Few morning-after regrets for die-hard Greens

The Associated Press
Friday November 10, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. — The TV monitors, tuned to network election coverage, didn’t even show the Green vote. It was always Democrats this, Republicans that. 

No wonder that Green activists who gathered at a local tavern on Election Night said numbers didn’t matter. No wonder that the day after, with Oregon’s outcome still undecided, they had few regrets – even as they were vilified as election spoilers by supporters of Vice President Al Gore. 

At the political fringe, it turns out, conventional concepts of winning and losing don’t necessarily apply. 

“Everything’s a victory, bro,”’ said Tre Arrow, a Green candidate who polled 5 percent in Portland’s 3rd District congressional race but is better known for sitting on the ledge of a Portland building for 11 days last summer to protest logging in national forests. 

“The bottom line is that there’s an underlying grass-roots movement that’s really fed up with the duopoly, with the oligarchy, with the Republicrats,” Arrow said. 

Ralph Nader’s spoiler potential was clear: With 85 percent of Oregon’s vote counted, Gore trailed Republican George W. Bush by about 26,000 votes, about half the number Nader received. 

In the pivotal state of Florida, Nader received 20,294 votes, or 2 percent of the total and 12 times the razor-thin margin separating Gore and Bush. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Nader got 22,156 votes, or 4 percent, about three times Bush’s margin of victory over Gore. 

Exit polls suggest that at least half the Nader voters would have voted for Gore if it had been a two-way race, while about 30 percent said they wouldn’t have voted at all. 

Environmentalists, labor unions, women’s rights organizations and other liberal groups once aligned with Nader immediately blamed him for the presidential race’s uncertainty. 

“Reprehensible,” said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. “An electoral tragedy,” said an Oregon group called Greens for Gore. 

“Ralph Nader has taken something very beautiful and turned it into something ugly,” said Greens for Gore spokesman Gary “Spruce” Houser, a former Nader supporter and Green activist who switched to supporting Gore in an effort to defeat Bush. 

“Nader was playing with fire,” Houser said Wednesday. “He was warned by innumerable leaders in the activist community, including many of his closest former associates and prominent members of his own Green Party, and yet he persisted.” 

Nader responded defiantly, saying Gore had caused his own problems, and Nader fans in the trenches echoed that tone. 

“Gore had all the advantages of an incumbent administration, but he never generated enthusiasm, and many voters cast votes for him out of the least-worst attitude, not out of conviction,” Nader said. 

Trey Smith, treasurer of the Pacific Green Party in Oregon, blamed Gore’s problems not on Greens but on voter apathy and Democrats’ inability to reach alienated Americans. 

“Why have they spent so much time going for this small 4 to 7 percent of the Nader vote, when 40 percent of the electorate is not voting?” Smith said. “If the Democrats tapped one million people, they wouldn’t have to worry about us. They spent so much time trying to appeal to Nader voters, they shot themselves in the foot.” 

For many of the 200 Greens gathered at Portland’s Mount Tabor Pub for an Election Night party, dissecting this election was less interesting than plotting future activism. 

Many of those present had protested last December at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle; some were activists of much longer standing. 

“This was not about an election,” said Storie Mooser, 63, a white-bearded veteran of political protests dating back to the 1950s. “It’s about a movement. It’s about expanding the public consciousness. The Nader campaign is this generation’s equivalent of the civil-rights movement. I know. I’ve been there. I can sense it. What we don’t win at the polls, we’ll win in the streets.” 

“Gore or Bush, it doesn’t matter,” said Deborah Howes, a Green Party organizer. “They are both beholden to corporate interests.” 

Nader supporters knew going into the election that he had no chance of winning, but they hoped he would garner 5 percent of the vote nationwide to qualify the party for federal campaign funds in 2004. 

Nader fell short with just 3 percent nationwide, but supporters shrugged off their disappointment. 

“This isn’t about matching funds,” Howes said. “We’ll be around regardless of matching funds. “This is about giving people an alternative to the two corporate-controlled parties.”