A maturing Minnesota Green Party has endorsed as its US senator candidate Ed McGaa, an enrolled Sioux and author of books on Native American spirituality and the environment. McGaa, a political novice, has generated more attention in three weeks than activists have in six years.
McGaa says he is running to win. That is what the 553 delegates at the state endorsing convention on May 18 wanted. Only 12% voted for no endorsement. Strategists for incumbent Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone failed in their work with "reform" Greens to prevent a challenge from Wellstone's left.
But the Greens are their own political party. "Not as bad as a Republican is not good enough for me," said one delegate. Minneapolis City Council Member Dean Zimmermann warned that Green Party issues would be "ignored if there is no endorsed candidate. An endorsed candidate will make them speak to our issues."
The Green Party's independence from liberal Democrats is national news. Ruth Conniff of The Progressive noted that "Greens might determine the outcome" of the Wellstone race. Also, McGaa, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, is not familiar with the Party's values, supported "some response" to the Sept. 11 attacks, and "is still a staunch anti-communist."
Marc Cooper, in an op-ed piece in the June 2 Los Angeles Times was critical of Greens challenging "the most liberal ... 'Green-ish' member of the US Senate."
Cooper wants Greens to be "'realos,' the more pragmatic faction that argues that politics is the art of building coalitions." Cooper suspects Minnesota Greens are building a circus instead of a "model third party."
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffery St. Clair defended the Greens in the June 3 CounterPunch. They don't believe that progressive politics, in Minnesota or nationally, "stand or fall ... with Wellstone. ... The Greens have every right to hold Wellstone accountable."
Jenny Heiser, campaign manager for Ken Pentel, the party's endorsed gubernatorial candidate, believes "that a strong GPM senatorial candidate has much to offer to the 41% of eligible voters in this state who choose not to affiliate with any major political party."
Betsy Barnum, who has worked for Green Party candidates over a six-year period, notes "running a viable campaign for US Senate will strengthen the image of the Green Party with people who are chronically unhappy with the political choices they have year after year."
But former state Green chair Janet Busse offered this view: "The fact that the Green Party chose someone so ill-prepared is the glaring problem, not that someone who is ill-prepared will be running on the ticket."
An extensive debate of party activists on the Internet continues. Many are upset at McGaa's military record and and his political inexpertise. On public radio forums and in meetings with party supporters McGaa made statements about Wellstone's support for Israel and has called for making the Senate 50% female.
Some Greens want McGaa to drop out or for another candidate to challenge him in the September primary.
Jordan Kushner, a McGaa critic, believes "Some of his positions and statements, including ones that were made before or during the Green convention, are contradictory to Green values. He is now expressing interest in adapting to the Green Party. It seems like we all have some more work to do."
McGaa believes, like Jesse Ventura, he will take votes from the Republicans. "I can hurt Coleman more by capturing a goodly segment of the veterans," he observes, and "Sen. Wellstone will lose if I leave."
More important than Wellstone's seat, for the Minnesota Green Party, is reaching at least 5% in one statewide, constitutional office race. It was Nader's 5.19% total that gave the Greens major party status in 2000.
Minnesota political candidates in state-office races receive public campaign financing if they meet guidelines --and are a major party. Gubernatorial candidate Pentel will gain $250,000 if he raises $35,000 by September in contributions of $50 or less.
At least one secretary of state, auditor, and attorney general third-party candidate has reached the 5% mark in three of the last five elections. Both Green Party endorsed candidates believe they can do better: run competitive races and possibly win.
Dave Berger, a sociology community college professor running for auditor, is planning a well-funded campaign, seeking endorsements and building coalitions. "Minnesota has traditionally supported progressive candidates like the Non-Partisan League, the Grange, and the Farmer Labor Party," said Berger. He will publicize the hidden costs of products local government purchase, focusing on where items are made, by whom, and under what conditions.
Andrew Koebrick, a librarian, is running for secretary of state against an incumbent Republican and Buck Humphreys, Gore's Minnesota campaign coordinator. Koebrick is running on a campaign of corporate charter reform, instant runoff voting, and increasing voter registration and election turn-out. Like other Green candidates, he is not accepting PAC money.
Green Party activists believe their party will expand no matter how Wellstone does. They are working to make news in Minnesota for many years to come.
Ken Jerome-Stern is a writer in Minneapolis.