By Mike Feinstein, Green Pages Editorial Board advisor and member, Green Party of California
In odd-numbered years, most elections are held in either spring, early summer or in November. But this year five Greens ran in elections held between August 28 and October 10, from water board to U.S. Congress – and with notable success.
Water is life, capitalism is not
On our heavily populated and deeply industrialized planet, where clean drinking water and community water self-reliance is increasingly rare, ten U.S. Greens now hold positions on water boards after autumn 2019 elections – five in California and another five in Minnesota, Oregon, South Carolina and Virginia. Other Greens are also making water quality issues a priority in their campaigns and communities. At the same time, Greens are making the connection between our ecological and inequality crises and the economic system that leads to them – capitalism.
Jeffrey Whitehouse and William Stokem, Water Boards, Mendocino County, California
On August 28th two Green coastal district water board incumbents were re-elected in rural Mendocino County in Northern California
– Jeffrey Whitehouse to the Westport County Water District which provides water, sewer and fire services within the Village of Westport (an unincorporated community of 370 residents on picturesque Pacific Coast Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg);
and William Stokem to the Mendocino County Waterworks, District II, Anchor Bay.
Both Whitehouse and Stokem STILL SEEKING TEXT HERE.
Stefania Czech, City Council, Toledo, Ohio
Across the country in Toledo, Ohio, first time Green city council candidate Stefania Czech made the community’s right to clean water a central focus of her campaign, finishing a strong third (with 13.6%) in a District 2 September primary election for two places on the November general election run-off ballot.
Although the race was officially non-partisan, it was well known that incumbent Matt Cherry was a Democrat and his other challenger a Republican. It was Cherry’s earlier opposition to community efforts to clean Toledo’s drinking water that led Czech to run.
Toledo gets its drinking water from Lake Erie. But in August of 2014, the Western Basin of Lake Erie was devastated by a harmful bloom of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) resulting from agricultural run-off from nearby farms. Nearly 500,000 Toledo area residents were told to neither drink, cook nor bathe with the water due to its high levels of the toxin microcystin. A multitude of factors leave Lake Erie vulnerable to these frequent and intense algal blooms, but according to Czech “nothing has been done to prevent them except adding more chemicals during the water treatment process.”
Rights of Nature
In response as a member of Toledoans for Safe Water, Czech successfully helped organize a campaign to place a Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) law on the February 26. 2019 Toledo ballot, which voters approved with 61.4% of the vote.
Patterned along a growing number of ‘rights-of-nature’ laws that started in 2008 when Ecuador passed a Rights of Nature chapter in its constitution — and 2010 when Bolivia passed The Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, LEBOR gives rights to Lake Erie as a distinct ecosystem, promoting the Lake’s rights to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.
In a letter to the editor in Toledo’s newspaper The Blade, LEBOR was opposed by Cherry, who was also the City Council president. This incentivized Czech to run against him and give voice to the local clean water movement. “I was floored, I was frustrated, I was disappointed, as a parent and human who drinks from the tap, I felt I was not being protected from harm by my elected representative nor the other 10,000 people who signed the LEBOR petition or countless others who were harmed in 2014 water crisis.
Czech responded with her own letter to the editor “Don’t let corporate profits rule Lake Erie health” in The Blade. Then Cherry walked out of the Democracy Day City Council hearing when Members of Toledoans for Safe Water attended and called out BP’s involvement with a smear campaign against the LEBOR. That’s when Czech knew she had to run. What she found as a candidate validated her concerns for running. “While knocking on doors in District 2, family after family stated they refused to use the tap water other than for cleaning. Toledo families in District 2 are resorting to bottled water for drinking and cooking. Toledoans need to feel safe drinking from the tap. My biggest fear is Toledo, Ohio turning into another Flint, Michigan.”
The fight for LEBOR and clean water in Toledo has additional Green Party roots. In drafting and passing LEBOR, Toledoans for Safe Water partnered with The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which assists civil society, indigenous peoples, communities, and governments to advance laws and policies for the protection of nature and the environment. CELDF was co-founded in 1995 by Tom Linzey, who in 1994 ran as a Green Party write-in candidate for Pennsylvania as a 25-year old, and in 2000 received 61,000 votes and finished 3rd/5 candidates as a Green candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General.
The day after LEBOR passed, Drewes Farm Partnership initiated a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, against the city of Toledo. Then on May 1 the State of Ohio was granted motion to intervene on behalf of Drewes Farm Partnership, making it a party to the lawsuit, while Lake Erie Ecosystem and Toledoans for Safe Water were denied similar status. That case is currently working its way through the courts.
On July 18 Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a state budget bill into law, which contains language stating ”nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate or bring an action in any court of common pleas” and “no person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas.” It is not clear how courts handle lawsuits on behalf of ecosystems and nature after the passage of this budget law, and in the meantime Czech and Toledoans for Safe Water intends to act as an investigative and reporting agency of any crimes against Lake Erie.
Joshua Bradley, City Council, Raleigh, North Carolina
In another strong showing in an officially non-partisan race, Joshua Bradley campaigned openly as a Green and a socialist against two Democrats for an open seat on the Raleigh, North Carolina City Council, District A on October 10.
