Maine Greens Ready to Rumble

(Cross-posted @Augusta Insider)

Over the past few months the Maine Green Independent Party has locked horns with the Democrats on many issues. The Maine Greens have opposed recent changes to the Maine Clean Election Fund requirements and joined with the Maine GOP in speaking out against the recent tax reforms. Though the Greens have been active in Maine for some time they haven’t had anyone in Augusta since John Eder left in 2006. The Greens are working hard to prove they are a viable alternative to Maine’s Democrats.

The Maine Clean Election Fund changes, sponsored by House Speaker Hannah Pingree, were altered to “to make the system more attractive for major-party candidates” according to Pingree. The changes, categorized as hard but fair by supporters, raised $5 contribution requirements from $2,500 to $3,250 and added a requirement of $40,000 in $100 donations. Proponents of the bill have said that the $40,000 requirement keeps significant taxpayer money only going to viable candidates.

“The argument that clean election funds should be reserved for “viable” candidates only, suggests that “viability” is determined by the ability to raise large sums of money,” said Green Party Chair Anna Trevorrow. “The concept behind clean elections funding has always been that candidates ought to compete based on their policy ideas and the values they represent. The new changes undermine that fundamental concept by mandating a monetary threshold for competitors.” Trevorrow went on to say that this is not just about the Green Party, but that the changes keep clean election funds from any candidate who is not most institutionalized.

In the Portland Phoenix, gubernatorial candidate Lynne Williams labeled the Clean Election Fund changes a “paradox, in that the Clean Election system exists to take money out of politics, but now requires fundraising.” Williams went on to say that “The paradox comes from the fact that the goal of passing Clean Elections was to open up the opportunity to run for office to a broader spectrum of candidates than just those who are either independently wealthy – we still get those, as you can see from the currently declared candidates – or connected to special interests and individuals with money – and we get those too.” There were also strong words from Lynne Williams for the bill’s sponsor, Hannah Pingree.

Hannah Pingree herself admits that this “opening up” was not meant to include Greens and Independents when she “says the move was intended “to make the system more attractive for major-party candidates.” ” The facts stated by the [Portland Phoenix] reporter, following this comment, are indicative of the hypocrisy of the Maine Democratic Party and their leadership – of the six gubernatorial contenders who have used Clean Election funding since the system was set up, three have been Republicans, one was an independent and two were Greens. No Democrats have used the system to run for governor.” Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy for Pingree to be testifying in Congress in favor of “clean elections,” when her own party does not even participate in the system at the statewide level.

Since Williams made her statement, Democrats Donna Dion and Libby Mitchell have both chosen to run as Clean Election candidates.

Representative Dianne Russel, who serves on both the Legal and Veteran’s Affairs committees that helped create the Clean Election bill, stated the changes will actually strengthen third parties in Maine.

It is important to understand that we chose to change the ballot access requirements for the parties to ensure third (and someday maybe fourth) parties were still able to play a vital role in our democracy. I want to see them build the momentum they need to have an increasingly profound impact on our marketplace of ideas.

Representative Russel also sympathizes with those frustrated over the new requirements. “ To be clear,” said Russel, “I didn’t want to change the system, but we were faced with legitimate budget concerns. If we did not make reasonable, fair changes to this system, the gubernatorial public financing system itself could have ended up in jeopardy.”

Representative Russel believes that the changes to the system will make it more attractive to viable candidates, thereby helping to “[remove] money and its influence from politics and governing.” Representative Russel also said a candidate’s financing choices will “play an important role in who I do or do not endorse in the primary race.”

Late last month the Greens joined the Republicans in opposing LD 1495, the tax reform bill. The Maine Greens argued that the bill was in fact less progressive than the current tax structure, hitting low-income Mainers in their already thin wallets. The Maine Greens have launched a campaign against the tax reform bill called “No Flat Tax for ME.” Maine Democrats responded to the Green Party’s move by saying, “Beginning in 2006 when John Eder’s reelection campaign accepted the help of Republican leader Josh Tardy, the Greens in Portland have moved closer to the Republican Party. In the Portland Press Herald, House Majority Leader John Piotti was quoted as saying, “The fact that we’re getting hit on both the right and the left confirms it’s good middle-of-the-road policy.”

Anna Trevorrow said the Green Party opposes the tax reform because “flat taxes are by nature inequitable, and the Green Party believes that those most capable of paying back into the system ought to compensate to some degree for those less able.” Lynne Williams felt the removal of an increase to the real estate transfer tax left her no choice but to oppose the tax reform bill. Trevorrow and Williams both disagree with comments made by Democrats after the Greens came out in opposition to the tax reform. “The Dems had to dig deep to find this skewed accusation, and even at that, came up false.” said Trevorrow in reference to comments in a Maine Democrat press release. Trevorrow went on to say,

Eder never “accepted” Republican help. In 2006 a PAC headed by Josh Tardy made independent expenditures that went to a mailing promoting John Eder’s reelection because they saw his as a swing-vote seat and would rather it go to a Green Independent than have to face a Democratic majority in the House. The PAC crafted the mailer by itself, without Eder’s knowledge.

Forming a partnership toward a common goal is nothing new for the Green Party. The Maine Green Independent Party has worked with the Maine Heritage Policy Center to repeal school consolidation. “If my party and the Maine Republican Party agree on this issue, great,” said Lynne Williams. “There will be many things coming up that we will disagree on. There is a reason that the word “Independent” is included in our name.”

All of these high profile stances have pushed the Maine Greens to the front of political news. That’s just what they want. Maine Greens are seeking to prove they are a viable alternative for voters. “We are not left or right, but out front,” said Williams. They are reaching out through the grassroots to challenge the Democrats for their piece of the political pie. “I have been working with these communities to fight back the power establishment in this state, which is heavily tied into the Democratic party. Most importantly, my campaign and our party stand for a philosophy that believes that people are more important than profit. That is what will eventually bring us to the forefront.” While the Democrats profess to be progressive, the Greens say they will be their conscience, challenging them to walk the walk or lose the votes.

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