Ralph Nader is turning up the heat on his presidential campaign as Green Party organizers qualified for ballot status in Texas and he already has polled 5 percent or more in national surveys. Nader has campaigned in more than 35 states, appearing at colleges, union halls and rallies and has raised more than $600,000, while Green Party activists hope to get on the ballot in at least 45 states and raise more than $5 million, including federal matching funds, for the campaign. Petitioners collected more than 60,000 signatures in 75 days to qualify the Greens for a place on the Texas ballot. Greens will have more statewide candidates in Texas than the Democratic Party, which is all but conceding the state to George W. Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is running for re-election.
The Greens already have qualified for 18 states, including California, New York and Florida, and Nader is expected to win the nomination at the Green convention June 24-26 in Denver, although he faces challenges from self-described hippie Stephen Gaskin and anarchist musician Jello Biafra. A Zogby International poll in late May showed Nader drawing 4 percent of voters nationally, more than Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan's 2.3 percent. The margin by which Republican Gov. George W. Bush led Vice President Al Gore was only 2.6 percentage points. And pollster John Zogby said two of every three votes that Nader attracts come from Gore. In California, Nader has attracted 9 percent and in Oregon, 7 percent. An Ohio poll found that though only 4 percent said they would vote for Nader, he had the highest net favorability rating of all the candidates.
David Cobb, secretary of the Green Party of Texas, noted that while Pat Buchanan had to spend an estimated $200,000 to hire petitioners to get him on the Texas ballot as an independent candidate for president, the Green Party spent less than $20,000 and relied mainly on volunteers.
The Green Party is expected to field candidates in four statewide races: for US Senate, attorney-mediator Doug Sandage; for two seats on the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, Gary Dugger, a UPS worker and union steward, and Charlie Mauch, a retired petroleum and environmental engineer; and for Texas Supreme Court, former appeals court judge Ben Levy.
All four offices are held by Republicans. Only one -- the Senate seat -- is contested by a Democrat, and even that candidate was discouraged from running by party officials, which Green Party officials say illustrates "democracy in decline." Combined with Gore's apparent willingness to concede the state to Bush, Texas progressives have a unique opportunity to "vote their hopes, not their fears," Cobb said. "A lot of Texans are going to cast their votes for Nader in November," said Cobb, "because they know that a vote for Al Gore in Texas is a wasted vote. This is our chance to send a strong, clear message that we the people are fed up with the corporate takeover of our politics, our institutions, our government our very culture."
Pat Buchanan's supporters have ousted Reform Party leaders loyal to party founder Ross Perot in several states in a scorched-earth campaign for the presidential nomination. Among Dallas delegates denied admission to the Texas convention in Houston on June 10 after Buchanan forces seized control of the credentialing process was Paul Truax, who founded the Texas chapter. Russ Verney, the party's first national chairman with close ties to Perot, was outraged at the power grab. "This is not about winning elections, it's about having an ideologically pure political party to replace the Christian Coalition in American politics," Verney was quoted in the Washington Post. Buchanan, who quit the GOP last year to run for the Reform nomination and the $12.6 million federal subsidy that goes with it, soured many Texas Reform members when he chose to petition for a place on the Texas ballot as an independent, rather than qualify the entire Reform Party ticket.
The previous week, several leaders of the Iowa Reform Party, including the chairwoman, secretary and treasurer, resigned in protest of the Buchanan takeover. Now they are forming a separate Iowa Independence Party to focus on the original Reform Party concerns such as fair trade, campaign finance reform and term limits, former Reform chairwoman Sheryl Blue told the Des Moines Register.
Reform Party members generally share Buchanan's hostility to free trade policies, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, but they tend to be libertarian or unconcerned about social issues such as abortion, homosexuality and school prayer that have been central to Buchanan's bid. Reform National Secretary Jim Mangia now says it was a mistake to welcome Buchanan into the party, and sought to pass a resolution at the recent California state convention to prevent Buchanan from tapping a pro-life, social conservative as a running mate. That prompted Delaware Reform Party chairman William Shields, a Buchanan ally, to sent a memo to state party leaders calling for Mangia's political hide. "I am interested in a resolution at the convention to remove Jim Mangia from any leadership role in this party, and to physically eject him, along with any trash or dangerous biological waste that may have found its way onto the convention floor." The last hope for the stop-Buchanan forces at the convention in Long Beach, Calif., next month is John Hagelin, an Iowa physicist who is running for the nomination of the Reform Party as well as the Natural Law Party.
Ironically, many of the Reform Party regulars now being shut out by the Buchanan newcomers participated with Buchanan partisans in the coup earlier this year that ousted Jack Gargan, an ally of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, as national chairman. That caused Ventura, the Reformers' only statewide elected official, to quit the party.