In several ways, the workshop went remarkably well, and it will likely serve as a template for workshops in other parts of Texas. Several individuals, whether they had run for office previously or not, got some great information about the big picture and finer points of the process.
For me, the gathering was a refreshing antidote to the bitter taste left by June's GPTX state meeting. I emerged feeling better about calling myself a Green, proudly talking in we terms about the future of the Party.
Sadly, the good vibes I brought home from Dallas were blown away by the news from Las Vegas, after first being buffeted by the shock of the Spanish government's violent crackdown on Catalan demonstrators. As heavy as my heart is this morning, however, I feel obliged to post my impressions from the weekend as I said I would.
Last week, Perry at Brains and Eggs alluded to Texas Greens' Hamlet-esque dithering about whether to pursue ballot access in 2018. One of the topics that dominated Saturday's proceedings was the pros & cons of conducting a petition drive that, in all candor, is likely to fail.
As you may know, no Green candidate received the necessary 5% of the vote in a statewide race last year, because the Democrats nominated someone for all of them for the first time since 2002. So, to run as a party in 2018, the Greens must collect a metric buttload of valid petition signatures within 75 days, the first such ballot access drive for Texas Greens since 2010.
Among the 20 or so Greens and other in attendance, a fair number advocated abstaining in 2018, concentrating on local non-partisan races in 2019, and building the party for an all-out effort in 2020. Mostly, members of the North Texas contingent were solidly united in that position. Others, myself included, disagree with that strategy for a host of reasons. Still others were too new to the Party to have staked out a position.
That evening, when several Greenies gathered in Joy's living room, I told the irrepressible Allison Bittick of Denton County that North Texas likely could sit out 2018 and focus on the most winnable races for school boards and city councils, while the rest of the state at least tries to get back on the ballot, despite the tall odds against it. My own position begins with the notion that not trying makes us that much more irrelevant and, for the 1% of Texas voters who identify as Greens, is a form of political malpractice.
A few NTX Greens, such as Robert Mason and Joel Gronau, have already moved toward running as Independent candidates, which requires only 500 signatures for a local race rather than the 47,000-plus for a third-party ballot line.
Despite the disagreements and the strongly held opinions, nobody in attendance was all that disagreeable. Certainly, there was no rhetoric as vitriolic as what I witnessed in Corpus Christi on the subject of imposing dues on our members.
The Perils of Petitioning
New arrivals who stuck around for the discussion were treated to an intensely honest take on all that ballot access petitioning implies. Joy and kat, in particular, were ultra-frank about how much fun petitioning can be, but also how frustrating, exhausting, and downright dangerous. They both averred that they will not stop Greens from pursuing restoration to the ballot, but they are too battle-scarred to carry the clipboards themselves.
The biggest danger to petitioners comes from Democrats who cling to the belief that Greens stole the 2000 and and 2016 elections from Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, respectively. Nearly every veteran of these petition drives has stories of being verbally assaulted or worse by angry Democrats who fume about Ralph Nader's 90,000 votes in Florida, but conveniently forget the millions who didn't vote at all.
kat, who has sacrificed greatly for the Green Party and its vision, also brought two points into very sharp focus:
- Based on her experience and the current political environment, the Party can conduct a petition drive next year or participate somewhat successfully in local elections the following year. But, in her estimation, doing both would be "impossible" (her word, which I take to mean barely feasible but possibly harmful to the Party in the long term).
- GPTX has never conducted a successful petition drive on its own. In May of 2000, the Nader campaign sent paid petitioners into the major cities of Texas, and they collected a large percentage of the eventual tally. In 2010, an outside group made an in-kind donation that paid a petitioning firm to hire signature collectors. The drives of 2004, '06, and '08 fell far short of the threshold (1% of all votes in the last gubernatorial election).
Joy also pointed out that the Party has a history of net losses in membership after these drives. Other factors may drive this phenomenon: For example, in 2000, we worked with a large number of petitioners who were in it more for Nader than for the Party (as, let's face it, Nader himself was).
If anything is certain about the ballot access issue, old-timers like kat and Joy and me know plenty about what works and what doesn't. The main trick is finding the resources to implement proven tactics, such as petitioning in groups or two or three, and avoiding the pitfalls, such as post-petition flameout.
Janis Richards and I drove up to Dallas and back together. Jan, a fairly recent Green who already serves on Harris County's Steering Committee, cut her teeth on the Bernie Sanders campaign. She considers the Green Party the political home she's always had but never known about until 2016. She would like to run for governor next year, so she has skin in the ballot access game.
Rather than fall back on familiar methods and that history of failure, Jan would like to try some new approaches. One of her proposals is to reach out to sympathetic faculty members and student organizations at Texas colleges and universities. This state has more than a million registered students; not all of them, but the majority, are Texas residents. If only 1% of those—self-identified Greens or not—are willing to sign the petition, that's 10,000 signatures right there. If even a smaller percentage of those are willing to spend time collecting more signatures, we just might get back on the ballot.
I can't say for certain whether Jan's idea has legs, much less wings. We haven't tried it. Colleges, especially since 9/11/'01, have been walling themselves off from external influences (other than their corporate benefactors, of course). They have become increasingly wary of flack from right-wing media and loss of donations from influential alumni.
But, as with the drive itself, I hope we can at least try this approach. HCGP does have friends, allies, and even former candidates at the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Lone Star College, just for starters. They may have connections we could leverage at other institutions.
Whichever route we take, whether in 2018 or 2020, it is important to package the drive correctly for prospective signers. We mustn't use the confusing buzz-phrase "ballot access" with the voting public. Distill it to its essence and call it "more choices on the ballot"—i.e., something a majority of American voters have actually said they want.