“There is a lot of joy in being Green, and that carries over to our campaigns.”
— Lynne Serpe
“We work with candidates to create a plan that basically prioritizes their resources.”
— Sharon Gilpin
In all but the smallest of electoral districts, Green candidates can’t win by themselves. Not only do they require volunteer support, to truly compete they often need to hire campaign professionals who understand the mechanics of running a viable campaign.
Among the vanguard in this field is a small but growing number of Greens who are not only activists, but actually campaign consultants themselves. Maine Green Ben Chipman is one such example. Chipman has worked for numerous Green candidates since 2001, helping them target mailings and phone calls, design literature, organize volunteers, go door to door, and get out the vote.
Among his clients were victorious Portland School Committee candidates Ben Meiklejohn (2001), Stephen Spring (2003) and Susan Hopkins (2005), as well as State Representative John Eder (2002, 2004). Chipman also helped manage the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Jonathan Carter and Green state legislative candidates in 2004 and 2006.
Lynne Serpe is another, albeit more well-traveled. Serpe has not only worked for Greens in California, New Mexico and New York, but also in Canada and New Zealand. She’s known to do a bit of everything, depending on the campaign and the candidate. “Local races, where I am the sole paid staff, I do it all,” she said. “In larger races, I can hire people to do media or fundraising or whatever I might need, as well as find interns.” However, Serpe draws the line at baby-sitting for the candidate, but she will find a volunteer.
Serpe started in New Mexico in 1994 by working on the Roberto Mondragon/Steven Schmidt Governor/Lt. Governor campaign. After stopping off to co-coordinate Green national gathering in 1995 (Albuquerque) and 1996 (Los Angeles), she then coordinated the California campaigns of Sara Amir (Lt. Governor, 1998), Audie Bock (elected, State Assembly, 1999), John Strawn (Santa Barbara City Council 2001) before moving to New York to work on the New York City campaigns of Gloria Mattera (Brooklyn Borough President, 2001) and Robin Sklar (City Council, 2003). In 2004, Serpe capped this off by becoming national organizer for Green presidential ticket of David Cobb and Pat LaMarche, a campaign that not only demanded winning votes, but also winning the Green nomination in the first place. When the Cobb/LaMarche team took the lead in pushing for the post-election Ohio recount, Serpe organized election observers and other key tasks in each county.
Sometimes Green consultants focus on a very specific part of a campaign, as Blair Bobier did as Media Coordinator of LaMarche’s 2006 campaign for Maine governor, in which she received nearly ten percent of the vote. “Pat loves research and statistics and knows exactly what kind of policy she wants. I collected information from her and turned it into policy papers, website content and press releases. I also traveled with her, took photos and interviewed people for the website, and even served as an interim campaign manager for a while.”
In addition, Bobier was instrumental in the LaMarche campaign’s legal effort to close huge loopholes in Maine’s Clean Elections laws that were being exploited by the Democratic and Republican candidates. “We took our case all the way to Maine’s Supreme Court. Though we didn’t prevail, we won the support of every editorial writer and columnist who weighed in on the subject. After the election, our position was also embraced by the state agency that oversees the Clean Elections Act.
Yet because the number of Green candidates who choose to and can afford to hire consultants is still limited, Green consultants generally have to supplement their income. In Chipman’s case, he worked for four years as the legislative aide to Eder and for five years as part time staff for the Maine Green Independent Party. He also worked on paid signatures drives for statewide ballot initiatives opposing clear cutting, promoting community-based water rights and giving students tax credits who chose to live and work in Maine after they get their degree. In Serpe’s case, she’s run electoral reform campaigns for proportional representation and instant run-off voting in three countries.
Given the limited number of Greens doing professional campaign consulting work, sometimes Green candidates have turned outside of the party for help, as successfully elected Santa Monica City Council candidates Mike Feinstein (1996, 2000) and Kevin McKeown (1998, 2002) did in hiring Sharon Gilpin of the Gilpin Group.
“We work with candidates to create a plan that basically prioritizes their resources,” said Gilpin, the only person interviewed for this article who makes a professional living as strictly a campaign consultant. “That’s what a good campaign consultant does. My background in marketing and film production, however, gives me a unique broad media background that I bring to bear for my clients.”
Each consultant commented on the passion of Greens, their willingness to persevere in a very tough political environment and their concern for the issues. “Being passionate, being likable, having integrity and being willing to work really hard against so many barriers” are all Green campaign strengths, according to Serpe. “There is a lot of joy in being Green, and that carries over to our campaigns. If we combine our increased savvy with creativity, hard work and hope, I think we will continue to grow.”
However, Gilpin echoes the other consultants in identifying the weakness of Green candidates as a “general unwillingness to raise money for direct mail and media tools that can persuade voters in our super distracted society.”
Are consultants looking forward to in the next election cycle? Bobier and Gilpin are enthusiastic about looking for candidates to help. Chipman primarily works in Maine and is hopeful the Maine Green Independent Party will keep him busy. Serpe does a lot of nonprofit work, is keeping her options open and is always willing to give advice.
If any Green candidates are looking for people to help a campaign take it to the next step, there are at least a few consultants ready to help. Don’t be surprised if over the next few years there are more and more Greens making a living, helping Green candidates to get elected.