An activist with Occupy Raleigh and a professional accountant, Bradley’s anti-capitalist/eco-socialist message garnered 1223 votes (10.3%) in a conservative North Raleigh district of the city with only 24 registered Greens. The district is known for its anti-tax sentiment, indifference to high living costs and activism against shared prosperity.
Originally an upper middle class suburb, white flight has seen wealthy North Raleigh residents move further north as apartment complexes have been built in recent years, bringing in a growing working class demographic that Bradley sought to reach with his campaign.
Development for whom?
“The current City Council fully supports allowing developers and speculators to determine what our city will look like and who can afford to reside in its neighborhoods and communities” Bradley argued. “Development of affordable housing, including limits on what constitutes reasonable rents, have taken a back seat to failed planning models that generate profits for a few while displacing renters and long-time residents”
Citing capitalism as the source of Raleigh’s increasing homelessness, gentrification, unchecked development and inequality of income and access to resources, Bradley’s campaign promoted what he argued were realistic and achievable affordable housing rental cost targets, inclusionary housing thresholds and funding sources for affordable housing, as well as elimination of single-family residential zoning — all combined with businesses that pay a living wage and increased public transit to provide a city of more equity.
Endorsed by City of Raleigh Workers Chapter of UE150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, Bradley championed the right of public employees to organize and bargain collectively, and said he would provide a voice for workers on the city council. He also favored establishing a police oversight board with subpoena power, and participatory budgeting to the city’s budget to let residents decide some community projects.
A city of over 430,000 residents, Raleigh’s city council has eight members – five elected from districts like District A and the other three elected at-large, including the mayor. Not accounting for late expenditures which haven’t yet been reported, Bradley’s two rivals spent $21,000 and $15,000, while Bradley raised approximately $1,200 and spent $900.
Allen Smith, U.S. House of Representatives, North Carolina
The other Fall 2019 race North Carolina Greens contested – running Allen Smith in a special election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District – had national significance.
In November 2018, the 9th District general election was marred by allegations of absentee ballot fraud by the campaign of Republican Party candidate Mark Harris. Subsequently the North Carolina State Board of Elections — comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent — voted unanimously not to certify the results, and called a new election for September 10, 2019.
In March 2019 Smith joined what was expected to be a tight race in this election in the Charlotte area between Democrat Dan McCready, who also ran in November 2018 and Dan Bishop, who became the Republican nominee after Harris astutely declined to run again, along with Libertarian Jeff Scott.
In the disputed November 2018 election, Harris had ‘finished’ only 905 votes ahead of McCready (49.3% to 48.9%), while Scott also received 5,130 votes (1.8%) – this in a district that Donald Trump had won by 12% in 2016. Buoyed by that trend, Democrats hoped to win the seat in 2019 and build momentum for 2020, especially with Scott running again and likely to earn some of the center-right vote. What was Smith’s thinking entering a race with national significance that the Democrats so desperately wanted to win?
“Running in such a hot race gave us a great opportunity to highlight our differences. You just have to move past the criticism and point out that the two corporate party system that dominates our politics and shuts out third parties is responsible for the mess we are in,” Smith told Green Pages post-election. “To move ahead and solve the dire issues we face, we have to open debate to true grassroots voices and truly embrace democracy. We also have to educate voters on the barriers that third party candidates face.”
Endorsed by the NCGP, Smith pointed to six issues which primarily differentiated him from the other candidates: “Medicare for All”, “Public Ownership and control of utilities such as power, water and internet”, “Deep cuts to military spending and infrastructure”, “Legalization of Cannabis and expungement of criminal records of non violent offenses”, “Clean Energy by 2030” and “Creating a Pro-Worker economy with a $15 federal minimum wage”.
Smith also talked about systems. “Our healthcare, our economy, our government, our housing, and all the other basic things that keep us up at night— they’re all connected. Capitalism leaves millions of people struggling in poverty, destroys our environment, and concentrates power among a small club of exceedingly wealthy people and corporations, not because it has gone off the rails but because that is what it is designed to do. If we want different outcomes for our kids, our planet, and our future, we need to stop doing the same things over and over again. We need to stand up to the establishment, challenge the status quo, and take bold action; our future depends on it.”
In the end, the competitive special election drove down the votes for both Scott (773) and Smith (375) out of 190,506 cast, with Bishop winning by 3,788 votes.
“Allen was a great candidate in a very difficult race with a very short campaign period,” said NCGP co-chair Tommie James after the election. “The 9th District is extremely large geographically and greatly taxed our ability to reach voters. While Allen attended many candidate forums and other public events and was extremely well received — and his volunteers canvased extensively, voters had overwhelmingly already decided their vote. Had the race featured the use of ranked-choice voting, perhaps Smith [and Scott’s] first preference numbers would have been much higher.”
“The upside is that the North Carolina Green Party (NCGP) is a newly recognized party with its own ballot line (as of 2018), and we gained valuable experience with this campaign,” adds James. “Because of it, Allen and the NCGP are now known by many more voters and organizations who in fact support our platform over the Democrats.”