Maine Greens in Trouble?

This is a rather negative opinion piece on the current state of the Maine Green Party, from community newspaper portal keepMEcurrent.com.

There are about 24,000 registered Green Independent Party members in Maine. That’s about half the number of Mainers who cast ballots in 1854 for the Know Nothing Party. Of course, the Know Nothings had a way cooler name.

If you laid all the Greens in the state end to end, they wouldn’t stretch from Bangor to Ellsworth. The combined weight of all party members doesn’t equal the tonnage of lobsters landed on the Maine coast in an average half hour. According to the FBI, there are about as many Greens in the state as there were larcenies and thefts in 2004.

That last one may be a coincidence, but just to be on the safe side, lock your doors when the Greens campaign in your neighborhood.

Which isn’t likely, unless you live in Cumberland County. The Green Party is contracting, to the point where that’s about the only place it has any political impact. Even calling it county-wide is stretching it. Once you get outside Portland and South Portland, Green candidates for the Legislature are rare as profitable paper mills.

This year, the party is contesting just 12 of the 186 seats in the state House and Senate. Of those, seven are in Portland and two are in South Portland, with one each in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and Brunswick. Compare that to 2004, when the Greens put forward 23 candidates from places like Auburn, Biddeford, Blue Hill, Camden, Rockland, Winslow and Oakland. Contrast this year’s slate with that promised for 2006 by party officials at the 2002 state convention, when they predicted they’d offer 50 legislative hopefuls as well as contenders for both U.S. House seats and the U.S. Senate. Now, party founder John Rensenbrink says that much growth might take another decade.

If the party even exists by then. There’s already a split over goals and directions between state leaders and Cumberland County activists.

State Green officials have devoted themselves to getting gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche on the ballot and helping her qualify for public campaign funding. They say that left no time for recruiting legislative candidates in the hinterlands. Nor is such recruiting likely to be a priority in the near future. The large number of candidates in 2004 was “an anomaly,” according to Green co-chair Betsy Garrold.

“We’re a small party, and we can only support a small group of candidates,” Garrold said. “We may have overreached a bit in 2004.”

One big reason the state party is focused exclusively on the governor’s race is because the Greens need to win at least 5 percent of the vote in that contest to remain an official party. If LaMarche comes up short, the Greens will no longer have automatic ballot access and will be relegated to the political limbo inhabited by the likes of the Libertarian Party, the Veterans Party and the Keg Party. (OK, I may have made that last one up.)

Many Cumberland County Greens disagree with the decision to concentrate so intensely on the gubernatorial race, arguing the only way to build the party is from the grassroots through legislative campaigns. They intensified their local recruiting this year, actually increasing the number of Greater Portland seats the Greens are contesting.

Among those annoyed with the state party’s indifference to legislative races is the Greens’ only legislator, state Rep. John Eder of Portland. Eder sponsored a bill last year that would have allowed the party to maintain its official status, regardless of the outcome of the governor’s race, by granting ballot access to any group that constituted at least 1 percent of registered voters, a level the Greens already exceed. But Eder angered majority Democrats with his budget votes, and the measure is being held hostage until he learns to behave.

Eder and other southern Maine Greens have discussed changing the law to allow political parties to organize by county, rather than requiring them to be statewide. That would allow Cumberland County to break away from the state party, which Eder termed “not reliable,” and build its own operation. “Cumberland County is where most of our membership is,” Eder said. “That’s where most of the activism and most of the manpower comes from.”

Outside Cumberland County, some Greens are already breaking away. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham and Jane Scease of Topsham are former party members now running for the Legislature as Democrats. And ex-Green Nancy Oden has abandoned her campaign for governor to run as an independent for the state Senate seat in Washington County.

“Greens are an evolving movement,” Rensenbrink wrote in a book published several years ago. “This makes their forward progress not linear but organic, more like a sailboat zig-zagging across a turbulent bay than a large semi hurtling along a clear and straight superhighway.”

Which seems to mean the Greens should be operating the same way Gov. John Baldacci handles the state budget.

Unfortunately, that looks less like zig-zagging and more like death spasms.

4 Responses to “Maine Greens in Trouble?”

  1. Richard Winger Says:

    This story about the Green Party of Maine is trash. The Greens have a higher percentage of the registered voters as members, than any other nationally-organized minor party in any state, except for the Alaska Libertarians. Furthermore, the Green Party has just successfully complete an extraordinarily petition in Maine. Getting 2,000 registered Greens to sign a petition for a candidate to get on their own primary ballot is extremely difficult, but they just did it. The Green Party of Maine is the only third party that has ever managed to do this type of petition. The Reform Party and the Libertarian Party have each been a qualified party in Maine in the past, but they were never able to run any statewide nominees because their members couldn’t get themselves on these parties’ primary ballots! (president doesn’t need a petition, so those two parties were able to run for president).

  2. undercover_ararchist Says:

    The author of the article is just a pro-duopoly meanie. Probably a “liberal” Democrat.

  3. Mike Feinstein Says:

    The Greens in Portland also have six members holding legislatiive office – four out of nine on the Portland School Board, one in the Maine State House and one on the Portland Water Board. This is tied with Madison, WI for the most legislative seats for one city in the nation. Statewide, Maine Greens have 14 members holding elected office – Only CA (63), PA (32), MA (19) and WI (19) have more – not bad for a state with only about 1.3 million people.

  4. James Bilodeau Says:

    It is not suprising to me that there is yet another split within the party. When I was considering a run on the Green ticket in 2002, I saw alot of fragility in the party. The central problem of the party is that no one is in charge. There has to be co-chairs so nobody has too much power. What happens every election cycle is everyone just does what they want and eventually someone will step up and put all the candidates names on a list. Even though we have had personal differences in the past, IMHO John Eder should have been the candiate for Governor this year. He is the only green in the histroy of the Maine party to have the elective credentials to be the candidate for governor. Instead the greens get…Carter, Lamarche, Carter, Lamarche. BTW i’m suprised that there isn’t more talk of Pat’s past drinking problems. The Greens really had a chance to do better.

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