PORTLAND DAILY SUN
Convention tilts young, focuses on grassroots
By David Carkhuff
May 03, 2011 12:00 am
Shrugging off the label of electoral "spoilers," members of the Maine Green Independent Party embraced Portland's new rank choice voting system as a third-party-friendly approach to electing the city's mayor.
"I think it will encourage people to run positive campaigns, and rather than having the so-called spoiler, Ralph Nader effect, which is not true at all ... it will totally separate that, because there are no spoilers in rank choice voting," said Tom MacMillan, a Maine Green Party steering committee member who lives in the West End of Portland.
Portland this year embarks on an elected-mayor campaign that replaces a council-appointed mayor with one elected to an at-large seat. Through a city charter change, voters also will choose their next mayor through rank choice voting, where if any candidate falls short of a majority, then the "second choice" votes come into play in the tabulation.
MacMillan is working on the mayoral campaign for Portland's David Marshall, an incumbent city councilor and Green Party member seeking the elected-mayor office. Another Maine Green Party member, former state legislator John Eder of Portland, announced in February his candidacy for the Mayor of Portland.
Green Party members said rank choice allows people to vote their conscience instead of feeling they're casting a vote on a potential "spoiler" who could drain votes away from one of the two major parties.
Wells Staley-Mays, an attendee at the Maine Green Party's annual convention Sunday in Brunswick, drew on history to illustrate another role of a strong third party.
"I always like to use the example of the Liberty Party," he said. "I'm sure the Democrats and the Whigs looked upon the Liberty Party as spoilers, but the Liberty Party people like our own Samuel Fessenden of Portland, Maine, hung in there year after year after year. I know by the time it morphed into the Free Soil and then ultimately into the Republican Party, it had changed dramatically, but it kept the antislavery agitation going, just like I see the Green Party keeping the ecological and environmental focus going."
Founded in 1984, the Green Party focuses on environmental and social justice messages. The party counts itself the oldest state Green Party in the country. But for the nation's oldest, Maine's Green Party is skewing young, observers agreed.
"The new steering committee is much younger than the old one was," Staley-Mays said. "So I have a lot of faith in the future. I think the voting reflected that. We elected younger leadership, and they're bright and they're dedicated. I feel great."
MacMillan, who is considered one of the rising stars of the Green Party, won a seat on the party's steering committee and was named New Green of the Year during Sunday's convention.
"I wanted to run because I think the Green Party is the best method for changing politics in Portland and across the state, and I want to be part of the change," MacMillan said, noting this was his first convention.
John Rensenbrink, a steering committee member whom Staley-Mays called one of the "gray-haired elders" elected Sunday, has discussed party strategy. In a statement on the party's website (http://mainegreens.org), he urged a grassroots approach that sought office from the bottom up.
"Party activists, spurred by Ben Chipman and Anna Trevorrow, the Party Chair, were able to recruit and assist 18 Greens around the state to gain qualified ballot status as candidates for the state House and Senate," Rensenbrink wrote in a summary of 2010. But campaign-finance rules and other hindrances made it difficult for candidates to qualify, he noted.
"The party needs to re-focus its thinking on the grassroots and now turn its attention in a serious way to building the party starting at the town level and on up to the county level," Rensenbrink wrote.
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