A Green revolution in Iowa?

By Jesse Helling
Iowa Presidential Politics.com

For most politicos in the United States, elections are a win-or-lose endeavor.

However, "winning" does not always translate into getting elected.

For the Green Party, in Iowa and across the nation, victory is measured by whether or not the organization retains its official ballot status.

In the last election, the Green Party lost its place on the ballot, but its leaders hope to climb back on tentatively beginning with its own Iowa caucus in January when Democrats and Republicans hold their party caucuses.

In Iowa, a party must garner two percent of the vote in either a presidential or governor's race to stay on the ballot. This threshold was surpassed in 2000, when Ralph Nader, Green candidate for president, took three percent of the Iowa vote.

This jubilation evaporated two years later, when Jay Robinson, running for governor on the Green ticket, failed to meet the bar, receiving 14,628 votes, approximately 1.4 percent of the total. Iowa Greens were thus relegated once again to the political background.

Regaining ballot status is a major priority for the state party in 2004, said Holly Hart, co-chair of the Iowa Green Party.

"This is not going to be a year where we'll get a lot of votes," Hart said.

Perceptions of Ralph Nader as a "spoiler" of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's election in 2000 are likely to deter many people from voting Green next year, Hart said.

Nevertheless, Hart said, the Green Party is tentatively slated to have a caucus in January but hasn't yet spelled out the details.

If accomplished, this would mark the Iowa Green's first attempt to select candidates in such a manner. In 2000, according to Hart, ballots were printed and sent to state Greens directly.

"It was not a very strict vote," Hart said, adding that such a method would not have "passed muster" had the Green Party had official ballot status at the time.

Nader's 2000 candidacy marked the high water point for the Green party in Iowa and throughout the United States. Following the election, Iowans could officially register as members of the Green Party. According to Hart, the party had 2,500 registered members in 2002.

"A narrow majority of Green backers are younger voters who haven't formed a long-term association with either the Republicans or Democrats," said Hart. However, she said that a significant portion of party members are older voters who remember the days when viable Progressive and Socialist parties espoused similar platforms.

Nationally, the Green Party counted 292,512 registered members in the 20 states where the party has active ballot status as of September 2003, according to estimates complied by the California Green Party.

Over half of all registered Greens reside in California, according to the report, and in no state does the percentage of registered Greens exceed 1.7% of the total registered electorate.

Green Party members were forcibly returned to the realm of the independents in 2002, when party gubernatorial candidate Jay Robinson failed to reach the two percent threshold.

Hart, who ran for lieutenant governor in that election, said that the Iowa Green Party, in coalition with other minor parties such as the Libertarians and Socialists, are currently lobbying the state legislature to amend the requirements for active ballot status. Under the proposal, a party candidate for any statewide election could reach two percent of the vote and fulfill the requirement.

Despite numerical setbacks, Hart remains optimistic that the Greens are still a viable force in Iowa politics.

"People are interested -- they like the platform and values of the party," Hart said. "The worse things get in Washington, the more people will get fed up with the two-party system."

E-mail Jesse Helling at jesse-helling@uiowa.edu.

Copyright © 2003 by Iowa Presidential Politics.com. This site produced by the "Presidential Politics" class in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa.