Greens spring forward in April and May elections
By Mike Feinstein and Brent McMillan
Green Party of California and GP-US Political Director
Twenty-nine Greens in 10 states ran in municipal, county and school district
races in spring 2005, bringing 2005 totals to 38 in 11 states. Ten Greens were
elected in spring elections in Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Wisconsin,
bringing the yearly total to 12 to date.
|Brenda Konkel, right, alderwoman representing
District 2 on the Madison, Wisc., Common Council, speaking at a
demonstration against the corporate sponsorship of the U.S. Conference of
Mayors meeting, held in Madison June 2002. To the left is former GP-US
Steering Committee member Ben Manski.
Mike Feinstein/Green Party of California
Over 47,000 votes were cast for Green candidates in Illinois municipal
general elections on April 5, with two of seven Green candidates winning their
races. Anna Lempart, a 19-year-old student from Urbana, was elected to the
Champaign-Ford Regional Board of School Trustees, finishing second out of three
candidates for two seats. A political science major at the University of
Illinois and a long-time volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, she becomes the
youngest current-and second youngest-ever-Green officeholder in the U.S.
||19-year-old Anna Lempart, trustee on
the Champaign-Ford Regional Board of School Trustees, and the youngest
current Green officeholder.
Courtesy Anna Lempart
Lempart opposed the federal No Child Left Behind Act, citing the disastrous
consequences on school funding it has had, as a result of its mandated frequent
standardized testing. When a school's test scores don't improve, Lempart
maintained, students are allowed to attend other schools in the area on
vouchers, taking money away from already cash-strapped public schools.
With Illinois already 48th out of the 50 states in education funding, Lempart
advocated a more income tax-based system for the state, where deficits under
Illinois' current property tax system already range from $4,300/year per student
in many rural and urban areas to $18,000/year in the suburbs. In cash-strapped
rental areas in the cities and in rural areas with low population densities and
lower property tax rates, schools receive very little funding because of the
insufficient property tax base.
A system based on state income tax and distributed more evenly by the state,
Lempart argued, would assure better, more equitable funding of schools. This
issue is particularly important to her office, as regional school trustees
decide whether school districts may consolidate. The need for such consolidation
often stems from budget deficits.
Up north in McHenry County, northwest of Chicago, Scott Summers, an attorney
from Harvard, was elected to the McHenry Community College (CC) Board of School
Trustees, finishing second out of four candidates for two seats.
Summers campaigned on the premise that McHenry County needed to fundamentally
change the way it promoted economic development. Specifically, McHenry CC should
take its business coursework to the next logical step and (in partnership with
the community) actually help people set up small businesses-not merely graduate
them and cast them to the figurative winds.
Under Summers' plan, McHenry CC would provide mentoring programs and business
incubators, as well as work with the local financial community to create a
microloan/microgrant program to provide the start-up capital new small
entrepreneurs would need. Summers feels this is consistent with a Green
commitment to decentralized economies and a positive approach to economic
development compared to giving tax breaks and other perks to large corporations.
In a school board election in Rutherford on April 19, incumbent Gary
Novosielski, a founding member and past co-chair of the Green Party of New
Jersey, was re-elected to a third term on the Board of Education, coming in
second among five candidates for three seats.
A physics teacher at local Fort Lee High School and a Master Board Member
honoree of the New Jersey School Boards Association, Novosielski supported
bringing special education students back into the district, while keeping
commercialism (from vending machines to corporate-sponsored scoreboards) out. On
restoring public trust in the budget process, Novosielski said, "When
handling the [district's] $33 million budget, people need to feel like you're
treating the money like it's your own money."
In the southern Oregon town of Ashland, just north of the California border,
24-year-old Mat Marr pulled off perhaps the greatest Green upset of 2005,
winning a seat on the local school board in dramatic fashion. Marr defeated an
incumbent who was also chair of the Jackson County Democratic Party Coordinating
Committee, winning with 67.5 percent of the vote.
A history/economics double major at local Southern Oregon University who had
attended Ashland schools, Marr was part of a progressive slate of three
candidates who campaigned on better dialogue between school district staff, the
school board and community members. The Jackson County Pacific Green Party
endorsed all three in April.
"I'm pretty happy about it," said Pam Vavra, local Green co-chair and
member of the Pacific Green Party Coordinating Committee, after the election.
"I believe that the majority of Ashland voters subscribe very heavily to
the Ten Key Values of the Green Party, as do most people once they understand
Vavra cites community focus, grass-roots democracy, and "listening and the
involvement of the community" as strong Green Party ideals. The local
Jackson County Greens made an internal decision in 2003 to endorse candidates
who promoted Green values, regardless of their political affiliation. Green
Party-backed candidates also swept the November Ashland City Council election,
and one of them, Jack Hardesty, re-registered Green after the election as a
result. There are also six Greens appointed to Ashland city advisory boards and
In Marr's grassroots campaign, he and his supporters met and phone-banked
directly with more than 1,000 voters and claimed 300 endorsements from community
members. He also demonstrated a composure and charisma during the televised
candidate debates that has local Greens seeing a bright, long-term political
future for this first-time candidate.
While Marr was enjoying his success, 220 miles north up the I-5 in Corvallis,
long-time local Green leader Matt Donohue won a second school board seat for
Oregon Greens. He defeated a well-funded right-wing candidate in a clearly
liberal vs. conservative two-way race.
