A LITTLE BEFORE noon this past Monday, Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for governor, strode up to a podium inside Northeastern University’s Curry Student Center to deliver an Earth Day address, a Nantucket Nectar apple juice in hand. "I guess we were somewhat sabotaged by the weatherman here," she said, making reference to the rainy conditions that had pushed the Earth Day celebrations inside. "I am going to talk as a mother-turned-doctor-turned-environmental-activist-turned-political activist," she declared. "If you want to clean up the mess in health care and the environment, you’ve got to clean up the mess on Beacon Hill."
It was a strong performance for Stein, a Lexington-based pediatrician, who had rushed back from a health-policy conference in Chicago to work on her campaign in the last week before the Green Party’s state convention this Saturday at Bunker Hill Community College. The students took to much of Stein’s feisty rhetoric, cheering at her critique of Beacon Hill and her vow to fix the system. After finishing, Stein, who looked the part of a politician in a conservative charcoal-gray suit — not exactly what you’d expect from the Green Party candidate on Earth Day — consulted with a campaign handler, who motioned to a table where an aide was collecting signatures. Stein then added a postscript to her speech: "If you want to become involved in the campaign, just stop by the table here."
For all her reform-oriented rabble-rousing, the candidate's referral of interested people to the signature desk may have been the most important part of her speech. Stein and her Green Party running mate, Anthony Lorenzen, are playing a game of beat-the-clock to collect 10,000 authorized signatures by May 7 to ensure their place on the Massachusetts-gubernatorial ballot. With less than two weeks to go, they are less than halfway there. (See "By the Numbers.")
Although Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader garnered more than seven percent of the Massachusetts vote in 2000 (which gave the Greens major-party status in the Commonwealth), Stein and her fellow Greens face an uphill battle in 2002. Their problems stem in part from the organizational difficulties that typically plague fledgling, financially strapped, progressive outfits. For example, Stein’s campaign must rely largely on volunteers to do what paid staffers do for bigger-name Democratic and Republican candidates: raise funds, get media attention, and build a grassroots network of supporters.
But her toughest challenge — getting on the ballot — exemplifies how difficult it is for a third-party candidate to make a credible run for statewide office in Massachusetts, where the election laws favor the two major parties. "The ballot-access laws are restrictive and purposely so because they’re written by the Democrats and the Republicans," says Jonathan Leavitt, a candidate for Lawrence state representative and a long-time Green Party activist.
Leavitt and others who bemoan Massachusetts’s stringent ballot-access laws have something of a point. Certainly, current state law doesn’t make things easy for third parties. For instance, it prohibits fusion tickets that would allow a gubernatorial candidate to run for office with a running mate from another party. That means the Greens can’t focus all their resources on getting Stein on the ballot; they must also obtain enough signatures for Lorenzen, or Stein won’t be able to run. (In contrast, the Libertarian Party, which held its nominating convention the same weekend the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, says it believes it already has collected enough ballot-qualifying signatures for its candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and US senator. The Greens are quick to point out that the Libertarians paid a signature-gathering operation to get the job done. But it should be noted that the Greens themselves are doing what large mainstream campaigns typically do, which is to rely upon volunteers supervised by paid coordinators to amass signatures.)
On top of its ballot-access problems, the Greens’ gubernatorial campaign is up against something Nader — whose opponents, Vice-President Al Gore and Texas governor George W. Bush, were politically one and the same to many voters — never had to worry about. In this race, the Massachusetts Democratic Party boasts not one, but two progressive candidates running on many of the same issues upon which Stein hopes to distinguish herself. Former secretary of labor Robert Reich offers a platform of robust environmentalism combined with a commitment to devote the state’s resources to job growth for its working families. And former Watertown state senator Warren Tolman has made the state’s Clean Elections Law the centerpiece of his campaign.
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