Mar 10 2010
The Green Party of California held a meeting this weekend in San Jose to address various issues ahead of elections scheduled later this year. Delegates gathered as candidates hoped to capitalize on widespread voter disaffection to grow the party’s ranks. A Field Poll released in late January showed just sixteen percent of Californians approve of the job that the State Legislature is doing while only seven percent believe that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will leave behind a government better off than the one he inherited. With the state in a continual budgetary crisis, it would seem the Green Party would be well poised to make its case to voters. However, the party faces two major challenges: An article in the San Jose Mercury News reports that the small independent third party has actually become smaller in the last five years with registered Greens having declined by 47,000 members. The party, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last month, is also opposing Proposition 14 on the June ballot. According to the California Greens, the “Top Two Primaries Act,” as it is being called, could phase them and other third parties out of general elections by opening up the primaries to all voters, while restricting candidacies in follow-up elections to the top two vote getters.
GUEST: Derek Iverson, Spokesperson for the Green Party of California
SK: We’ve had you on our program before because you have another career as well, as a radio comedian. You’ve parodied National Public Radio – NCR – National Corporate Radio. So, this time you’re wearing a slightly different hat …
SK: …and it’s great to have you on to talk about what seems to be a very timely issue – where is the Green Party – whither the Green Party, if you will – right? At this time when the Tea Party folks – although they’re not an official party – have been making so many waves around this country and actually influencing elections, why is the Green Party not being considered as an alternative to the two-party corporatized structure?
DI: I think part of what makes it difficult for the Green Party to get its name out there in the way that, say, the Tea Party, which takes money from FreedomWorks, which is really just an arm of former Republican Party congresspeople like Dick Armey, they have a lot of corporate dollars coming into their coffers. So, they can look grassroots but they’re not really. They’re really an Astroturf kind of operation, which is designed by right-wing people to influence the Republican Party. Now, that said, there’s genuine disaffection with the two-party system that is being funneled right now into things like the Tea Parties. But the Green Party has been there the whole time and will continue to be there. I think part of our problem is that we don’t have those corporate dollars and we’re not going to be taking them to get the word out so we have to do this at a very grassroots level. We have to go there, door to door, person to person, going to farmers’ markets, going to events and tabling and registering voters Green. But I think that people should know that it’s an important thing to get out of this two-party system because clearly they’re not getting what they want out of it. There’s a 16% satisfaction level with the state legislature, which is majority Democrat, and 7% think that Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to leave this state in a better condition then the way he found it, clearly that indicates that people are completely frustrated with the two-party system. What they need to know is that there are real alternatives and we’re presenting that. What we’re doing right now is we’re going to do a massive voter registration drive. We realize that we’ve lost the focus on that and that’s on us. But that is one of our big objectives right now is to register more people Green. And we want people to know that just because you register Green doesn’t necessarily mean you have to vote Green but it does register your dissent with the two-party system.
SK: Well, let me ask you this: What could the Green Party have been doing better these last few years? And even just in the past couple of years, given the election of President Barack Obama, you know, so many progressives were caught up and you could in a way justify why they were caught up in the election of President Obama given the eight years of Bush and what he represented being so diametrically opposed to – at least on paper and in his life story – opposed to Bush. How did the Green Party approach that election and then the first year of Obama’s presidency, where he essentially began to prove time and again that progressives were wrong to put so much faith in him?
DI: Well, it was a difficult thing to compete with because Barack Obama made a lot of promises to people that sounded great to people who I can agree with, that Green Party people can definitely resonate with. These were promises that we had wanted to have fulfilled as well.
SK: Like single-payer health care, etc.?
DI: Sure, absolutely! You know, getting out Iraq, which we haven’t done. But I think what’s happening now is that people are starting to recognize that many of the promises that have been made by Barack Obama and by the Democrats are being unfulfilled, once again.
SK: But how did the Green Party address this issue? I mean, what did the Green Party do in this past year and a half, two years?
DI: The Green Party has continued to run candidates. We’ve run candidates on smaller levels. For us, we have to count our victories in inches because we don’t have the resources that these larger parties have, unfortunately. But we get city council seats, we get neighborhood council seats – even neighborhood council seats are important victories to me because what we have to do is we have to build the credibility of our candidates from the ground up. We have to get people into the lowest levels and move up from there.
SK: Now, conservatives use that strategy pretty effectively, you know, getting on school boards and local councils. But, why don’t we see more Green candidates. Tell us, who are some of the Green candidates in local office and do enough Greens run for local office?
