Reflections on a Campaign
A Unique Opportunity Leading To New Goals
By MADELYN HOFFMAN
Special to The Progressive Populist
On November 4, 1997, history was made when the New Jersey Green Party garnered
almost 11,000 votes, or just over 0.5 percent of the votes cast -- courageous
people who voted Green, despite the closeness of the race between Governor
Whitman and her Democratic challenger, the absence of a nationally known
figure on the ballot and the newness of the Greens. We placed fifth in a
field of 10 -- behind Republican Governor Whitman, Democratic runner-up
James McGreevey, and two conservative alternative party candidates, Libertarian
Murray Sabrin and Conservative Rich Pezzullo.
The Greens received nearly double the votes of their nearest challenger.
We were the only other party to receive more than 10,000 votes. This was
particularly impressive since the Democrats and Republicans together spent
close to $10 million, the Libertarian qualified for state matching funds
by raising at least half a million dollars and the Conservative Party had
over 80 candidates running for offices statewide.
The Greens spent just $10,000 -- had only three candidates for office statewide
-- and were running their first ever statewide campaign! The only other
public exposure for the Greens was the previous year -- 1996 -- when the
Greens placed Ralph Nader on the ballot for President, with Madelyn Hoffman
on the ballot as his Vice-Presidential running mate. That campaign garnered
35,000 votes, or 1 percent of the total -- on the strength of Nader's national
reputation and interest in the Greens.
The gubernatorial campaign was driven by many newly formed local chapters
of the Greens -- and a volunteer steering committee. None of us had real
experience running an electoral campaign. But we ran as serious a campaign
as we could muster, with limited resources and a ton of dedication.
We learned that many people were unhappy with the policies of Governor Whitman
and the platform of Democrat Jim McGreevey, and were quite intrigued by
the Green Party platform. Members of the disabled community commented that
the Greens were so much closer in philosophy and commitment to disabled
issues than the mainstream parties. The gay and lesbian community was moved
by the Greens principled commitment to gay and lesbian rights. Anti-poverty
groups welcomed participation of the Greens in a summit that addressed the
issues of poverty. Parents and teachers looking to find equitable means
of funding education were impressed with the Greens' commitment to these
issues. In addition, the Greens were the only party that could look to its
own history around auto insurance reform and tout a highly successful program
which cut auto insurance rates in California by 20 percent. And, of course,
members of the environmental community found that the Greens were the only
party that truly addressed the key issues of overdevelopment, unplanned
development and toxic chemical contamination.
Unfortunately, this did not automatically translate into votes or endorsements
-- as the overriding philosophy continued to be that, since the Greens did
not have a chance to win, it was necessary to "vote for the lesser
of two evils." The absurdity of this was most evident when a statewide
environmental political action committee endorsed McGreevey after having
attacked his environmental policies during the primary. They were afraid
of alienating Democrats in the legislature by backing the Greens.
This is a major obstacle we have to overcome. It can only be accomplished
by grass-roots organizing and by changing campaign finance laws so that
all ballot-qualified candidates are given similar opportunities for exposure.
In New Jersey, unless a candidate raises $210,000, they are not eligible
for matching funds, they are not included in televised debates and they
are not treated as serious candidates by the media.
We need to emphasize the message that was the centerpiece of Ralph Nader's
campaign. He strongly criticized the "two-party duopoly," one
party with two corporate heads. He decried the corporations' influence over
the political process and the corporations' efforts to systematically destroy
the democratic process. He focused on "corporate welfare," the
ways in which our government bends over backwards to assist corporations
financially, but targets low to moderate income people benefiting from government
programs as the cause of the nation's economic woes.
This most pointed and focused message allows for the greatest amount of
grass roots support -- from labor, to environmentalist, to welfare recipient,
to affirmative action advocate, to housing advocate and more.
We must now focus on building the Greens from the grassroots up. We have
hired a part-time organizer (myself) to accomplish this goal. Local chapters
formed as a result of both campaigns must now turn their attention to building
We need to show that the most outspoken and progressive forces in our society
don't have to vote for a weak-kneed, mealy-mouthed Democrat -- that voting
for what you believe in because it is an extension of the work you do every
day is not only important, but critical in creating the conditions that
will ultimately change our government's priorities -- and ultimately, the
structure of our society.
Madelyn Hoffman was the Green Party candidate for Governor in New Jersey
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