In a back room at O’Niell’s, an Irish-themed pub in Albuquerque, approximately 20 people sip beers and eat sandwiches. There’s a large, forest-green version of the state flag and an unusual preponderance of bright-green T-shirts, but this is no belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It’s the annual convention of the New Mexico Green Party.
This minor party was once major, with Santa Fe—which had its own convention earlier this month—its onetime hub. Today, the Green Party is at a crossroads. Its values—“equity, peace, democracy and sustainability,” Santa Fe Greens Membership Secretary Marion Seymour says—have reached the mainstream, and “anybody that takes over our values, that’s progress!” she says.
But the party itself has withered. And according to many Greens, whether their party will quietly dissolve or suddenly revive will be a litmus test for election reform.
The March 20 convention starts with personal introductions—a feature long trimmed from the sprawling luncheons of major party conventions. Not that they’re necessary; most “Greens,” as they call themselves, already seem to know each other. They are veterans of the party’s heyday, the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Green Party had considerable local and national influence. But by 2008, according to John Otter, a longtime Green Party activist and the former treasurer of the Santa Fe Greens, many Greens were ready to assimilate into the political mainstream.
“The Obama election seemed to draw people into a more passive stance, thinking the Green values were going to go forward,” Otter says. “Now that they have not, there could easily be a [Green Party] resurgence.”
It wouldn’t be the first time disillusionment created a movement: The Tea Party can trace its sudden and considerable strength to that same sentiment.
“There are so many people who are totally dissatisfied with both the Republican and the Democratic part[ies] that there’s an opening for a third party, certainly,” Otter says.
But the Greens need more than just popular support. The New Mexico Green Party is embroiled in a lawsuit against Secretary of State Mary Herrera regarding what Greens say are unfair election regulations designed to make things tougher for minor parties.
Enter Alan Woodruff, the attorney who is leading the case against Herrera—and the Green Party’s 2010 nominee for Congressional District 1. Woodruff takes the stage with a flourish and uses his deep, gravelly voice to work the crowd like a preacher at a small-town revival.
“New Mexico is one of the most difficult, most anti-minor-party states,” Woodruff says. He explains how in 2008, the same year the Green Party got enough votes to qualify for major-party status, it was also decertified.
“I have difficulty seeing how we can be decertified and moved up at the same time,” Woodruff says. “The US District Court has the same question.”
Woodruff says the court has already declared portions of the state’s election code unconstitutional—but without a final ruling, the Green Party’s status remains undefined.
“We have no clue what we have to do to get on the ballot. We have no clue what our candidates have to do. We have no idea what the deadlines are,” Woodruff says, throwing up his hands. Murmurs of sympathy fill the room.
The Green Party is covering its bases by collecting what members hope are enough signatures to qualify candidates for the ballot, no matter what the court decides.
Meanwhile, some more pragmatic Greens have switched over to the Democratic ranks.
“[In] our voting system, there’s no room for third party candidates,” Rick Lass, a former Green who ran for Public Regulation Commission against Jerome Block Jr. in 2008, tells SFR. Lass, who heads the election reform nonprofit Voting Matters and says he’s considering running for PRC again in 2012, became a Democrat last year. “I don’t think I can win as a Green,” he says.
Without public financing and ranked-choice voting —a system that requires candidates to have more than 50 percent of the vote to win—minor parties don’t stand much of a chance in New Mexico, Lass says.