Jill Stein with Howie Hawkins, one of the current Green Party presidential candidates, at the 2019 Massachusetts Green Party annual meeting
Jill Stein with Howie Hawkins, one of the current Green Party presidential candidates, at the 2019 Massachusetts Green Party annual meeting
" “Greens could be the kingmaker, but we also could be the king” — Jill Stein "
This week Deep State begins a series — Confronting the End of Everything — on how, politically, Maine people could grapple with the enormous environmental threats facing them and the Earth. Here we discuss the Green Party with Jill Stein, the Greens’ 2012 and 2016 presidential candidate. Next time: Can practical politics be green? Soon: Democrats and the environment. And: Do the Republicans even care?

There’s growing evidence of a huge, worldwide decline in insects — 40 to 80 percent over the past several decades, depending on the study.

“So what does it mean for the ecosystem?” Jennifer Rooks, host of Maine Public Radio’s “Maine Calling” interview show, asked Maine Audubon conservation biologist Sarah Haggerty a few weeks ago.

“It basically can mean the end of everything,” Haggerty replied, with a weak laugh.

I had to sit down. Oh, okay. The end of everything.

What this pleasant-sounding scientist referred to is the possible end of much life on Earth — including us — given how biologically important insects are (pollination, food for birds and fish, decomposition of waste). Scientists are increasingly concerned that this could occur and suspect that a big villain is the widespread use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids or neonics.

Thus, add the insect apocalypse to other human-caused disasters bearing down on us: accelerating global warming; vast pollution of the oceans with plastics; and a million plant and animal species vulnerable to rapid extinction, as the United Nations recently reported.

But, thank goodness, Republicans and Democrats have announced they’re joining hands to lead a Second World War­–like mobilization to save the country and the world. It was finally recognized that other issues are of less importance than the survival of life itself.

Dream on....

Historically, only one political party has been sounding the alarm long and loudly on environmental issues: the Green Party, which in Maine calls itself the Green Independent Party. Greens have long understood that we’re hurtling toward catastrophe.

In Europe, Greens are politically surging, with credit given to concerns about global warming among young people. In European Parliament elections in May, Greens finished second in Germany and Finland and third in France. In Britain, they did better than the Conservatives. Greens have long participated in European coalition governments. As Iceland’s glaciers melt, its Left-Green Movement leader has become prime minister.

But Greens have not done well in this country, where they have no representatives on Capitol Hill or, currently, in the 50 state capitals. Only four Greens have ever been elected to state legislatures. One was John Eder, of Portland, who served from 2002 to 2006. (Eder ran in the Democratic primary for the Legislature in 2018 but lost.)

At one point there were three Green members of Portland’s city council. And the party made a statewide stir with gubernatorial candidates Jonathan Carter (1994 and 2002) and Pat LaMarche (1998 and 2006). LaMarche got almost 10 percent of the vote in 2006 and Carter just over 9 percent in 2002. But no Green has been on the gubernatorial ballot since LaMarche’s last bid.

Yet Maine in one way is among the strongest Green states: the party has consistently grown. In 2004 it had about 24,000 registered voters. Today there are 44,000. By contrast, the next-most-numerous “third party” is the Libertarian, with 105 registered voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Under state law, because of its significant numbers Greens have the only official party in Maine besides the Republicans (288,000 registered) and Democrats (349,000). Unenrolled or “independents” total 374,000.

And Maine Greens have been important in pushing issues onto the state’s agenda and into state law such as marijuana legalization and ranked-choice voting. Greens see ranked-choice voting as a means to finally gain some power within the American (and Maine) political system, in which the two major parties have such mass and inertia.

Ranked-choice voting is “absolutely transformational,” Justin Beth, chairperson of the Portland Greens, told me.

An Interview with Jill Stein —

The 2012 and 2016 Green presidential candidate sees Maine’s new ranked-choice voting as a “game-changer” for her party

Jill Stein proposed a Green New Deal in 2012, the first presidential candidate to do so, and such a plan had been promoted by Greens in earlier elections. Progressive Democrats only began to push the idea in 2018.

The Green Party, she told me, saw the Green New Deal as “an emergency, wartime-scale mobilization to fix both the climate and economic crises — providing 20 million good union jobs and eliminating fossil fuels by 2030.” She spoke by phone from her home state of Massachusetts (augmented by email exchanges).

The Democrats’ version of the Green New Deal — such as the one pushed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — has been watered down, Stein said, from the original Green Party plan. She cited the dropping of a tight requirement for eliminating fossil-fuel use.

Democratic Party leadership opposes the Green New Deal, she said, and has refused to hold a climate debate among its presidential contenders. On the other hand, referring to progressive Democrats, she claimed “they’ve adopted our whole program.”

A physician and longtime environmental activist, Stein listed other Green platform planks that some Democratic presidential candidates have espoused — such as free public college education, marijuana legalization, and Medicare for all. Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, running on the Green ticket, had promoted Medicare for all in 2000.

There’s little doubt that Greens have been in front of Democratic politicians on many issues at a time when Democratic voters and young people have been moving left. But being in the vanguard hasn’t yet translated into electoral success.

Political scientists often pin the difficulty third parties have in American politics on the fact that the United States doesn’t have a parliamentary system, in which parties are represented in a national legislature based on the proportion of votes they receive and not on an individual candidate’s plurality.

