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Dissecting the North Coast Greens

Former AVA editor Bruce Anderson summed up the local Green Party leaders last year as well as anyone, when he said that that while he thought they were basically a bunch of nice and well intended people, collectively they sure didn’t have a clue as to what running an effective political party entailed. While I’m certain that Bruce didn’t endear himself to the persons in question any further with his more critical observations, plenty of evidence exists to support his contentions, and if the North Coast Greens don’t take heed and make some big changes they are destined to continue to have zero effect on the political process for the foreseeable future. 

Now sure, there’s a handful of Greens holding elected office in this general area (including one on a school board running Lake County’s biggest school district), but all of these fine folks are in non-partisan positions, where their green-ness is largely unnoticed and irrelevant. What should really count for the Green Party is the three partisan offices that we don’t share with the rest of the state, the state senate and assembly seats and the seat in the US house of representatives. 

Looking at the seat in the house we have Mike Thompson running things, and will for as long as he cares to. Why? Because the Republicans have essentially given up on trying to mount credible campaigns to unseat him, and have chosen to spend their money elsewhere in places they might have some hope of seeing some return on it. Thompson gets a fair amount of cross-over votes in this rural region, where his close ties to the wine grape industry (he even owns a small vineyard himself) garner him both votes and money from the usually right-of-center farming community. On the left end of the spectrum, Thompson pleases many potential Greens with his staunch opposition to the Iraq war (even before the predictable disaster unfolded), and a consistently fairly good voting record on both environmental and social issues. Broad-based support among the electorate and a campaign warchest that usually runs in the $2 million dollar range makes Thompson by far the most difficult of the three to unseat, and it should be obvious to all Greens by now this is the last place to begin trying to gain a foothold in the arena of local partisan politics. 

Next we have the state senate seat, currently filled by Wes Chesbro. Chesbro is little known outside of the far North Coast, even though his gerrymandered district stretches all the way down to Solano County. Chesbro is in his last two years as senator thanks to term limits, and it’s hard to say what his next move will be career-wise, other than it’s bound to be taxpayer funded as always. Chesbro has plenty of clout in Sacramento, where he heads up the Senate Budget Committee, so getting Democratic Party backing and money for a number of statewide elected offices is not hard to imagine. Or, Chesbro could swap places with Patty Berg, our alleged representative in the state assembly, who’s seat is back up for grabs in ’06. Looking at the senate seat option reveals several problems for the Greens, one is that the physical size of the district makes campaigning difficult and expensive, and would require cooperation with an even larger and more far flung/diverse Green party structure. Another is the fact that again the money scale is hard to deal with, what with state senate war chests like Chesbro’s running in the $1 million dollar range. Chesbro’s record in office is fairly weak, and his list of financial backers could effectively be used against him by a third party candidate, but these points are mostly irrelevant to us North Coasters unless he does try to pull a swap with Patty Berg for her state assembly seat. Former assembly-woman Virginia Strom-Martin is also a possible candidate for the Senate seat that opens in ’06, and her widespread name recognition and favorable reputation would make her an extremely difficult candidate to challenge, especially for the Greens due to her relatively progressive agenda. 

The last of the three possible targets for Green success is assemblywoman Patty Berg, who has one more shot at the assembly in ’06 before term limits end her wimpy tenure in that position. This is without a doubt the best chance the Greens have at giving the Democrats something to worry about, and where they actually have an opportunity to become something more than a political sideshow act. Berg’s voting and bill introduction records are woefully thin, her image and name recognition levels outside of Eureka are dismal, and she’s a miserable campaigner. Add to that the fact that her district is far smaller than Chesbro’s and she has an itty-bitty stash of campaign funds and it all adds up to a big bulls-eye on her back for anyone with the smarts to exploit the situation. Patty was able to scrounge together a scant quarter million dollars for her last outing, and spent only a paltry $75,000 or so to run her almost invisible campaign. Her list of contributors is much like Chesbro’s, (PG&E, insurance companies, lumber companies, casinos, etc.), and also makes her very vulnerable to third party candidates untainted by corporate thieves’ cash. Also, Patty is highly dependent on the financial generosity of other Democratic politicos’ campaigns, who because of their out-of-the-district origins could also be used as ammo against her if the right tactics were employed. No matter who the Democrats run for the assembly seat an effective anti-outside the district money campaign could be used by the Greens to somewhat level the playing field as this is an issue that could resonate greatly with voters who are tired of seeing our local political contests influenced or decided by people who don’t live here. 

Hopefully by now Greens should be clear on the point that running people for two or even all three of the seats would seriously dilute every precious resource available, from money and organizing talent and energy to the pool of qualified candidates, and would be counterproductive at this point (gotta walk before we run, folks). 

Which brings us to the choice of candidates themselves, an area where we North Coasters obviously have some work to do. When the Green electorate has a choice in the primary between someone who is highly qualified and dedicated to running a serious campaign and someone who is neither qualified or even aware of what a serious campaign looks like, something is terribly wrong when the far less desirable candidate wins by a convincing margin. 

It’s called poor data dissemination people, and we have to find a way to deal with that problem to keep from shooting ourselves in the foot again before the real race even begins. The most obvious solution is an e-mail list-serve that doesn’t load a bunch of useless crap into your computer every day, since this is the most cost effective way to reach people. Our Green list-serve here in Lake County is bogged-down with stuff that hasn’t got anything to do with running a local branch of a political party, and should be used as a model of what not to do, as the rank-and-file Greens should only be pestered when we really need their attention (like when we’re trying to tell them who our candidates are). 

Another thing that must be done is to build a county-by-county support network for our candidate(s), which can get him/her up to speed on local issues and venues for rallies, and to raise funds for their campaign. Other working groups should be organized to draft and submit press releases, especially ones timed to respond quickly to actions or statements made by opposition candidates during campaigns, as this is a great way for lazy newspaper reporters to fill space in their stories and get our candidate some free PR. Other groups should be formed to keep tabs on incumbent’s voting records and campaign donors, the idea here is to free up the time and energy of the candidates themselves as much as possible so they can focus on campaigning. 

Another tactic that can be extremely cost effective and devastating to the opposition is to organize letter writing campaigns to local papers, where the letters to the editor page can be used to a much greater extent than it has been in the past by Greens, who tend to show an aversion to the mainstream media. The fact is we need the support of the people who read those crappy corporate rags if we ever want to grow the party the way we’ve been dreaming of and claiming we’ll do for many years now. This party can’t grow if we keep preaching to the choir, which is the rut too many of us have fallen into. Last of all we need to find ways to appeal to and reach people who are habitual Democrats and show them why their party has betrayed them, and why we offer a better alternative, something that we’ve only managed on an occasional basis so far.

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