By JIM CULLEN
If the first few weeks of his presidential campaign are any indication, Ralph Nader and the Green Party are "for real" this election year.
Nader frustrated many Green activists in 1996 as he refused to let them spend more than $5,000 on his campaign for president, but supporters managed to put his name on 21 state ballots and he finished with 1 percent of the popular vote. This time the longtime citizen advocate announced his candidacy on February 21 with plans to raise and spend $5 million, including federal matching funds, get on at least 45 state ballots and earn at least 5 percent of the vote to make the Green Party a force to be reckoned with in the future. As far as the national media are concerned, he is still running a stealth campaign, as his announcement got little or no coverage, but he already has embarked on a travel schedule that took him to eight states in early March to build his campaign at the grassroots level.
On a tour through Texas to motivate the petition drive that hopes to collect 60,000 signatures by May 28 to put him on the Texas ballot, Nader stopped in Austin on March 12. Speaking to an estimated 400 people in a park three blocks from the Governor's Mansion, Nader attacked the corporate control of government and the handover of authority to the corporation-sponsored World Trade Organization, which he said has turned "government of, by and for the people" into "government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, for the DuPonts." He criticized Republican Gov. George W. Bush as well as his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore. Their competing campaigns, Nader said, look like "one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup." The only difference between the two candidates "is in the level of acceleration of their knees dropping to the floor when big corporations knock on their door," Nader said, to laughter and applause.
Texas could be fertile ground for Nader and the Greens because state Democratic officials have ducked challenging Republican incumbents in statewide races to concentrate on holding onto the state House and regaining the state Senate. With no Democrats running for the Supreme Court and the Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, and only nominal challengers against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Greens offer credible alternatives for Texas Democrats who, as Charlie Mauch, a retired engineer running as Green candidate for the Railroad Commission, said, "would rather take a poke in the eye with a sharp stick than vote for a Republican." And, assuming that Al Gore will lay off George W. Bush in Texas anyway, progressives likely will be able to vote for Nader with no fear of tilting the race.
Nader is serious about raising funds, and he needs to raise $5,000 in 20 different states to qualify for federal matching funds, but he also wants people to commit their time to the campaign. "We're not just going to have fundraisers; we're going to have timeraisers; that is we're going to have people who pledge time in order to demonstrate all over the country that millions of hours of volunteer time can overcome millions of dollars of corporate power," he said.
Nader said progressives should follow the example of the abolitionists who fought the prevailing business establishment in the early 1800s, the suffragists who fought for the right of women to vote for more than 60 years, the industrial workers who fought for the right to organize unions and the civil rights workers who pressed for an end to official segregation. He cited the example of the East Texas farmers who in 1887 formed the Populist movement. "In six months those farmers, without any telephones, cell phones, fax machines or motor vehicles or jet planes, they organized 200,000 farmers who gave a dollar apiece to start the biggest progressive populist movement in the history of the United States as it spread into one state after another and to Washington," he said.
"Now why is it important to recall this?," Nader asked. "Because when you're up against odds today and you start feeling sorry for yourself or you start finding excuses or 'we don't have the time' or 'it doesn't matter,' or 'you can't fight city hall,' or 'whatever will be will be,' you look back at our forebears and what they fought against and then you look at ourselves and we look like jerks by comparison if we give up, if we don't really strive."
Doug Sandage, a 48-year-old Houston lawyer running for the Senate against Hutchison, said the Greens represent the party of the future. "When I ran for the Senate as a Democrat for several months, everywhere I went virtually everyone I met was older than me," he said. "When I go to Green events, virtually everyone is younger than me."
The Greens have their work cut out for them in getting the word out. In the open California primary Nader received 104,282 votes, or 1.5 percent of the total, the highest number of any alternative party candidate. Nader received 21,278 Green-registered votes, for 91.8 percent of the total. The only other Green candidate on the ballot, Joel Kovel, received 6,215 votes, with 1,907 coming from Greens.
The top votegetter in the Reform Party was Donald Trump with 14,193. Trump, who had withdrawn from the race, took 36 percent of 1,819 party voters. Pat Buchanan bypassed the California primary election but has been active in mounting petition drives to put the Reform Party on the ballots in Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma, three of the most difficult states, according to the Ballot Access News.
As of February, according to BAN. the Libertarians were on 31 state ballots, Reform was on 21, Natural Law 19, Constitution 15 and Greens were on 12 state ballots.