Reflections on a Campaign

A Unique Opportunity Leading To New Goals

Special to The Progressive Populist

On November 4, 1997, history was made when the New Jersey Green Party garnered almost 11,000 votes, or just over 0.5 percent of the votes cast -- courageous people who voted Green, despite the closeness of the race between Governor Whitman and her Democratic challenger, the absence of a nationally known figure on the ballot and the newness of the Greens. We placed fifth in a field of 10 -- behind Republican Governor Whitman, Democratic runner-up James McGreevey, and two conservative alternative party candidates, Libertarian Murray Sabrin and Conservative Rich Pezzullo.

The Greens received nearly double the votes of their nearest challenger. We were the only other party to receive more than 10,000 votes. This was particularly impressive since the Democrats and Republicans together spent close to $10 million, the Libertarian qualified for state matching funds by raising at least half a million dollars and the Conservative Party had over 80 candidates running for offices statewide.

The Greens spent just $10,000 -- had only three candidates for office statewide -- and were running their first ever statewide campaign! The only other public exposure for the Greens was the previous year -- 1996 -- when the Greens placed Ralph Nader on the ballot for President, with Madelyn Hoffman on the ballot as his Vice-Presidential running mate. That campaign garnered 35,000 votes, or 1 percent of the total -- on the strength of Nader's national reputation and interest in the Greens.

The gubernatorial campaign was driven by many newly formed local chapters of the Greens -- and a volunteer steering committee. None of us had real experience running an electoral campaign. But we ran as serious a campaign as we could muster, with limited resources and a ton of dedication.

We learned that many people were unhappy with the policies of Governor Whitman and the platform of Democrat Jim McGreevey, and were quite intrigued by the Green Party platform. Members of the disabled community commented that the Greens were so much closer in philosophy and commitment to disabled issues than the mainstream parties. The gay and lesbian community was moved by the Greens principled commitment to gay and lesbian rights. Anti-poverty groups welcomed participation of the Greens in a summit that addressed the issues of poverty. Parents and teachers looking to find equitable means of funding education were impressed with the Greens' commitment to these issues. In addition, the Greens were the only party that could look to its own history around auto insurance reform and tout a highly successful program which cut auto insurance rates in California by 20 percent. And, of course, members of the environmental community found that the Greens were the only party that truly addressed the key issues of overdevelopment, unplanned development and toxic chemical contamination.

Unfortunately, this did not automatically translate into votes or endorsements -- as the overriding philosophy continued to be that, since the Greens did not have a chance to win, it was necessary to "vote for the lesser of two evils." The absurdity of this was most evident when a statewide environmental political action committee endorsed McGreevey after having attacked his environmental policies during the primary. They were afraid of alienating Democrats in the legislature by backing the Greens.

This is a major obstacle we have to overcome. It can only be accomplished by grass-roots organizing and by changing campaign finance laws so that all ballot-qualified candidates are given similar opportunities for exposure. In New Jersey, unless a candidate raises $210,000, they are not eligible for matching funds, they are not included in televised debates and they are not treated as serious candidates by the media.

We need to emphasize the message that was the centerpiece of Ralph Nader's campaign. He strongly criticized the "two-party duopoly," one party with two corporate heads. He decried the corporations' influence over the political process and the corporations' efforts to systematically destroy the democratic process. He focused on "corporate welfare," the ways in which our government bends over backwards to assist corporations financially, but targets low to moderate income people benefiting from government programs as the cause of the nation's economic woes.

This most pointed and focused message allows for the greatest amount of grass roots support -- from labor, to environmentalist, to welfare recipient, to affirmative action advocate, to housing advocate and more.

We must now focus on building the Greens from the grassroots up. We have hired a part-time organizer (myself) to accomplish this goal. Local chapters formed as a result of both campaigns must now turn their attention to building their organizations.

We need to show that the most outspoken and progressive forces in our society don't have to vote for a weak-kneed, mealy-mouthed Democrat -- that voting for what you believe in because it is an extension of the work you do every day is not only important, but critical in creating the conditions that will ultimately change our government's priorities -- and ultimately, the structure of our society.

Madelyn Hoffman was the Green Party candidate for Governor in New Jersey in 1997.

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