/* */

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I was the swing vote

You’ve probably all heard by now that Al Franken has won the U.S. Senate election recount contest appeal in the Minnesota State Supreme Court, eight months later, defeating Norm Coleman by a mere 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

An interesting factoid that seems to be forgotten in all the hoopla is that the Green Party of Minnesota did not run a candidate. If we had, we almost certainly would have tipped the balance in favor of Coleman. We are more liberal than the Democrats, and could have provided an easy protest vote for many good citizens on the Left. To give you some perspective, our U.S. Senate candidate received 10,714 votes in 2006. This was 34 TIMES Franken’s margin of victory.

To be sure, getting a Green Party candidate on the ballot in 2008 would have been problematic. But we had done it before. When Michael Cavlan ran against Amy Klobuchar in 2006, we collected 3,500 signatures, nearly double the 2,000 required by the State of Minnesota. Of that total, Amber Garlan collected about 1,000 and I collected about 500 for Michael Cavlan. And when Cynthia McKinney ran against Barack Obama for President last year, we again collected well over 2,000. I gathered about 1,200, and Amber got over 700. It’s true we did have a longer time period to petition for President, and essentially a shorter period to petition for U.S. Senate, because many of us were in Chicago the second week to attend our national convention in Chicago. But with a few more volunteers, energized behind a candidate, ballot access would have been entirely doable. Three of our local candidates each exceeded their requirement of 500 signatures.

So why didn’t we run a candidate? What makes this story even more interesting is that Michael Cavlan did seek Green Party endorsement again in 2008, but he fell short by one vote. A two-thirds majority was required, and the final vote was 26-14. If Michael had added two votes, making it 28-14, or gotten one person to switch, making it 27-13, that would have been enough. (27 / 40 = 0.675)

Procedurally, the sequence of events was intriguing and somewhat bizarre. The two-thirds requirement was not in the state party bylaws. Earlier in the day, we passed it by consensus. In the Green Party consensus process, all must agree, and unless there is a blocking concern, the motion passes. We all agreed, even Michael, who said he didn’t want the endorsement unless he had two-thirds. He certainly did have at least half the members supporting him, and if they had organized a floor fight, they could have insisted on a simple majority requirement, and probably would have prevailed.

Another interesting footnote is the story of Cameron Osborne. He would have voted for Michael Cavlan, but was not allowed to vote. Cameron joined online through the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) May 7, 2008 and was issued a membership card from the national party. He was not on the state membership rolls in time for the June 7 Mankato convention. There's a 60-day waiting period and this was less than 60 days prior. According to GPMN rules, he still could have voted if someone had vouched for him. David Strand, who drove Cameron to the convention, said he didn’t vouch for Cameron because Cameron didn’t ask him to. Cameron said he didn’t ask because he believed there was a requirement to attend a meeting, which he hadn’t. If the convention registrar accidentally gave Cameron incorrect information, then Cameron may have been unwittingly disenfranchised.

Sound familiar? In the court fight, one of Coleman’s contentions was that absentee ballots were wrongly handled because of inconsistencies from county to county due to errors by election judges.

After our convention, I wanted to follow up on Cameron’s story because I knew how strongly Michael felt about electoral integrity. Michael traveled to Ohio as an observer of the 2004 recount, and it was one of his top five issues in his 2006 campaign. At one point he had said it was THE top issue. The last thing I wanted was allegations of voter disenfranchisement. As it played out, Michael never challenged the outcome, and party leadership never researched whether vouching is allowed for brand new members who have not been to any meetings.

It may be a cause for concern, but Cameron’s vote alone would not have been enough to put Michael over the top. If Michael had brought any one of a number of people with him to Mankato, however, the outcome may have been different. His campaign manager had a family emergency. Dori Ullman, David Shove, Danene Provencher, and Ken Pentel were not present.

There were actually two votes that day. On the first ballot, it was:

Michael Cavlan: 25
No candidate: 5
Thomas Harens: 1
NOTA or No candidate: 1

On the second ballot:

Michael Cavlan: 26
NOTA: 14

There were 14 of us who voted None Of The Above (NOTA). I suppose any of us can lay claim to being the true swing vote, but I feel that I swung the farthest. I know I’ve always had an inflated sense of self-importance, but this time I really do think I was pivotal. I was arguably Michael’s most vocal supporter in 2006, and his most vocal opponent in 2008. What happened?

There were almost as many reasons as there were people...

Some wanted the party to place more emphasis on local races.

Some felt Michael didn't have a strong enough campaign organization.

Some felt he was against things but not for things.

Some disagreed on external political issues such as 9/11 and impeachment.

But for me, it was something entirely different.

I thought Michael was great on the issues, better than Franken. Better on cutting the funding for Iraq, phasing out nuclear plants, and supporting single payer health care. (No, Franken did not promise to support single payer health care. He hedged by saying, “…today’s political environment requires a creative and flexible approach to covering every American.”)

No, for me, I was more concerned about internal Green Party issues – inside baseball if you will. Michael believed that the 2004 national convention was unfair, and that Ralph Nader was treated unfairly in 2004 and 2008. Having personally worked on the Presidential Campaign Support Committee (PCSC), I felt that the GPUS processes, while not perfect, were reasonably open and fair. Some states had a requirement that candidates be members of the Green Party, and other states required that candidates announce their candidacies. Nader had done neither.