Stein said another big reason for the Greens’ electoral difficulty in this country is “the mind-boggling influence of big money” flowing to politicians. By contrast, Greens have tight limits on accepting donations, including none from political action committees associated with for-profit corporations.

However, she saw the adoption in Maine of ranked-choice voting — the first state to do so and a reform Portland Greens first promoted — as “a real game-changer. It brings more voices and more choices into our elections.”

With ranked choice, which in Maine has been adopted for both primary and general-election races for congressional and Senate seats and primary races for governor and the Legislature, voters rank candidates by preference.

If nobody has a majority when the votes are first counted, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choices of that candidate’s voters are distributed as votes to the remaining candidates. The process repeats until a candidate achieves a majority.

Ranking Green candidates on a ballot means they could no longer be considered spoilers. In fact, “Greens could be the kingmaker,” Stein said, “but we also could be the king” — that is, a Green candidate could wind up with the most votes at the end of a ranked-choice election.

Ranked-choice voting shows that “Maine is leading the pack nationally in independent thinking and independent voters,” Stein said.

She’s interested in devoting time in the future to promoting ranked-choice voting. In 2016, she received 1.4 million votes, tripling her 2012 number (though it was only 1 percent of the total votes cast), but she’s “not planning to run” for president in 2020.

The surge of the right

“People are hungry for big change,” Stein maintained, describing a recent NBC–Wall Street Journal poll that showed, “70 percent of voters are really fed up and distrust the system.” As a result, she said, a hundred million American voters “stayed home” in 2016, disproportionately “black, brown, poor, and millennial.”

While the Greens are doing well in Europe, there’s a concurrent surge there and elsewhere by right-wing parties. The “global surge of the right,” Stein said, is fueled by the widespread disgust with politics — partly, from voters suffering the effects of austerity, globalization, and privatization.

“Desperate people are vulnerable to right-wing demagoguery,” she said, “when they don’t have a left-wing alternative.” Which she doesn’t believe the Democratic Party provides in this country. Working people were “pissed at” President Obama, she said, for “bailing out the banks instead of the millions of homeowners cheated out of their homes by Wall Street’s mortgage scams.”

The right-wing surge, most commentators agree, also has to do with a reaction to the huge migrations occurring in the world. Like the progressive Democrats, Stein is opposed to President Trump’s harsh policies on immigrants. Her opposition includes “an end to deportations and family separations, a welcoming path to citizenship, and respect for the rights of refugees.”

But unlike most American politicians, she calls for addressing “the root causes” of why migrants are “running for their lives” such as, she said, military coups, death squads, and regime-change wars supported by the U.S. in Central America.

“It also includes the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs ... which has magnified violence throughout the region, and NAFTA’s impact putting millions of farmers and factory workers in Latin America out of work.”

To cope with the huge number of refugees besieging the Mexican-American border, she endorsed “increasing the capacity of the courts” to deal with them, “instead of incarcerating them.”

Harsh accusations

The Green Party gets scant attention in the news media, and in recent years much of it nationally has been negative.

Echoing the claim that Nader in 2000 took enough Florida votes from Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore to deliver the Electoral College to Republican George W. Bush, Stein herself has been accused of denying the 2016 election to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That’s because the number of people who voted for her in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin was larger than Republican Trump’s margins over Clinton in those key Electoral College states.

The premise that Clinton “owned” Stein’s voters is “absurd,” Stein said. But even accepting her critics’ logic, she said a CBS News exit poll showed that, if only Clinton and Trump were in the race, 61 percent of people who voted for Stein wouldn’t have voted, only 25 percent would have voted for Clinton, and 14 percent would have gone to Trump. Those numbers wouldn’t have given Clinton a victory.

She also had to confront the allegation that the Russians promoted her in order to take votes from Clinton.

In a 2018 MSNBC interview, she dismissed as insignificant the few social-media mentions that could be traced to Russian efforts boosting her candidacy. At the same time, Clinton was the target of thousands of Russian social-media posts and ads.

And far more important than the “miniscule” influence of the Russians in the 2016 presidential election, she said in our interview, is the power of money in American politics, including television time worth billions of dollars in news coverage of Clinton and, especially, of Trump.

She later emailed me: “Interference in our — or any country’s — elections is an intolerable assault on democracy.”

But the idea that she got help from the Russians was amplified by the publicity she received from a photo of her at a 2015 banquet table in Moscow with Russian president Vladimir Putin and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who briefly was Trump’s national security advisor before his contacts with Russian officials forced him to resign. He eventually pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about those contacts.

Stein said she attended the RT (a Russian media network) conference preceding the dinner to meet journalists and decision-makers from around the world.

She went with “the specific intention to speak to a global audience” about needs for a peace initiative in the Mideast, a dialogue on nuclear disarmament, and the elimination of fossil fuels. In her conference appearance, she said, she criticized Russia for the bombing campaign it had just begun in Syria.

She couldn’t have talked with Putin, she said, because there wasn’t a translator at the table. But as a result of the news of her presence at the event, she endured “a completely concocted smear campaign.”

One conclusion that could be drawn from Stein’s “dinner with Putin” was that if the Kremlin planned to use her surreptitiously as a “tool of Russia” to help defeat Clinton, as her critics suggested, it was an unaccountably stupid move to place her at a table with Putin and then distribute the photo of it worldwide.