Thursday November 26, 2015

Fall 2009

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John Eder returns to Maine State Legislature

By Mike Feinstein
Green Party of California

John Eder, Maine State Representative for House Dist 118

Making U.S. electoral history on November 2, John Eder became the first U.S. Green state legislator to be re-elected, winning Maine State House District 118 with 51 percent of the vote.

Eder not only defeated his Democratic and Republican opponents, but he triumphed in spite of redistricting efforts many believed were designed specifically to unseat him.

When Eder was first elected in November 2002 (in what was State House District 31), he became the first U.S. Green elected to a state legislature in a general election, winning with 67 percent of the vote in Portland’s progressive West End. But then came Maine’s once-a-decade redistricting, threatening to end Eder’s run after it had barely begun.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court approved a legislative redistricting plan in July 2003 that removed Eder’s political base from his district and pitted him against a strong, three-term Democratic incumbent. In approving the plan, the Court dismissed a Green Party lawsuit alleging the plan violated the U.S. Constitutional requirement that districts be contiguous and compact.

Maine Greens argued that the plan was clearly designed to protect Democratic incumbents, and that it utilized noncontiguous districts to do so. The court countered that the fact that a plan may protect incumbents or is politically motivated, does not make it invalid as long as both constitutional and statutory requirements (like the “one person, one vote” principle of the 14th Amendment) were adhered to.

Outsmarting the Democrats, Eder moved back to his old district—now called District 118—and regained 70 percent of his base, which he parlayed to victory over another Democratic incumbent. Ironically, the Democrats’ effort to gerrymander the district appears to have created a backlash against them to the benefit of Eder, as people felt the Democrats were trying to rig the process.

“It must just really be desperation for them to do something like that, because in the long run they’ve inadvertently given me so much more publicity and recognition,” said Eder before the election. “They’re so desperate that they felt they had to totally tear up the district.”
Aided by Maine’s Clean Election Law, Eder ran his campaign much as he did in 2002, going door to door to the district’s primarily young, single, mobile and politically progressive neighborhoods.

“It’s a testimony to basic grassroots organizing, getting out and meeting people and taking politics at their door,” said Eder, 35, who works for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “I’m not a politician as much as I’m a person trying to make positive change through politics.”

In their endorsement of Eder, the weekly Portland Phoenix wrote, “the Green Party is supposed to be the party of ideals, of positive campaigning, of grassroots orientation, and Eder has largely lived up to that billing.”

Other Greens who served in a state legislature

The first Green elected to a state legislature was California’s Audie Bock, who won a special election in March 1999 in the East Bay/Oakland area. In 2000, Bock lost re-election, running as an independent after leaving the Greens just five months after taking office. In January 2003, New Jersey Democrat Matt Ahearn became the first sitting state legislator to change to Green. Elected in 2002, Ahearn became increasingly uncomfortable about the role of big money in influencing his fellow legislators, particularly the Democrats. He was defeated in November 2003 in his bid for re-election, after being specifically targeted by the Democrats.

In his first term, Eder faced many challenges as the only Green. Democrats froze him out of important committee assignments, and were also not eager to help get his bills passed.

Eder did sit on one committee, Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, and also saw his first bill become law. Entitled “An Act to Protect Children from Cancer Causing Chemicals,” the bill gave teeth to the State Department of Agriculture’s “Integrated Pest Management Rules” for schools, by compelling the Department to adopt a list of pesticides and chemicals that would be prohibited for use on school grounds.

Eder also initiated an anti-Iraq war resolution that eventually was co-sponsored by Democrats in both houses, as well as a bio-fuel bill not coincidentially almost identical to one later passed by the Democrats. Eder also filed a bill to implement single-payer universal health care in the state. Not surprisingly, the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee quickly killed it by a 9-0 vote after holding a single hearing on it.

In 2004, Eder added a focus on tax reform, advocating increasing revenue from visitors and tourism, and funneling the gains into property tax relief for moderate and low income residents.

Greens also did well in several of Portland’s other legislative disticts, taking between 23 to 41 percent of the vote. Green incumbent Ben Meiklejohn was re-elected to his Portland School Committee, joined by 21-year-old Jason Toothaker, who beat his opponent by one vote after going to the Maine State Court for a recount. Meiklejohn and Toothaker join fellow Green Stephen Spring, who was elected to the committee in 2003, making three out of nine board members.

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