DI: Well, I can tell you one great Green who is a local elected in the Studio City neighborhood council. His name is Michael McHugh and he’s fantastic. And he is, on a day-to-day basis, doing the hard work that you need to be doing at the local level to hold the city council’s feet to the fire and he’s extremely active on the environmental committee of the Studio City neighborhood council. This, to me, is where you get the credibility to move up to the next level. And, I mean, I can’t say that all our candidates are doing it that way. Many aren’t. Many are going straight for the U.S. Senate and more power to them. I hope that they win. But, I think that that is grassroots democracy which is one of our ten key values and we have to promote that constantly.
SK: I also understand that very recently, Duane Roberts announced his candidacy for Senate with the Green Party?
SK: He’s in Orange County. He’s a long-time activist, someone we’ve featured on this program before.
SK: Running for the Senate.
DI: Yeah, well, somebody’s got to run for that seat. You know, we’ve got to contest these seats. We can’t leave voters without that option. Voters need to have that option. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to win the seat. I’m not going to say he won’t. Hey, why not? I mean, why wait until the future to do this. But, we need to contest these elections from the bottom all the way to the top because people need that alternative. They need to know that we’re serious about this and that we’re giving them that option. Even if they may not take it this time, they need to see that on the ballot we’ve got a Green Party candidate for any of those seats.
SK: Why do you think the Green Party lost 47,000 members in the last five years?
DI: I think that the resurgence of the Democrats had something to do with that. I really do. I think that Barack Obama, like I was saying before, promised people a lot of things that progressives really wanted to see happen. I can even confess myself that I got caught up in that to some extent. I’m not going to say that I regret it. It is what it is but we have to move on and recognize – not MoveOn.org – but move on for real and recognize that mistakes were made, that we got hoodwinked once again by a party that is just as bought and sold by corporate America as the Republicans are.
SK: Which is the bigger threat to the Green Party, the Democrats or the Republicans?
DI: Probably the Democrats, frankly. Because the Democrats continue to hoodwink the American public and they continue to hoodwink progressives who think that they’re going to get something out of the Democrats that they’re not because the Democrats have a muzzle on them, a corporate muzzle. Those dollars come with strings attached and that’s what we’re trying to tell people over and over again is that you can’t expect something different to come out of these parties when their paymasters are the same people.
SK: It seems as though, however, that there’s almost two Americas: one America that sees the Democrats as the party of corporations and the other America that sees the Democrats as the party of socialism. Completely polarizing views! How do you explain this?
DI: We have a wide gulf. There’s a deep mistrust in government generally and how that gets expressed is wildly divergent. But people are willing to capitalize on that mistrust and use it in a lot of different ways. I mean, Sarah Palin will go up there and be a complete demagogue about it and throw around words like socialism and things like that.
SK: Meanwhile, she just admitted that she took advantage of Canada’s socialized healthcare system when she was younger in a recent speech in Calgary.
DI: Well, her hypocrisy is something she specializes in. But, I think that what we have to recognize is that, let me put it to you this way – the way I look at it, Democrats and Republicans are like Coke and Pepsi – either way they’re rotting our teeth. And, if we’re thirsty, then what we should try is water. If politics are like the beverage wars, then those parties are Coke and Pepsi and the Green Party is water and your body needs water so I’d recommend it.
SK: I’m speaking with Derek Iverson, a spokesperson for the Green Party of California. One of the things that I’d mentioned earlier that the Green Party faces a big challenge to in terms of being able to gain seats in a higher capacity on a statewide level is Proposition 14, which is coming right up on the June ballot and it’s being called the Top 2 Primaries Act – on the one hand, it is opening up the primaries, as far as I understand, to voters meaning if you are registered as a Democrat, you can vote in the Republican primary and vice-versa? Is that essentially one of the things that this act does?
DI: My understanding of what Prop. 14 intends to do is to make it so that only the top two candidates, whoever they may be, can be voted on in the general election.
SK: So, anybody can vote for anybody but then if the top two vote-getters happen to be, say, both Democrats or both Republicans, then those are the only two that will actually enter the general election?
