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Cobb or Nader:
Where are the Greens headed?

August 20, 2004 | Page 10

TODD CHRETIEN reports on discontent among Green Party members over the nomination of David Cobb as the party's presidential candidate--and efforts in two states to put the independent campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo on the ballot instead.

THE STATE coordinating committee of the California Green Party voted 11 to 7 on August 10 against convening a statewide special convention to consider replacing presidential candidate David Cobb with Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo. In the party's presidential primary election last March, Camejo won 72 percent of the state vote to Cobb's 12 percent, and most members on the state coordinating committee support Nader and Camejo.

But the majority hesitated to overturn the results of the national Green Party convention, held in Milwaukee in June, which nominated Cobb. That nomination--won by a slim majority over an effort to get the Greens to endorse the Nader-Camejo campaign--has been widely challenged by Green Party members angry that convention delegates were heavily weighted in favor of Cobb, despite his attracting less than 15 percent of votes where open Green Party primaries were held.

Irregularities also surfaced in the process of choosing delegates. For instance, at least seven California delegates who claimed to be attending the convention on behalf of the mandate received by Camejo in the March primary admitted to being Cobb supporters after arriving in Milwaukee.

The same day that the California Green Party coordinating committee voted, the Vermont state coordinating committee voted to take up the question of replacing Cobb with Nader at a state convention in mid-September. These two votes--and the large numbers of active Greens working on the Nader-Camejo campaign despite its rejection by the Milwaukee convention--demonstrate the discontent within the Green Party over Cobb's nomination.

Beyond the dispute over the procedures that allowed Cobb to win the nomination lies a political disagreement. On the one hand, Cobb represents the wing of the Green Party that wants to build an alliance with liberal Democrats, such as Dennis Kucinich.

On August 15, Cobb boasted on Pacifica Radio's KPFA that he had promised at last year's Campus Green convention to "campaign for Dennis Kucinich if he won the Democratic primaries." This despite the fact that Kucinich directed his delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Boston to line up behind Kerry without a peep of protest against Kerry's vow to continue the occupation of Iraq and double the number of Special Forces.

Cobb's wing of the Green Party fears being labeled "spoilers" by the Democrats and accepts the argument that Nader was responsible for Bush's election in 2000 because he cost Al Gore the vote in Florida. Prominent Green and Cobb supporter Medea Benjamin articulated this position clearly in an essay titled "An Open Letter to Progressives: Vote Cobb, Vote Kerry."

"David Cobb has earned our endorsement in safe states by deftly steering the Green Party toward a nuanced strategy dedicated to ousting Bush, while seeking to grow a grassroots party that stands unapologetically for peace, racial and social justice, economic democracy, civil liberties and genuine ecology," she wrote.

But by calling for a vote for Kerry in the so-called "swing states" where Bush and Kerry are close, Benjamin undercuts her own call to build a Green Party that "unapologetically" opposes the Democrats for being pro-war, pro-USA PATRIOT Act, anti-labor and so on.

The wing of the Green Party that strongly opposes Cobb's "nuanced strategy" is represented in this election by Peter Camejo's joint campaign with independent Ralph Nader. "Our wing of the Green Party believes that we should never vote for the Democrats," Camejo argued in a debate with Cobb on KPFA.

Nader's defiance of the Anybody But Bush syndrome among liberals and progressives has put him in the crosshairs of a Democratic Party campaign of dirty tricks and intimidation to keep him off the ballot in November. In Oregon, lawyers working for the Democratic Party are threatening Nader-Camejo petitioners with felony charges and $100,000 fines.

Previously, Democrats packed a mass meeting organized by Nader in Portland to qualify for the ballot using a provision in state law in which 1,000 people can sign a nominating petition at a single gathering. Because so many Democrats attended pretending to be Nader supporters, the petition fell hundreds of signatures short because genuine Nader backers were turned away after the hall was full.

"The Democrats are showing they have no respect for democracy and will do anything to keep Nader-Camejo off the ballot," Nader said in a statement. "They also have no respect for the constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and petition when they are used in the electoral arena."

In Illinois, top Democrats have directed state employees to challenge Nader signature petitions, line by line. Yet the state's Democratic governor and Democratic majority in the state legislature voted to change a state law so Bush can appear on the ballot, even though he won't be officially nominated by the Republican Party 67 days or more before the general election, as required by Illinois law.

Obviously, the Democrats aren't using similar tactics against Cobb--because he represents no threat. Despite the Democratic Party's dirty tricks, Nader will likely appear on more ballots than Cobb, and he has already raised much more money than in his 2000 campaign. Petitioners across the country have already gathered nearly 1 million signatures for Nader.

While many liberals and progressives are caving into the Anybody But Bush syndrome, others are stepping forward to support Nader--such as Arab Americans for Nader. And last week, a judge ruled that the Presidential Debates Commission is illegal and has to be reorganized. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit that Nader supported after he was excluded from the 2000 debates.

Everyone who believes that we need an alternative to the twin parties of war should join the Nader-Camejo campaign--and demand that a voice for peace, national health care, union rights and a living wage be included in the debates.

Democrat's dirty tricks
By Kyla Klein

THE STRUGGLE to get Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot in the Democratic stronghold of Illinois has been an uphill battle. Despite the fact that John Kerry is almost guaranteed to carry the state in November, the Democratic Party machine has pulled out all the stops to challenge the Nader-Camejo campaign--in order to divert resources into expensive and time-consuming legal battles.

Democratic "volunteers"--including employees from the offices of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, allegedly working on state time in violation of election law--successfully disqualified more than 12,000 of the 33,000 signatures gathered by the Nader campaign, dropping the number of valid signatures well below the 25,000 required for ballot access.

Of course, Illinois Democrats are well known for their dirty tricks when it comes to elections. So it's no wonder that the Nader campaign noticed a discrepancy between the number of petitions it filed, and the number the state Board of Elections claimed to have received. More than 300 petition forms--or 3,000 signatures--are unaccounted for.

Unfortunately, this outrage is politics as usual in a state where more votes went uncounted in 2000 than in Florida. The petition deadline for ballot access in Illinois was June 21, the third earliest in the country. But the Nader campaign is suing to extend the deadline, a tactic it used successfully in 2000, arguing that the early deadline is unconstitutional.

The campaign is continuing to gather signatures and is hopeful that it will be able to include an additional 10,000 collected between June 21 and the court date of August 19. If the Democrats succeed in keeping Nader off the ballot, supporters plan on a write-in campaign.

Nader supporters are planning to attend the court hearing at 11 a.m. on August 19 at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago.

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