What It Will Take

occupy general assembly in Washington Square

A Response To John Halle’s Left Parties in 2013
by Peter A. Lavenia

Weekend Edition November 15-17, 2013

Last week’s article by John Halle highlighted the growing strength of left-wing candidates for municipal office in the United States. As of writing, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant has pulled ahead by a slim margin in Seattle, while Howie Hawkins, Green and Socialist, received 40% of the vote in his race for City Council in Syracuse, NY. My own campaign for city council in Albany, NY – I am a Green and ideological socialist – saw me come in second to a Democrat. I agree with Halle that the objective conditions for the left’s electoral success in the United States especially at the municipal level are more promising than they have been in decades.

In much of the country gerrymandering and the decay of old party machines have left towns virtual one party fiefdoms for generations. I know when Greens run serious campaigns in upstate New York, we are the second party behind the Democrats. A great deal of potential exists for left campaigns in towns and cities with no Republican presence; the capitulation of Democrats to the ruling class and its policies of austerity, privatization, and economic decay should be a constant theme for all left candidates.

occupy general assembly in Washington Square

Given the unlikelihood of revolutionary workers’ councils springing up in the not-too-distant future, the real left in the United States must make a cross-party push for serious electoral reform at the local level if it wants to see campaigns like Sawant’s become more than anomalies. Barriers to continued electoral success by alternative parties in the United States are structural, endemic, and onerous. To overcome them, we need an honest effort by the real left outside the Democratic Party to commit to a joint platform on electoral reform. The first test will come in states and municipalities with referendum and initiative, but should be fought anywhere a left grouping can do so. My humble suggestions:

1. Proportional representation: this is the lynchpin of continuing left-wing electoral success in the rest of the world. This reform is actually easier to achieve at local levels, where many officials are elected at-large and city councils could easily convert from multi-member plurality elections to party-list. For areas which prefer some form of geographical representation, mixed-member proportional provides the solution.

2. Ballot access barriers: The left needs to fight for one simple ballot-access standard for all parties across the United States and District of Columbia: 1% of voter registration or the vote for a statewide candidate confers permanent ballot access, and standard, low signature requirements for non-ballot access parties. Alternative party candidates often need to collect staggering amounts of signatures compared to ballot-status parties just to qualify. In New York, prior to 2010 the Green Party needed to collect 15,000 valid signatures from voters in 6 weeks for our statewide candidates, which meant at least 25,000 to ensure we made the ballot. At the local level prior to 2010 we often needed hundreds of signatures just to run for local office. Ballot status has conveyed a much easier procedure.

3. Public Campaign Funding: Campaigns can be expensive even at the local level. Clean money, clean elections block grants to candidates after they raise a small amount of money are still the best way to minimize funding disparities and increase the chance the left has to win. There is no reason to think this could not happen at the municipal level.

4. Permanent Voter Registration: The left needs to demand an end to opt-in voter registration, and instead push for permanent registration kept by the board of election via your address on tax returns, DMV records, etc. Making everyone permanently registered would benefit the left as it is often the poor, young, and transient who have a hard time remaining on the voter rolls.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, nor is it likely to be enacted in the near future. Clearly the real left in the United States needs to learn to embed itself in communities and raise demands that resonate with the population if it is to succeed at the polls.

Yet a serious drive by parties of the real left to win these battles would invigorate left-electoral campaigns and point the way forward to a more radical confrontation with the state and capitalism in the future as the parties grow based on their activist and electoral success.

Peter-LaVenia-DSC_2461Peter A. LaVenia, PhD. – Peter has a PhD in Political Science from the University at Albany, SUNY. He is currently the Secretary of the New York State Green Party and is a researcher and organizer for the civic activist Ralph Nader.

1 Comment on "What It Will Take"

  1. Daniel Ferra | November 17, 2013 at 6:22 pm |

    We need a National Feed in Tariff, not net metering, would a voting, tax paying citizen want a credit or a fair profit for the Renewable Energy they generate ? Receive the full benefits of profitable Renewable Energy Homeownership or exchanging one utility for another? This petition starts with California and some of its energy problems, with a proven solution.