Donohue's 10-week down-to-earth campaign featured a budget of $2,000, combined
with an aggressive visibility, voter/issue identification and Get Out the Vote
strategy. Volunteers placed 50 lawn signs in highly visible locations. Donohue's
campaign manager, Corvallis City Councilmember George Grosch, strategically
targeted previous high-propensity voters, giving Donohue the best chance in what
was predicted to be a low turnout, low visibility election.
As Oregon's elections are conducted by postal mail ballot, Donohue sent direct
mail to a target list of 3,500 voters and timed his literature pieces to arrive
on the same day as the ballots. Donohue and supporters had knocked on over 1,000
doors of pre-identified voters and called at least that many by phone in the
week before postal mail ballots were due.
To prepare for his three well attended candidate debates, Donohue trained with
key advisors on issues and technique. It paid off, including with endorsements
by many members of the local teachers' union, who provided their office as a
phone bank center, building a community buzz around the campaign in the process.
Donohue did newspaper ads featuring the teachers' endorsements, as well as those
of city council members and other community leaders.
An attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice and a former clerk for the
Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals, Donohue's values-based
campaign emphasized his experience as a negotiator-mediator, with a special
focus on bringing together polarized groups. Campaigning on a platform of
Fairness, Equity and Vision, he promised to work to rebuild trust between
teachers, administration and parents, by bringing more open communication and
accountability to the district.
Donohue won with 50 percent of the vote vs. 39 percent for his opponent. His
victory was the fourth for Greens in Benton County, home of Corvallis and Oregon
State University. Emily Hagen sits with Grosch on the Corvallis City Council and
Tim Dehne is on the Benton County Soil & Water Board. Twelve Oregon Greens
hold elected office overall.
||Austin King, alderman representing
District 8 on the Madison, Wisc., Common Council
Courtesy Madison Common Council
In the Madison Common Council general election April 5, three Green
incumbents won re-election, despite an unprecedented negative campaign funded by
the county Democratic Party, leaders of the Chamber of Commerce and elements of
the real estate community. Green Alderman Austin King was re-elected with 78
percent of the vote, Alderman Brian Benford won with 55 percent, and popular
Madison Council President and affordable housing advocate Brenda Konkel ran
unopposed in her re-election bid.
However, the negative campaign did claim several victims, preventing the
Greens from expanding their number of seats, as Green contenders Lori Nitzel and
Sarah King, despite spirited grassroots efforts, lost their races with 43 and 45
percent of the vote, respectively.
The Democrat-funded automated phoning and direct-mail campaign suggested that an
"ultra-liberal" political party was about to "seize control"
of Madison, and also made thinly veiled references to one candidate's sexual
orientation in urging voters to support candidates who "share our
As part of this process, the Dane County Democratic Party funded a new group,
Citizens for Madison's Future, which distributed two negative mailings targeted
at candidates endorsed by the Greens and by Progressive Dane (a Madison-based,
local independent party) who had Democratic opponents.
In its election coverage, Madison's local Capital Times observed that the main
purpose and effect of the last-minute campaigning was to suppress progressive
voter turnout. Indeed, Madison turnout was at an all-time low for a city council
election. Not coincidentally, local Green membership has seen an upsurge since
the election, and some local Democratic Party activists quit their party in
All Green Party candidates in Madison received endorsements from the American
Federation of Teachers, and in some cases from other unions. Most also received
the backing of the Sierra Club and the Affordable Housing Action Alliance.
No Democrat running against a Green received an endorsement from any of those
organizations, or from the local labor council. The Capital Times also endorsed
all five Greens.
With the re-election of King, Benford and Konkel, Madison has had at least three
Greens on the twenty-member Common Council since 2001. This is also one Green on
both the Madison School Board (Shwaw Vang) and Dane County Board of Supervisors
An hour and a half to the southeast on Interstate 94, incumbent Alderman Pete
Karas of Racine was easily re-elected, fending off a Democratic challenger and
winning with 73 percent of the vote, the highest margin of all eight races in
Racine on Election Day.
When asked about his strong showing, Karas replied: "It's because of my
philosophy of running a city like a community, not a business, so that it better
benefits the people."
In keeping with this approach, Karas campaigned on an initiative to form a
Public Electric Utility, the Greater Racine Bright Public Power Initiative.
Having opposed a local coal-fired plant expansion in his first term, Karas
argued for the environmental and socio-economic benefits of a move to public
power. (See his opinion piece on this subject, page 12.)
"Instead of coal, Racine could build wind farms on Lake Michigan or small
natural gas-burners," Karas said. "Public power would also be an
economic development tool, generating new jobs for our city, where we have over
10 percent local unemployment. A lot of old manufacturing jobs have left and
some are never coming back. We must look forward and take control of our own
destiny, spurring the right kind of economic development and creating good
living-wage jobs for our residents. The lower cost of doing business in our area
will also attract other new businesses, creating even more jobs in the
The more environmentally friendly energy could be used by city government, Karas
added, as well as offered to all city residents and even residents of other
municipalities in Racine County, potentially boosting the city's General Fund by
$5 million a year.
Karas and supporters plan a full public campaign to help raise $100,000 for a
feasibility study, which would be the first step, followed by a public
referendum, which is required by state law. Power to the people!
Back to Summer 2005