While only a handful of voters met last Friday for Windham’s first Green Party caucus, it was nevertheless an historic occasion with gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche discussing her campaign for Governor and the opportunity Greens have to take a stand in local politics this November.
“We’re the fastest growing party in the country,” LaMarche, of Yarmouth, said of the Green Independent Party, a third party that won ballot status in Maine thanks to her first run for governor back in 1998. “We’re not right, we’re not left. We are out in front.”
LaMarche, a former journalist, educator and talk show host for WGAN, earned her place in U.S. history as vice presidential candidate in 2004 when she ran alongside Green presidential candidate David Cobb.
During their campaign, LaMarche and Cobb slept in homeless shelters across the nation to bring attention to poverty and helped support local Green legislative candidates in various cities and towns.
They would later contest the 2004 ballot count in Ohio where complaints of discarded ballots, broken voting machines and problems with polling locations brought President Bush’s victory in that state under scrutiny.
“Nobody trusts anybody anymore and this run is about honesty,” LaMarche said to her fellow Greens at the caucus. “I think this year presents the best opportunity of any year for a third party to make a statement.”
Upon entering the Windham Public Library where the caucus was held last Friday night, several young Greens greeted LaMarche with bright, hopeful eyes.
In the background was Windham’s John Coffee, caucus organizer and a longtime political activist who began working for the Democratic Party back in the 1950s. He later left the party during the 1990s after becoming “disenchanted” with the behind-the-scenes politics surrounding the party.
Libby Topel, an old high school friend of LaMarche, surprised her at caucus. The two hugged and chatted before LaMarche sat down at the caucus table to address the eager Greens.
Topel, a Windham resident who prescribes to no specific party but tends to vote Republican, listened in on their discussions.
“There’s a lot of people running and I want to know what everybody’s thinking,” she said.
The Greens criticized the state of affairs in mainstream politics and asked LaMarche questions about her campaign, views and past experiences.
LaMarche commented on how the major parties had lost touch with average Mainers.
The “Maine” issue in her mind is “jobs, jobs, jobs,” she told the caucus, and talked of the loss of whole industries that once supported Maine families.
She spoke of keeping Maine’s young people in the state, taking care of the senior citizens and the possibility of a universal healthcare system for all Maine residents.
LaMarche criticized Governor Baldacci for his attempt to borrow millions of dollars to bridge the Maine’s financial “gap” and lack of “fiscal responsibility.”
She also took aim at partisan politics and advocated that Democrats and Republicans not try and “re-invent the wheel,” but rather look at all ideas openly in terms of would be best for Maine.
LaMarche scrutinized property taxes which she describes as the “least practical tax because you get taxed for money not yet realized.”
“I feel for the people who have been in Maine for a long time,” she said. “I don’t think people should have to sell their property because they can’t afford the taxes.”
A former businesswoman, LaMarche talked about the difficult climate for small businesses to succeed in Maine.
“Why are we not supporting small business?” LaMarche asked.
She pointed out that millions of dollars had been appropriated to support small business, but instead were spent to draw corporations like Wal-Mart to the state.
LaMarche describes the Green Independent Party as the best of both the major parties all rolled into one, combining the fiscal restraint of “old-fashioned Republicans” while assuring “social structures to protect the poor.”
LaMarche warned her fellow Greens that the major parties would attempt to “marginalize” any third party candidate in fear of losing valuable votes.
“It’s tough to get on the ballot as a Green,” LaMarche said. “But integrity is important.”
Maine has more Green voters per capita than any other state in the nation.
In Windham, the number of registered Greens has risen from 80 to 237 in a few years and without any grassroots initiative or formalized local party.
The Green Independent Party is the only international political party with members in most Western European countries and parts of Africa.
This time around, LaMarche is running for Governor as a Clean Election candidate. That means she cannot receive more than $100 from any single person, company, or organization.
Instead, LaMarche must collect 2,500 five-dollar donations to be eligible for campaign financing through the Clean Election fund. This “allows candidates to be only beholden to the people,” she said, and not the lobbyists in Augusta.
During her 1998 run for governor, she spent only $20,000 on a grassroots campaign and garnered 7 percent of the vote.
“We have to be smart and willing to listen,” LaMarche said of her bid for Governor this year. “We’ve got to run the smartest campaign that’s ever been run and not make any mistakes.”