    The Southwest is in the midst of a record drought, some 14 years in the making, which means the water supply for many Western states – California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada – is drying up. Last month the Bureau of Reclamation announced they’re cutting the flow of water into Lake Mead, which has already lost 100 feet of water since the drought began.

    What happens if the Southwest drought does not end soon?

    Will we keep using 3 to 6 million gallons of Clean Water per Fracked well, to extract natural gas?

    This petition will ask the California Regulators and Law makers to allocate Renewable Portfolio Standards to Ca. home owners, the RPS is the allocation method that is used to set aside a certain percentage of electrical generation for Renewable Energy in the the State.

    The State of California has mandated that 33% of its Energy come from Renewable Energy by 2020.

    The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

    This is how we generate our electricity in 2011, natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of electrical power generated in-state. Nuclear power from Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 9.15%, large hydropower 18.3%, Renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

    There is 9% missing from San Onofre and with the current South Western drought, how long before the 18.3% hydro will be effected?

    Another generator of power that jumps out is natural gas, 45.3%, that is a lot of Fracked Wells poisoning our ground water, 3 to 6 million gallons of water are used per well. If Fracking is safe why did Vice Pres Cheney lobby and win Executive, Congressional, and Judicial exemptions from:

    Clean Water Act.

    Safe Drinking Water.

    Act Clean Air Act.

    Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

    Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act.

    National Environmental Policy Act.

    “Americans should not have to accept unsafe drinking water just because natural gas is cheaper than Coal. the Industry has used its political power to escape accountability, leaving the American people unprotected, and no Industry can claim to be part of the solution if it supports exemptions from the basic Laws designed to ensure that we have Clean Water and Clean Air” Natural Resources Defense Council.

    We have to change how we generate our electricity, with are current drought conditions and using our pure clean water for Fracking, there has to be a better way to generate electricity, and there is, a proven stimulating policy.

    The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether Homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020.

    FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:
    Photovoltaics (PV)
    Solar thermal
    Fuel cells
    Tidal and wave power.

    There is currently 3 utilities using a Commercial Feed in Tariff in California Counties, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, and Sacramento, are paying their businesses 17 cents per kilowatt hour for the Renewable Energy they generate. We can get our Law makers and Regulators to implement a Residential Feed in Tariff, to help us weather Global Warming, insulate our communities from grid failures, generate a fair revenue stream for the Homeowners and protect our Water.

    Why it is better to own your own Renewable Energy System.

    “The benefits of owning a renewable energy system far outweigh the benefits of a lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA). Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners are eligible for a federal personal income tax credit up to 30% of the purchase cost of their renewable energy system, without a maximum limit.** Homeowners can utilize the incentive money in any way they choose. But homeowners that choose to lease their systems turn over their rebates and incentives to the third party lease or PPA companies associated with the solar systems installed on their homes.”

    “The owner of a renewable energy system is also sheltered from rising electricity costs, which have historically increased on average of 3-5% each year. This presents homeowners with opportunities to save money each month on energy and also reduces their reliance on third-party utility companies. By purchasing a renewable energy system with cash or through a loan, a homeowner can completely pay off his or her system and then independently produce clean energy.

    By choosing a lease or a PPA option homeowners are essentially substituting their utility companies with third-party leasing companies. Additionally, homeowners will likely be required to purchase their systems, renew their leases, or have the systems removed from their roof and revert to paying utility rates once their leases have ended.” Charlie Angione.

    “There’s absolutely no such thing as a $0 down solar lease or PPA and here’s why. A requirement of both of these financing programs is that you agree upfront to give the leasing or PPA company your 30% federal tax credit which is worth thousands of dollars as well as any other financial incentives.

    At $5.57 per Watt. a 6 kW solar system would yield a federal tax credit of $10,026!

    With a $0 down loan instead of a lease, you’ll get to keep the 30% federal tax credit as well as all other applicable financial incentives for yourself and you’ll own your solar system instead of renting it, for a much greater return on investment.

    And if you do decide to lease instead of own, good luck ever selling your home with a lease attached to it. What homebuyer will want to purchase your home and assume your remaining lease payments on a used solar system on your roof, when they can buy and own a brand new system for thousands less.” Ray Boggs.

    We also need to change a current law, California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems.

    Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition?


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