New Party Scores on Election Day

The New Party went 3-for-3 in ballot initiatives and won 14 of 25 races on general election day, showing that it is possible to run campaigns that are progressive and populist.

In Little Rock, the New Party helped defeat a "jail tax," a permanent sales tax increase to expand the county jail. NP elected city director, Paul Kelly, got off the best line of the campaign: "Fighting crime by building more jails is like fighting cancer by building more cemeteries." Kelly and state Rep Michael Booker, also NP, argued that drug prevention and treatment, not the construction of more jail cells, was the proper way to fight crime. The coalition against the jail tax was by far the most multi-racial effort in recent city political memory.

In Minneapolis, both of Progressive Minnesota/NP's charter amendment campaigns won impressive victories. The "Stadium" initiative, a straight anti-corporate effort aimed at preventing public funds from being used to subsidize construction of a new stadium, won 70 percent of the vote. The measure prevents the city from spending more than $10 million on sports facilities without a public vote. Billionaire Carl Pohlad has threatened to move the Twins baseball team out of Minnesota if he does not get a new stadium.

A second charter amendment, to bring the police department under the jurisdiction of the city's Civil Rights Ordinance, was approved with 65 percent of the vote. Both efforts won support from minority and white working-class voters. Organizationally, the campaigns were a huge boost as well. More than 100 new members joined Progressive Minnesota/NP this summer, and hundreds of volunteers did phone banking, lit drops, door-knocking, and visibility events. Also, nine of 14 Progressive Minnesota-backed candidates won municipal seats in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The toughest loss was in Missoula, Mont., where real estate and road-paving interests spent $50,000 on what for Missoula was an enormous tv, radio and print advertising buy against the NP. "We countered with a first-rate field campaign, hitting the doors as hard as we could. We were outspent by at least 10-1," New Party spokesman Adam Glickman said. NP incumbents Craig Sweet and Linda Tracy both lost, Tracy by merely 14 votes. But NP member "Landslide" Dave Harmon won his race by 15 votes. That keeps four NP members and two friendly progressives on the 12-member council.

In Long Island, three of six NP-backed candidates won, as Roger Corbin and Lisanne Altman were both re-elected to the Nassau County Legislature, and May Newberger re-elected as Town Supervisor in North Hempstead.

In Boston, NP member Frank Jones failed in his long-shot bid for an at-large seat on the city council (no incumbent has lost a seat in more than 2 years!). However, Jones was the top vote-getter in 40 percent of Boston precincts -- primarily African-American and working-class districts. And in the Dorchester and Mattapan precincts the New Party worked, he was not only the first place finisher but beat the next candidate by a 2-1 margin. Jones is in good position to run for a district council seat if, as expected, the current incumbent runs in a special election for a state legislative seat next Spring.

And in Houston, NP-backed candidate Larry Marshall made it into a run-off for a school board seat next month despite being vastly outspent by the incumbent. "Marshall has a lot of ground to cover in the next month, and we wish Progressive Houston/NP well in its first electoral push," Glickman said.

Couch wins elections again

VOTING IN THE 1997 general elections was down again, according to Robert Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Turnout in the Virginia governor's race was 48 percent of registered voters -- down from 67 percent and 61 percent in the state's previous two gubernatorial elections. "And that doesn't even count eligible voters who never registered," Richie wrote. "Turnout among eligible adult Virginians was an abysmal 34 percent."

Virginians' turnout at least was better than Broward County, Florida, where only 7 percent of registered voters made their way to the polls. Detroit's mayoral primary turnout was 17 percent of registered voters. Charlotte's primary drew 6 percent. General election turnout was under 40 percent of registered voters in Miami and New York City and under 30 percent in Boston and San Francisco. And of course 25 percent of eligible voters typically remain unregistered.

"There weren't many legislative elections in 1997, which is probably just as well. Hardly any legislative races -- truly, on the order of fewer than one in twenty -- were competitive," Richie wrote. The rest were foregone conclusions.

In New York City, for example, only one of 51 city council races was won by less than 10 percent. Democrats won 45 seats, and every winning Democrat won at least 60 percent of the vote. In New Jersey's lower house, no incumbent was defeated. In Virginia, while all 100 House seats were up for election, only a small number were seriously contested and two seats changed hands.

In South Carolina, where five black incumbents were challenged in a special election following a court-ordered redistricting, two of the five were defeated by white challengers, even though they had the advantages of incumbency and were in districts that had many black voters -- 44 percent and 47 percent, respectively. "But as followers of winner-take-all mathematics know, 51 percent is the magic number for winning elections in single-member districts, and not too many white voters apparently supported the incumbents."

Richie advocates proportional representation, which allows minorities to elect candidates in multi-member districts.

USDA Poised with
Organic Standards

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Agriculture is preparing to publish 600 pages of long-awaited rules on national organic food standards by late-November, the newsletter Food Bytes reported, citing informed sources in Washington. Following official publication in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to send in their comments and criticisms on the standards. Comments will be accepted via email, fax, or regular mail. At the close of the comment period the USDA will publish a revised, final version of the rules for final Congressional approval, with likely implementation of these regulations by the summer of 1998. The USDA has announced that it will be posting the full text of the proposed organic standards on the Internet at: <http://www.ams.usda.gov/tmd/tmdnop.htm>

Under heavy pressure from factory farm and biotechnology interests, the USDA reportedly intends to weaken current organic standards, which are presently upheld and enforced by 40 private and state organic certification boards. The most controversial proposed regulations to be put forth in November by the USDA will include: (1) allowing genetically engineered foods and crops to be eventually considered on a case-by-case basis as an allowable "synthetic" and thus be labeled as "organic"; (2) allowing inhumane, intensive confinement of farm animals, and not explicitly prohibiting factory farm-style operations; (3) precluding "private label" and state organic certification programs from upholding and enforcing stricter organic standards than those required by the USDA.

Finally the USDA plans, according to government sources, to work with the Congress and the Clinton administration to amend the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act so as to weaken or eliminate the present "veto power" of the National Organic Standards Board, an official advisory group, over what can be considered as an allowable "synthetic." The 14-member NOSB currently supports relatively strict organic standards, at least in comparison to what the USDA advocates, including a recommended prohibition on considering genetically engineered foods and crops as an allowable "synthetic."

Since June, when the USDA handed over its proposed rules to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), controversy over organic food standards has been steadily building. A campaign called "SOS" (Save Organic Standards), is designed to build up a nationwide network of activist-inclined consumers, farmers, progressive retailers, community-oriented restaurants, and food professionals. Contact the Pure Food Campaign, 860 Hwy. 61 East, Little Marais MN 55614; telephone 218- 226-4155; email alliance@mr.net

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