DI: Right. And, that is very troubling for third-party candidates because what happens then is that these parties which are far more well established than we are, have way more money than we do, and furthermore, just have the history of literally hundreds of years of people being registered Democrat and Republican behind them to bolster their numbers. That doesn’t give us a level playing field at all. The problem with this whole idea is, and the reason that I think Proposition 14 should easily be defeated on its face, is: Why would you want to give yourself less choices when you get to that ballot box? That’s anti-democratic. It’s like voting to weaken your own vote.
SK: It seems like every party should be allowed to put up its candidate in the running for the general election…
DI: …absolutely. That’s democracy, isn’t it?
SK: Usually, the party will pick its candidate in a primary election but, in this case, if this ballot measure were to pass, one can imagine voters being manipulated to play all sorts of strategic voting games to make sure that only one or the other kind of candidate reaches the final general election.
DI: Absolutely. There’s no good reason for the average citizen to support Proposition 14. There’s no good reason to give yourself fewer options when you get to that general election in November. Why do it? Whether you’re going to vote for a Green or a Libertarian or even a Tea Party candidate, that’s irrelevant, because you’re weakening the power of your vote to have fewer choices when you get there. And it’s no wonder that huge corporations like Hewlett-Packard and insurance companies are supporting Prop. 14. It behooves them to limit your choices so that they can buy and sell the candidates who are ultimately going to hold that office.
SK: And that’s Prop. 14, which I take the Green Party’s official position on that is a No vote on Prop. 14?
DI: Our official position is a No and we hope that everyone, no matter what party affiliation you may have, sees that this is a completely meritless proposition and votes No on it.
SK: Now, one major decision on the federal level that has potential repercussions in every race in the country is the recent Supreme Court decision to give corporations almost free reign to support financially candidates and issues right up until the day of the election, the minute of the election happening. But, California, through the California Fair Elections Act, which is Proposition 15 on the ballot, is attempting to remedy some of what happened at the Supreme Court level. What is the Green Party’s take on Prop. 15, the Fair Elections Act?
DI: We support it. We support Proposition 15 because it really levels the playing field.
SK: Explain it briefly for us.
DI: Well, Proposition 15 is basically another way of bringing about public financing for campaigns. Basically, it allows a candidate to receive public dollars to run their campaign and it gives you certain opportunities if you take that financing versus taking corporate money. A lot of states have this kind of system. Arizona has a public financing for its campaigns.
SK: And has it shown to be more favorable for independent candidates that are not backed by corporations in Arizona, for example?
DI: It certainly is. It’s definitely something that the Green Party supports because it helps to level the playing field. And, it’s a funny thing to me that we demand a level playing field in so many endeavors when the outcome is not really going to make a material difference on our everyday lives. Take basketball, for example. Basketball teams have a ceiling on how much they can spend on their players. Imagine if you had the same kind of rules applied to political parties. Imagine for a minute that Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Tea Partyers and all the other candidates had to compete on a level playing field – if we all have the same amount of money to spend on our campaigns. I tell you what, you’d see a lot more political diversity in elected office and much more responsive politicians.
SK: So, Proposition 15 is something that could help the Green Party grow its ranks in the near future. But, let me keep bringing this up, Derek, because even though the Green Party has a strong history of progressive values, even thought the Green Party has long fought for third parties in terms of challenging the Democrats and the Republicans, why is it so little time after Bush left office, the Tea Parties do seem to have more traction in the United States than the Green Party? I mean, you can certainly argue that they are an Astroturfed group in terms of corporate funding but there are rank and file people on the ground, many of them spewing this rhetoric. Certainly they’ve got Glenn Beck to thank for miseducating them, if you will, about so many issues in the United States. But, how can the Green Party salvage its reputation, if you will, to compete better with the Tea Party folks, who seem to be quite creative even if we disagree with them?
DI: I agree that they’re creative. I think that they’re a natural response to an unresponsive government, to a government that offered an enormous bank bailout against the will of the American people and that was bipartisan. That was done on both sides of the aisle. Republicans and Democrats united to bail out the banks that tanked our economy, which, on its face, was absurd to the majority of the American public. So, it’s not surprising that people would turn against that. And, when you’ve got a mouthpiece like Fox News – Glenn Beck, you mentioned – that’s a very powerful thing. I don’t fault the Green Party for having a tough time competing with that because we don’t have that. I’d love it if we did.
SK: And, what do you make of the media coverage that you do see of the Green Party?
DI: I wish I saw more of it, even if it were negative, frankly, because we need to be on the radar. It is our responsibility to a large extent but I also think that it is the responsibility of the media too to be more fair and balanced, to bring in more voices and more choices because that’s what democracy is all about is having more options.
