Forget about Ralph Nader. The Green Party candidate to watch this fall is Jonathan Carter, who’s running for governor in Maine. It’s not that Carter is a household name nationally like Nader became two years ago. What makes Carter important around the country is that he is the first Green to get public financing for his campaign, $900,000 in all.
The Green Party’s Jill Stein, running for governor in Massachusetts, was refused federal funding "on technicalities."
AP Photo / Michael Manning
Maine, Massachusetts, Arizona and Vermont have all passed strict "clean elections" laws under which candidates who eschew large and corporate campaign contributions get money from state taxpayers instead. Ken Pentel, a Minnesota Green likewise running for governor, is expected to get up to $250,000 in state funds, although under the less-strict law there he still can seek large donations.
Jill Stein, running for governor of Massachusetts, was expected last spring to be the first Green to rake in the relatively big bucks from taxpayers. "We qualified under the spirit of the law but were disqualified on technicalities," Stein says.
Up in Maine, Green Party activists already see the difference money makes. The financial certainty helps planning for last-minute TV and radio ads, but the money also makes the campaign more serious.
"We now have higher expectations of ourselves," says Nancy Allen, a national Green Party spokesperson who lives in Maine. Allen says the campaign cash has made a staggering difference in how the party is treated by the media. "We’ve never had such ease getting press coverage," she says. "They’re falling all over themselves."
Green Party patriarch and Bowdoin College professor John Rensenbrink, another Mainer, points out that when Carter first ran for governor in 1994, the media yawned. "[This] goes to the heart of what’s wrong with American politics," Rensenbrink says. "The media doesn’t care about the message or grassroots organizing, but they do care about the bottom line."
Green candidates these days are running to win, abandoning an earlier goal of simply scaring liberal candidates to the left. Many Democrats around the country remain furious with Nader, blaming him for George W. Bush’s ascendancy. And many are watching nervously as the Greens" Ed McGaa takes on Minnesota’s Senator Paul Wellstone, a noted liberal Democrat locked in a tough battle with his Republican opponent as the balance of power is in play in the U.S. Senate.
"We don’t consider ourselves spoilers, we consider ourselves sweeteners," Myerson says, paraphrasing Carter (who didn’t return calls). "It’s the system that’s a spoiler. The answer is not to take choices away from people, but to fix the system."