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Progressive Populist

Winning the Next War
By Jim Cullen
July 1, 2002

Democrats and Greens seem intent on re-fighting the last war indefinitely as Democrats continue to blame Ralph Nader and the Greens for sabotaging Al Gore's election chances in 2000. Greens reply that Gore beat himself, though they add that even if they helped Gore beat himself they had every right to do so.

It's a fascinating argument replayed on our letters page nearly every edition since the election, but we're not so much interested in fighting over the last war as we are in winning the next one. As we have said before, a big part of that effort is to see that Republicans don't regain control of the Senate.

Greens are now nominating candidates for this fall's election and they promise aggressive slates. But Minnesota Greens haven't done progressive populists any favors with their decision to challenge Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Wellstone, perhaps the most progressive populist in the Senate, already faced the determined opposition of the White House, which recruited former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman to run against him. Republicans have made ousting Wellstone a priority precisely because of his vocal opposition to most of what George W. Bush stands for.

Ken Jerome-Stern writes on page 17 that a maturing Green Party decided to nominate Ed McGaa, a political novice also known as "Eagle Man," for the Senate. We disagree. Causing this mischief for Wellstone, who supports many of the Green Party's core values, looks more like a sign of the party's immaturity.

Green leaders in other parts of the country have said they intend to put up candidates against moderate and conservative Democrats in part to force Democrats to adopt more progressive positions.

Some Minnesota Greens said they supported McGaa because Wellstone supported the use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and he also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. However, McGaa, a US Marine Corps veteran of Korean and Vietnam wars, also supports those measures and has professed that he is unfamiliar with the Green Party's values.

The main attraction of McGaa appears to be that he is a Sioux and and an author of books on Native American spirituality. Reports from the convention indicate that delegates did not know much more about his position on political issues.

Winona LaDuke, Nader's running mate in the 2000 race, appealed to the convention to pass up the Senate race, but as Green spokeswoman Holle Brian told The Progressive's Ruth Conniff, "People came to the convention with the goal of endorsing a candidate come hell or high water."

Ultimately, as we have said before, voters will make the choice. We hope they recognize that Wellstone needs their support for a third term. We also hope the Greens will choose their fights better.

A better course this year would be for Greens to offer to pull back races this fall against Democrats who agree to support instant runoff voting (IRV) and proportional representation.

Under the plurality voting system used in most Senate and congressional races, it would be hard to endorse even so estimable a candidate as our own columnist Ted Glick against as flawed a product as Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., knowing that a vote for Glick would help to reinstate Trent Lott as majority leader and remove the last meaningful oversight to Dubya's rule by executive decree.

It would be better to see if Torricelli would commit to support IRV, which would eliminate the threat of spoiler candidacies, and proportional representation, which could be used to replace congressional gerrymandering and ensure minority representation.

State legislatures can adopt instant runoff voting in state and federal races but they need the approval of Congress to set up proportional representation in congressional districts. Having prominent Congress members pushing for those changes will perhaps help get them out of committee. Republicans should be amenable, with Ross Perot's spoiler role in 1992 and '96 presidential races vivid in their memory.

If Torricelli and other Democrats agree by Oct. 1 to push for IRV in statewide races and proportional representation in congressional races, Greens might withdraw from those races. They could still concentrate on races where they need a certain proportion of the vote to remain on the ballot for the next election, as well as races against those Demos who refuse to commit their support to IRV and proportional representation.

In the meantime, Democrats had better get over their murderous rage at the upstart Greens. They are here, they are determined to be heard, and there are just enough of them to make life difficult for the Democrats. It would be better for Democrats to work in coalition with Greens, particularly when IRV would do away with the spoiler role that neither side wants the Greens to maintain. And with Bush's Justice Department bringing back the FBI's domestic spying program and sending off US citizens to military brigs for indeterminate detention, there just aren't enough progressive voters out there to allow us the luxury of splitting our side and allowing Bush and his right-wing cohorts to consolidate their hold on the government.

Jim Cullen is the editor of The Progressive Populist.

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