SK: Derek Iverson is my guest. He is a spokesperson for the Green Party of California. We’re talking about where the Green Party is, where it’s heading. You mentioned the massive voter registration campaign as one way to try to increase the ranks of the Green Party. How exactly are you going to convince Californians that the Green Party is going to do a better job than both the Democrats and the Republicans?
DI: Well, first of all, when you’ve only got 16% support for the legislature, I don’t know that that’s necessarily a hard case to make. I mean, doing a better job than that probably isn’t even doing all that much. But, the case that I would make with Californians is simply that we haven’t taken the problems that we have seriously, that Republicans and Democrats alike haven’t done that. The Green Party is prepared to do that because we’re not compromised by corporate dollars which means that when we talk about wanting a future with clean water and clean air, that’s going to mean some very serious changes in the way that we live. Politicians are too willing to sugarcoat this kind of thing. They’re too willing to tell people what they want to hear, that you can just go on living the way you live and everything is going to be fine and you can keep driving your giant SUV and commuting 30 miles.
SK: Because they’re invested in that lifestyle.
SK: And in the money that that lifestyle brings.
DI: Yes. And, it’s very difficult to change. One of my personal political axioms is people don’t do anything unless they have to. And, unfortunately, we’re getting to the point where we have to do something.
SK: Are you talking about the environment?
DI: I’m talking about people’s lifestyle generally. People don’t change unless they feel like they have no other choice because as long as what they’re doing is comfortable – like the frog in the water that’s slowly heating up instead of throwing it into a boiling pot of water – they don’t notice that things are going bad and that they have to change. But, what we are willing to tell people is what they may not want to hear.
SK: That’s a tough job.
DI: It is a tough job and it doesn’t necessarily make us popular. I mean, if you want to go and demagogue like a Tea Party candidate and tell people what they want to hear then you’ll probably get a lot more votes, you’re going to get Glenn Beck to talk nice things about you. We’re not going to do that because the thing is we can’t compromise our principles because nature doesn’t compromise. Reality, physics doesn’t compromise. That’s where our policy comes from is from the natural law of the world, you know, from ecology, not from the vicissitudes from inside the beltway politics.
SK: Derek, I’m wondering if you think that Republicans and conservatives in general, have used language more effectively than progressives. I’m thinking of George Lakoff who really helps explain the politics of language and why Democrats and progressives tend to lose favor with the public because they don’t know how to say the right things and it sometimes can be as simple as casting issues in the right way, explaining them to people in the way that makes sense to them, that is relevant to them and that resonates with them. Does the Green Party use language effectively enough? Do you have plans to roll out campaigns that are creative and effective and relevant to people’s lives?
DI: I’ll say we’re working on it. Yes. I think that people like George Lakoff are masters of manipulating people by fear and unfortunately that works. The reason it works is because people are afraid.
SK: We’re hard-wired to respond to certain things.
DI: Yes, we are. We have a fight or flight instinct that’s hard-wired into the lizard part of our brain. And, Republicans understand that very well. I actually think sometimes that we would do very well to capitalize on that, too. I think it’s exploitative to a certain extent so I don’t like to go there but at the same time we’re not talking about fake fear, we’re talking about real fear.
SK: Absolutely. I mean, why should progressives consider themselves above that?
DI: I agree.
SK: Because it’s easy to cast that sort of activist as an elitist.
DI: Right. And, I think that the fears that we’re talking about in terms of our children not having clean air and clean water and massive hurricanes coming and wreaking havoc that will make New Orleans look like a walk in the park – that’s real fear and that’s what scientists are telling us now. It’s a real possibility if we don’t change the way that we live. And also, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, too. It’s not all misery and getting into some sort of austere world. We can have a better community when we have a self-sustaining community. We can have better lives by being more in touch with our neighbors and being more self-sustaining. Living the ten key values that the Green Party espouses which include things like sustainability, grass roots democracy, decentralization – these things can actually make us happier. It’s not just some utopia we’re talking about. We’re also talking about making better communities and a better country and a better world.
SK: Derek, where can listeners find out more about the Green Party?
DI: You can go to: CaGreens.org for more about the state party. You can also go to: GP.org That’s the easiest thing to remember for the U.S. Green Party.
SK: Derek Iverson, thanks so much for joining us. Best of luck.
DI: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Special Thanks to Julie Svendsen for transcribing this interview