At a press conference at the Green Party of the United States Annual National Meeting in Washington DC in 2003, then Green State Assembly member Matt Ahern was asked by a reporter, “So what’s it like to be the only Green on the New Jersey State Assembly? What’s it like to work with the Democrats?” Matt replied, “It’s not that they don’t want to work with you; they want you dead!”
Many times when I lead a workshop in a Green Party Campaign School I tell this story about how to be effective in politics:
There are two farmers and one buys a mule from the first. The farmer that bought the mule tries to put it to work back at the farm, but the mule won’t budge. Finally out of frustration he takes the mule back to the previous owner. He says, “I can’t get this mule to do a damned thing. I want my money back.” Without saying a word the first farmer hits the mule with a 2×4 upside the head and says, “First you have to get its attention.”
This is what it’s like to effective in politics. When a Green takes a dive in an election and withdraws from the race because a Democrat promised him something, I say, “Fool, you’ve just given away your power!”
One of the most effective examples I have ever seen of hardball in green politics took place in Washington State. Seattle Green, Brent White was lobbying the Government Operations and Elections Committee in regards to election reform. At that time, State Senator Georgia Gardner, a Democrat from the Bellingham, Washington, chaired the Committee. †An election reform bill could not be gotten out of Committee and onto the floor; Gardner kept killing any possibility.
Out of frustration, Brent finally said to her, “if you keep killing any chance at election reform, we are going to find a Green to run against you and you are going to lose your race by the percentage that the Green gets. We are going to deliberately spoil your race!”
The best candidates are those that are passionate about an issue.
Gardner apparently didn’t believe that the Greens would do this. so she continued her behavior. But in 2002 the Greens did just that. They found a Green, Peter Francis Tassoni, to run against her. There was also a moderate Republican, Dale Brandland, in the race. The Greens met with him and found him favorable to Election Reform. The Democrat State Committee poured almost $300,000 into the race. At that point in time it was not unusual to spend $28,000 to $35,000 on a race such as this. She lost by the percentage that the Green got. Brandland received 49 percent, Gardner received 46 percent and Tassoni received 3 percent of the vote. (There was also a Libertarian candidate in the race who received 2 percent.) (1)
After this, whenever an election reform bill came to the committee, Brent White would get a call. Lo and behold, election reform bills starting making it through committee and to the voting floor.
When you run for office, know ahead of time what you want to get out of it, win or lose. One of my mentors along the way used to say, “No cannon fodder!” Don’t run just to run. Be an agent of cultural change. Champion an issue that you are passionate about. The best candidates are those that are passionate about an issue.
In 2003 I ran for the Seattle Monorail Board. My bottom line issue was to respect the Neighborhood Plans. Seattle has Neighborhood Councils, which work on neighborhood planning, budget prioritization, etc., and had spent years contributing to the development of an overall plan for the City. The plan for the Monorail had not been a part of this process. There were several new proposed stations and lines and I saw the developers lining up to take advantage of the situation. I have seen in the past what gentrification can do to destroy the spirit of a neighborhood, and this was looking like it could follow that path.
The Board had just been opened up to have some seats publicly elected. I was the first candidate to declare. I found out there were no campaign finance limits on the race. During the primary I worked to get, and got, campaign finance limits imposed. I had my state legislator calling me for language and amounts.
I walked door to door in every neighborhood where there was a proposed monorail station and got my yard signs posted all over those areas, houses, storefronts, etc. I went to neighborhood council meetings in the impacted neighborhoods and introduced myself. I showed up at applicable hearings and testified often. If I saw a reporter I recognized at a hearing I would sit next to him or her. Finally the reporters, working on these issues, knew me so well they would call me for a quote if it was a related topic.
In the end, even though I didn’t win the race, I won the cultural battle. The individual that won the race basically adopted my positions. The city established oversight on the development with a strong look out for the neighborhood plans. I ended up being appointed to the City Transportation Commission.
Later, a professional political consultant said I had done an excellent job of playing what she called inside baseball. I impressed the hell out of a lot of people that were the insiders on the issue. But she said I needed to learn how to play outside baseball if I was going to win. I finished third out of seven candidates with 13,648 votes or 15 percent. (2)
After the election I began focusing on the game of outside baseball. How do we build a green machine capable of getting good, competent people elected? The Green Party of Seattle did well that year. We did get two people elected to the Seattle School Board and these were big races. Sally Soriano received 62,138 votes or 59 percent. That’s a big race for a school board. (3)
So how do we play outside baseball? How do we play some serious hardball? It wasn’t long after I started asking myself these questions that I was hired to become the Political Director for the Green Party of the United States, now Executive Director. Since I moved to Washington, DC I have been on a big learning curve. My world got a lot bigger. I enjoy a level of access that I would have never imagined for myself. I also got exposed to a level of malice that would make paint peel on a battleship. People want you dead, people I don’t even know! Wow! They are sure giving me a lot of power. Little do they know how little power I actually have. But there is opportunity in this.
1) 2002 Election Results Washington State Senate District 42
2) 2003 King County Election Results – Primary
3) 2003 King County Election Results – General