Mention the Green Party and the first thought that comes to most people’s minds is the 2000 presidential election, when Ralph Nader took enough votes from Al Gore to cause him to lose Florida, and as a result, the election. Parallels can easily be drawn between 2000 and 2016, but thankfully no one can blame Jill Stein for Hillary Clinton losing any states. But this raises a salient point. The Green Party has focused most of its efforts on the presidency and all that’s done is instill fear in other liberals, as they worry that the Greens will cause the Democrats to lose a swing state.
Liberals lost the presidency in 2016, and a lot of that can be blamed on districts. This year, Clinton won huge states like California and New York by over 20 percentage points. She even won the District of Columbia by 86. However, she also lost big states like Pennsylvania and Michigan by one percentage point or less.
There has been lots of talk about gerrymandering (the process in which parties redraw House districts to manipulate election results), but liberals have a long history of self-gerrymandering by moving to heavily left-leaning states and cities. While this is currently hurting Democrats in the Electoral College, it offers liberals opportunities in the most glamorous world of state and municipal politics.
In our current polarized political climate, it’s hard to imagine a Republican becoming governor of states like Hawaii or Vermont, or the mayor of cities like San Francisco or New York. It’s equally as difficult to imagine a Democrat becoming governor of Wyoming or Oklahoma, or county executive of Orange County, New York.
The U.S. political institutions ensure a two-party system, but they don’t ensure that the same two parties dominate in every race. It isn’t hard to imagine the Green Party running a serious contender for the mayor of Burlington, Vermont or Portland, Oregon. With a few high profile municipal posts, it wouldn’t be so out of the question for the Greens to compete for governor of Hawaii or perhaps a new 51st state of the District of Columbia.
And while I made a crack about the glamor of state and municipal politics earlier, it’s unfair to say that these posts are without power. The state of California has long set world standards for environmental regulation. The state of Colorado voted in 2016 on a proposal to create a statewide single-payer healthcare system. 31 cities, from New York to Coachella, California, have committed themselves to protect their undocumented populations and refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
This shows that state and city governments are not without power, and with the coming presidency I expect the left to fully exercise the powers afforded to us by federalism.
Will the Greens become a permanent feature of local politics in the Northeast and on the West Coast? It’s impossible to know. But the odds seem much better than following our current strategy – in which we can potentially cost the Democratic presidential candidate of winning the election every four years.
I believe in what the Green Party stands for, and I’ve come to believe a whole lot more in the power of states and cities to contradict and block federal actions since I learned the identity of our new president-elect. As such, the Green Party must begin to build a base in local politics before we can truly have a shot at the highest office in the land.
Alex Hayes is the President of the Hofstra Green Party
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