by David McCorquodale, Green Party Delaware
With the results from the 2014 elections the Maine Green Independent Party (MGIP) is continuing its tradition of becoming one of the strongest Green state parties in the country.
Maine was the first state in the country to have a Green Party develop and the party has now surpassed 30 years of activity. During that time it has had close to 20 people elected to various offices, some for more than one term. The highest office attained so far is John Eder for state representative, who served two terms. Interestingly, Eder’s legislative aide, Ben Chipman, has now been elected for a third time to the state house, but as an Independent.
John Eder became the third member of the Portland school board in the 2014 election. Portland is the stronghold of Green Party activism in the state, where two Greens are on city council and two others are already on the school board. This sets up increasing struggles within the board as Eder feels that it does not currently have enough clout within city government. He calls for improving retention rates by having local college students mentor high school students. Eder also considers the standardized testing demanded by Common Core and calls for more charter schools to be threats to public education, and to actually be stealth moves toward privatization. “That’s going to be a watchword for me: privatization,” he said.
In other election victories, Jonathan Alt, an organic farmer and former steering committee member for MGIP, won a city council seat in Gardiner. Nickie Sekera, a water conservation activist, won a seat on the Fryeburg Water District Board.
In addition to its victories, MGIP fielded eight candidates for state representative seats and six for state senate. Results in the Senate races varied from 10.6 percent to 23 percent (in a two person race); results in the House races were from 5.6 percent to 23 percent (the highest in a two-person race).
Several factors help MGIP maintain its growth and show respectable election results. First, Mainers have a political independent streak as well as long-standing concern for the environment. Green Party views are a natural fit for many in Maine.
Secondly, Maine election districts are small compared to many other states. With 154 house districts and 35 senate districts, the average population constituency is 8,300 and 38,000 respectively. That makes grassroots campaigns, using the ability to knock on doors and to talk to constituents, a real possibility.
Portland is the stronghold of Green Party activism in the state, where two Greens are on city council and now three members are on the school board.
Finally, Maine has a clean elections campaign law, which will funnel state funds to campaigns that collect a certain number of small individual contributions. That has allowed Greens to start campaigns with low levels of funding.
Greens have helped their cause by successfully pushing popular initiatives for referendum, specifically in Portland. One referendum to legalize marijuana in the city passed with 67 percent of the vote. Another passed referendum prevented the sale of underused, under funded parkland to real estate developers. In addition Greens led the push to get Portland to adopt Ranked Choice Voting, which allows voters to rank their choices when there are more than two candidates for the mayoral election. Greens believe instilling this type of voting will eliminate the fear of the spoiler effect and will help show the true strength of the Green Party. Now that the procedure is in place, a local progressive Democrat is introducing similar legislation to have statewide elections conducted using choice voting.
The Maine Independent Green Party continues to grow, both in absolute terms with 38,180 and in percentage, now up to 3.96 percent, of registered voters. It also has the chance to develop alliances with a couple of other state legislators who are unaligned with any party and a number of unaligned candidates who were not elected. Mostly the unaligned candidates are in areas MGIP has not reached, but the candidates tend to emphasize issues supported by Greens, such as single payer healthcare.
In the past Ben Chipman has maintained that MGIP tends to rely too much on the clean elections fund and it has not developed a base of fundraising. He also feels it has not reached out enough to all parts of the state to develop local parties.
Perhaps MGIP has taken that past criticism to heart. It has recently announced the goal of raising $2,000/month in sustaining donations in order to pay a living wage to a field organizer, who would direct voter registration drives, candidate recruitment, and door-to-door sustainer drives.
Despite its growing pains, the Maine Green Independent Party has developed to a point that a number of other state Green Parties can only dream of attaining. But by its very example, it is showing that reaching lofty heights, attaining electoral success, is possible. It is also shows how supporting popular issues and election reforms can help fuel that growth.