Green Party candidate could bolster debate

by Jimmy Buff
Poughkeepsie Journal
January 17, 2015

Last week, Congressman Chris Gibson announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election in New York’s 19th congressional district in 2016. The Kinderhook republican had always said he would self-impose term limits, but nevertheless, his announcement caught people off guard. Gibson had just resoundingly won re-election in the district in November and with that kind of support many thought he’d continue in the job beyond 2016.

Speculation turned quickly toward Gibson’s political future — a run for governor of New York seemed to be the most popular consensus — and who the republicans might run to take his place in the House. Democrats in the district, still smarting over the whooping they took in November, surely noted Gibson’s announcement with an appraising eye, wondering how the move would impact the opportunity to take back the 19th.

Also watching — and acting — was the Green Party of New York whose candidate for governor, Howie Hawkins, did well for a third party candidate in several areas of the 19th last November. In a press release issued by the Upper Hudson Green Party just after Gibson announced his retirement, the Greens announced their intention to run a candidate for Congress in the 19th in 2016. The press release noted Hawkins good showing in the district: “8.2 percent of the vote across NY-19, including 11 percent in Columbia and Ulster counties, and percent in Rensselaer.”

The Green Party in America was started in 1984, inspired by several European Green Parties. “Committed to environmentalism, non-violence, social justice and grassroots organizing” is part of how the Green Party describes itself on its website. In the ensuing years, Greens have run candidates for all levels of government locally and nationally, including president. Ralph Nader got more than 250,000 votes on the Green Party line for president in 2000 and Jill Stein received more votes than that running for president in 2012. Locally, New Paltz has waved the Green banner. Jason West was elected mayor of New Paltz in 2003 on a platform of environmental sustainability, served until 2007 and was re-elected to the job in 2011. Additionally, in 2003-2004 New Paltz had a Green Party majority — 3 of 5 seats — and at the time was just the third ever city in America to have that distinction.

Hawkins was at that first meeting of the Green Party in the U.S. in St. Paul, Minnesota, 31 years ago and I asked him last week if a Green Party candidate could actually win NY-19. “The district is evenly divided: 150,000 Democrats; 153,000 Republicans; 129,000 independents. There are 1,989 enrolled Greens, but that doesn’t means as much. In a close three-way race, 35-40 percent could win,” he said via email.

Hawkins did acknowledge the election of a Green Congressman for the 19th was a long shot, adding that it would take “a good, hard-working candidate and a well-organized campaign.” Nevertheless, the Green Party platform of “living wages jobs for all, single-payer universal health care, transitioning to a 100percent renewable economy, ending mass government surveillance, stopping our foreign wars, fully funding our public educational system and making public college free” is a strong message and one that resonates with many across the 19th.

“The difficulty is convincing enough people that the Greens can win,” Hawkins said.

Even if a Green Party candidate doesn’t win outright, a viable Green Party candidate in the race “could force debate on important issues in the district” Hawkins said, issues that can get swept to the side when just two parties control the narrative of an election.

Reach Jimmy Buff at buff@RadioWoodstock. com. “The Green Life” is a column about environmental issues.