It’s not easy being Green. Especially in the Silver State.
If you are one of those diehard progressives who find President Obama’s policies just too conservative, too accommodating of corporations, too pro-war and too silent on issues of economic and social justice, and above all too willing to ignore the issue of global warming, you probably already know that the Green Party offered safe haven.
Nationally, the Green Party slate of Jill Stein, the presidential nominee and a physician, and Cheri Honkala, the vice-presidential nominee and a social- and economic-justice advocate, received almost 400,000 votes in 36 states and the District of Columbia. None of those votes came in Nevada, however, where it’s not possible to even write in a presidential candidate who is not on the ticket.
To place its candidate on a general election ballot for president, a “minor party” has to have won at least 1 percent of the total votes cast for a congressional seat for any of its candidates, have a petition signed by a number of registered voters equal to 1 percent of the total number of congressional votes, or have registered at least 1 percent of the state’s registered voters. In the last congressional election, the Green Party candidate for governor got just over 4,400 votes, considerably less than the 1 percent of the total votes cast for congressional office that would be needed to automatically qualify for the ballot in 2012.
Other third-party candidates, from the conservative Independent American and Libertarian parties, made it to the Nevada ballot this year. But not only did the Green Party of Nevada not get on the ballot in 2012, it appears to be almost completely moribund.
Instead of new local content, the website for the state party has video clips posted from the national organization. The most recent local content is several photos from a pro-union demonstration in front of the Nevada Legislature. In February 2011.
A couple of years ago, the party had a stronger presence, even fielding a candidate for governor, David Curtis of Las Vegas. (The architect has since relocated to San Francisco.) Stacey Shinn, a Reno-based activist and a former member of the Nevada Green Party’s executive committee, confirmed that the party was not active, as did a spokeswoman for the national party.
“We weren’t too organized there,” said Starlene Rankin, Green Party spokeswoman. She did not respond to further questions about the Green Party’s lack of investment in Nevada.
Brandon Parcells, a Las Vegas construction inspector, has inherited responsibility for keeping up the Clark County Green Party’s Facebook page. He says that at one point, the party had some 3,000 registered voters in Nevada, but the numbers are dwindling as the secretary of state updates and “scrubs” voter lists.
He says the national organization doesn’t have the resources to support Nevada, while the number of people attending local meetings has declined. Parcells believes, though, that the Green Party will come back as people look for a progressive alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties, which he believes are dominated by corporate money.
“The corporations corrupt and taint the parties overall,” he says. “We need to do more than the status quo.”
The Green Party has other prominent local supporters. Steve Rypka, a Las Vegas consultant on environmentally sustainable living and website development, said he would have liked to have voted for Stein/Honkala. Like a lot of Green Party backers, he fundamentally distrusts both major parties.
“Politics is something that I feel is broken in this country because there’s so much money in the system,” says Rypka, who also writes a column for the Review-Journal on sustainable living. “Corporations have really taken over.”
Of all the candidates, the Green Party ticket reflected his thinking. “The candidates who were running on the Green Party ticket were the ones that most resonated with my personal thinking. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t even write in a candidate for the Green Party in Nevada.”
Rypka says that because he disliked Mitt Romney more than President Obama, he reluctantly pulled the lever for Obama. Rypka says he nevertheless understands those Green Party activists who argue that pulling votes from the Democratic Party is justified, even if — and sometimes especially if — that would mean a Republican victory.
That argument rips the scab off a wound that still smarts for many Democratic Party supporters. They believe that Ralph Nader’s third-party candidacy in 2000 ultimately pulled enough votes from the ticket of Vice-President Al Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to cost the Democrats the election. Nader was on the ballot in 43 states and the District of Columbia, and won 2.74 percent of the national vote — including more than 97,000 votes in Florida, which Gore lost by fewer than 600 votes. Florida’s electoral votes went instead to George Bush.
Nader and Green Party leaders said then that they were not “spoilers” in the 2000 election, that several conservative third-party candidates were on the ballot in much of the country, and that the responsibility for the loss was shared by the Gore campaign and the U.S. Supreme Court, which had halted a stumbling recount of the Florida votes.
In many parts of the country, Green Party supporters say they did not affect the national election in 2012 because either President Obama had so much support, the defection of potential Democratic votes did not make a difference in states like California, Washington or Maryland, or the Republicans had such a commanding lead that the loss of those electoral votes was already guaranteed in states such as Alabama, Mississippi or Texas.
Some Green Party members say they are happy with the Obama win, but others say it does not matter, or even that a Romney win would have helped to build a progressive reaction that might ultimately save the country. Some Green Party supporters believe “it will have to get worse before it gets better,” Rypka says.
Richard Hofstadter, the late American historian, once famously noted that “Third parties are like bees: Once they have stung, they die.” By that, Hofstadter meant that minor parties can affect national discussions by bringing attention to their policy agenda, and then move the national parties to incorporate those priorities into their platforms.
Rypka doesn’t agree with that assessment of the Green Party’s role. He believes the major parties are too compromised by corporate cash to address the critical, even existential, crisis of global warming and rapid environmental change caused by carbon pollution. “What are we doing? Nothing. [Obama] has failed miserably.”
Another would-be Green Party voter, Karen Kostoff of Henderson, says she wishes there were progressive alternatives on the Nevada ballot. Kostoff used to work in Southern Nevada real estate, but now works full-time taking care of her ailing mother. For Kostoff, health care is the priority. She believes in the Green Party’s platform of universal, single-payer health-care coverage — a considerably more “socialist” perspective than the Obamacare derided by conservatives as inspired by Karl Marx.
Like Rypka, Kostoff voted for Obama, because she felt the Republican nominees threatened Social Security and Medicare.
“I was sorry they [the Green Party] weren’t on the ballot, and I wasn’t sorry,” she explains. “I was sorry that I couldn’t vote my real self, my real thoughts and real feelings. I wasn’t sorry because you do have that feeling that voting for the Green Party is throwing your vote away.
“I voted for Obama. I didn’t have to hold my nose. I felt that was the best choice I had to choose from,” Kostoff says. “But I feel that our country needs something other than the two parties that we have. I would have been happy to vote for someone who I would be more in sync with. I wish that we would have a choice and they would have a chance.”
“I believe that short of taking up arms and becoming a revolutionary, and resorting to tactics I don’t embrace, that means we have to have full-on support for a third party like the Green Party,” Rypka says. “I don’t know if a third party can influence a party like the Democrats. We have to go further. We don’t need a third party that just stings and moves the party. … We need a real alternative. I think it’s got to be severe and it’s got to be quick if we are going to have a chance.”