Another source of contention at the national level had to do with delegate apportionment to the national convention. One of my tasks on the PCSC was to review the delegate selection rules for each state and post them to the national web site. The processes seemed reasonably fair to me, and the ratio of members to delegates was relatively proportional within each state. Critics of the party noted that ratio was not proportional nationwide, however. For example, California was capped at 25% of the total delegates, even though they have an extremely high proportion of voters registered as Greens. This seemed reasonable to me, though, given that California is about 12.5% of the national population, and states like Minnesota don’t register voters by party. As I see it, the current system is intended to encourage campaigns to organize in smaller states, not unlike Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” you could say. Another consideration is the Electoral College, which requires victories on a state-by-state basis.

In the lead-up to our state convention in Mankato, a couple other things disturbed me. At one point, Michael had talked about the state party disaffiliating from national. That seemed excessively drastic to me. Michael had also posted a rumor to the web, stating that 2004 Green Party Presidential candidate David Cobb had taken a paid position with the Progressive Democrats of America. We never found the source of the rumor.

In the absence of convincing evidence, I felt that Michael's criticisms of the party were harmful to morale. It’s great that he’s radical, but sometimes he’s too radical even for the Green Party, in my opinion.

I suppose one could argue that personal and emotional baggage affected my decision. But I really don’t think that’s the case.

It’s true, I helped try to block the endorsement of Norm Coleman for St. Paul Mayor at the 1993 DFL convention, back when I was a Democrat, and the next day my wife and I separated. When the house was sold in 1997, I spent the bulk of my equity on the campaign of Sandy Pappas, Coleman’s opponent – a largely emotional decision. And two days after I lost my job in 2002, Senator Paul Wellstone was killed, and Norm Coleman went on to win the election.

On the more positive side, it’s true that I enjoyed listening to Al Franken’s radio show in my truck at work. I particularly enjoyed “Mastication Theater.” But I really think my reasons were rational and party-related.

You might be wondering who I voted for in November. I’m not saying. The Green Party policy is, in the privacy of the voting booth, you don’t have to vote a straight ticket, but keep it to yourself. So although we had no endorsed Green in the race, I still feel like following that guideline. I will say that I certainly did not vote for Norm Coleman, and that I did not vote for Dean Barkley. Many Greens did, but after reading “The Web of Debt” by Ellen Brown, I concluded that Barkley was fear-mongering the debt. So I either voted for Franken, or I cast a write-in vote for Michael Cavlan. I still like Michael, I saw him today, in fact.

Another interesting factoid is that in 2006, we did not run a candidate for Secretary of State. We ran candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and State Auditor, but we did not oppose Mark Ritchie, who went on to oversee the Coleman-Franken recount. In fact, Michael and I were part of a small team of Greens that crashed the DFL convention that year. After we unfurled our anti-war banner from the balcony, we attended a debate between Ritchie and his DFL opponent. After the debate, Michael spoke one-on-one with the candidates, and came away finding Ritchie relatively acceptable.

So, long story short, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m kind of like the character played by Kevin Costner in the movie “Swing Vote.” Or maybe I fancy myself as some sort of real-life, quasi- Forrest Gump character.

And now world history hangs in the balance. Much has been made of Franken being the magical sixtieth vote, giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority. Actually the Democrats have 58, with 2 Independents. But Bernie Sanders almost always votes with the Democrats, and Joe Lieberman used to be a Democrat. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd have health problems, but I understand they’ve been making it onto the Senate floor for important votes.

Another interesting piece of trivia is that Al Franken will be the fourth consecutive Jew to hold that same U.S. Senate seat. Rudy Boschwitz, Paul Wellstone, and Norm Coleman precede him. And it is still within the realm of possibility that the Minnesota Governor’s race will be between Norm Coleman and Chris Coleman. Heaven help us.

I will end with what I hope will be the new Green Party mantra: “60 votes, no excuses.”


At Sun Jul 05, 06:31:00 AM CDT, Blogger Dave said...

Not sure what you're getting at with the comment about Jews...

At Sun Jul 05, 09:55:00 AM CDT, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

I enjoy the latke and knish, the matzos and gefilte fish. Seriously, I was careful to use the word Jew as a noun and not an adjective or a verb. I am not anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. I understand the word "Semitic" means Arab, Middle Eastern, or Southwest Asian. Does this mean that Israel is anti-Semitic?

I might be anti-Zionist. The nation of Israel has kidnapped my presidential candidate and is holding her hostage.

At Sun Jul 05, 03:18:00 PM CDT, Anonymous George Keyney said...

A book a like besides Web of Debt was National Economy. Web of Debt mostly talks about history and doesn't explain the money system and economics fully.

There are many technologies that could be used to increase production while reducing pollution. We don't use them now not because it's not possible or desirable, but because we're prevented from doing so by our absurd financial system.

At Mon Jul 06, 06:47:00 PM CDT, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

Looks interesting. They talk about abundance in Zeitgeist.


Post a Comment

<< Home