by David Pollard, Arlington (TX)
Texas State Green executive committee member
Volume 5, Issue 1
Winter / Spring 2001
Of all the successful ballot drives in 2000, perhaps the most impressive – and significant – was that of the Green Party of Texas, which qualified by overcoming one of the nation’s most difficult ballot-access hurdles.
Texas Greens collected more than 76,000 signatures in just 75 days, with a grassroots effort earning national political acclaim. The drive qualified both Nader/LaDuke and four statewide Texas Green candidates, all with a Green Party ballot line.
Texas election law gives a party only 75 days to collect 37,381 valid petition signatures (usually this means gathering 60,000 to 65,000 signatures, to ensure enough valid ones). Then it further restricts whom the signatures can be gathered from, to only registered voters who had not voted in the state’s March primary. Greens had to speak to about eight people for every signature gathered (about 600,000 people in total), just to find enough people eligible and willing to sign.
Given the tight qualification period, Greens prepared to seize the moment by clearing up legal issues, making media contacts, forming several new locals across the state and organizing their database and and Web site in advance. Particularly useful on the webthe site was a graph tracking signature-gathering progress compared to the goal.
“When people started to realize we were reaching the halfway point, there was a tremendous burst of energy,” observed Nathalie Paravicini, Green Party of Texas clearinghouse coordinator. In the final week alone, with a boost from several out-of-state Greens, petitioners gathered 20,000 signatures. They were everywhere – festivals, libraries, parks, events – and even threw parties at critical moments to keep the momentum going.
The growth of the Green Party in Texas is a significant step forward for the Greens nationally, establishing the party in a new place – both geographically and culturally. Previously, most of the Greens’ growth had been in the West, East and Upper Midwest. In Texas – the state that once housed the Reform Party’s national headquarters and is Ross Perot’s home – the Greens are now the third-strongest party in the state.
Would Texas Greens maintain their newly found status? To do so after 2000, a party has to achieve 5% or more of the vote in a statewide race. Three of the Green Party of Texas’ four statewide candidates exceeded 5% and received record numbers of votes in the process, guaranteeing the party a ballot line in 2002.
Leading the charge was Ben Levy for Texas Supreme Court, who garnered 9.7%. His 450,885 votes were the most ever cast for a Green candidate in a state-level race, surpassing California Green Margaret Garcia’s 314,812 votes in 1994 for Secretary of State and 2000 California Green U.S. Senate candidate Medea Benjamin, who received 326,828 votes. Gary Dugger, who ran for Texas Railroad Commission, earned 344,806 votes ( 7.3)%. Charles Mauch, a candidate for a second Railroad Commission position, received 336,781 votes (7.2%). These three candidates faced Republican incumbents and Libertarians, but no Democratic challengers. Doug Sandage faced a Democrat as well as Republican and Libertarian for U.S. Senate, and earned 91,329 votes (1.5%). Nader/LaDuke received 137,691 (2.2%) statewide and in Travis County, received 31,000 votes, the fourth highest county vote total nationwide.
For a state party that was founded in March 1999, these are heady accomplishments. “Texans now know who the Green Party is,” said state party co-chair Beverly Hayes of Houston. “Without using corporate money, we’ve built the foundation for a progressive party. The next two years will be critical for organizing the growth we’ve experienced. If it can be done in Texas, it can be done anywhere.”
Texas Greens now have well-organized locals in the state’s eight largest metro areas and are organized on a countywide basis in 14 counties. There are numerous campus Green organizations across the state and the state party’s mailing list has grown by 2,000%. Texas Greens have also developed relations with their sister Greens in Mexico – the Partido Verde Ecologista de M‚xico – particularly in the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
In January 2001, the first Texas Greens was elected – John D. Schmidt – who won a seat on the Upper San Marcos Watershed Reclamation and Flood Control District Board, Hays County.