Green Party gubernatorial Senate candidate Todd Chretien has asked me to pass on this information.

Todd Chretien and Friends in Los Angeles
August 5, 2006
Skyline Terrace
930 Figueroa Terrace
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Call Alfonso Acosta at 619.379.2667 (or email for time and other information.

Which reminds me, the Los Angeles Greens are having our summer fundraiser on August 19:
PARTY FOR PEACE: Saving the World Doesn't Have To Be Boring

On Saturday, August 19th, Los Angeles is invited to come Party for Peace. Show up and throw down with four pro-peace candidates: two for Congress (Bill Paparian and Byron DeLear) and two for State Assembly (Peter Thottam and Ricardo Costa)--all from the Green Party. This'll be the world's first four-way candidate meet-and-greet to feature ping-pong, dancing, a yoga class, a pot-luck meal, a raffle, and a playground for kids. We'll also be enjoying music by Maria Armoudian, comedy by Derek Iversen, and the funky-groove spinning of Starskee Suavee and DJ Jon Hershfeld. The Party for Peace is sponsored by the Los Angeles Greens. It runs from 3pm-8pm at the Heather Condo Complex, 6443 Green Valley Circle in Culver City. The suggested donation is $5 (which includes 1 free raffle ticket). All ages are welcome.

Will the LA Times apologize?

An image of election day in Mexico, from the LA Times
Now that the lead in the Mexican election has gone to Obrador, the Los Angeles Times should apologize for the editorial earlier this week that called Obrador "undemocratic" and a "demagogue" for declining to rapidly concede the election. Obrador insisted the count was incorrect and declared himself the true winner. Calderon, his conservative rival, who appeared to hold a slim lead, also declared himself the winner. Despite the narrow margin, the Times declared a mandate for Calderon: "Despite the dashed hopes of the Fox years, it is encouraging that Mexican voters resisted the old-style populism and state interventionism peddled by Lopez Obrador."

With their current story, linked to above, the LA Times continues to insist that Calderon will win the election. You have to read halfway down the article to find this nugget, which confirms Obrador's supposedly demagogic claim of election irregularities: "Workers were not reviewing individual ballots except when the packages appeared tampered with or their tallies were missing, illegible or inconsistent -- including at least 2.6 million ballots likely to shrink Calderon's lead to 0.64 percent if included, election officials said Tuesday."

As of now: With 90.4% of the "official" count in (El Universal), Obrador has a 1.21% lead over Calderon.

On a side note, here is another quote from the LA Times editorial:
The PRI finished a distant third. Its weakness is a triumph for democracy, and its collapse could help consolidate a two-party system in Mexico. On the other hand, if the grouping of three major political forces proves lasting, the country should consider adopting a second round of balloting, to strengthen its presidents' mandate.
Hmmm, instant runoff voting, anyone? You can use it even in countries where there are only two major parties. After all, even the United States' small parties can weaken a president's mandate.

Update: Since posting this earlier tonight, Calderon has steadily picked up votes. Every time El Universal refreshes, Calderon seems to be .02 percent closer. At this rate, he will pass Obrador and win by about .1 percent (current count: Obrador 35.92%, Calderon 35.28%; 94.61% counted).

Update: It's about 12:15 here, and while Obrador continues to hold a slim lead, Calderon is picking up steam as the last precints are recounted. According to El Universal, Obrador has a .34% lead over Calderon with 96.2% reporting. Calderon is on track to win by several tenths of a percent. With such a close vote, a more detailed recount is possible.