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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Mexico Greens: Political Spoilers?

Air Date: Week of

In the U.S. today, The Green Party holds more than two dozen locally elected offices around the nation. This fall, Greens are seeking offices from county commissioner to Congress. Perhaps the most closely watched races are in New Mexico, where Green candidates are vying for two of the three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and hope a strong showing will give them more clout in state politics. But as Vicki Monks reports, the two party system has many calling the Greens electoral spoilers.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Green Party, long active in western Europe, has recently and slowly been gaining adherence in the United States. Today Greens hold more than 2 dozen local elective offices around the nation, and this fall Greens are seeking offices from county commissioner to Congress. Perhaps the most closely-watched races are in New Mexico, where Green candidates are vying for 2 of the 3 seats in the US House of Representatives. Green Party leaders hope a strong showing will give them more clout in New Mexico politics. But as Vicki Monks reports, the 2-party system has many calling the Greens electoral spoilers.

(A milling crowd)

REDMOND: Thanks so much for being here today. Appreciate it. Appreciate your support; thank you!

MONKS: At Santa Fe's Fiesta Parade, Republican Congressman Bill Redmond works the crowd, trailed by an eclectic contingent of supporters. A group of young women dancers, one skinhead, several bikers on Harleys, and some of the more conventional supporters of a Western Republican.

(An engine revs up)

MAN: Vote for Redmond! All right! Vote for Redmond, good hombre!

(Vehicle drives off amidst band music)

MAN 2: We are Americans proud to be here today representing loggers, miners, ranchers, sportsmen, private property owners...

MAN 3: And God hates abortion!

MAN 2: And God hates abortion.

(More engines; someone cheers; more band music)

MONKS: But for people familiar with New Mexico politics, one of Mr. Redmond's followers here really stands out: the white-haired, bushy-bearded Roberto Mondragon, who ran for governor in 1994 as a member of the Green Party. It was Mr. Mondragon's 10% showing in that race that catapulted the Greens to major party status. That means the state pays for Green Party primaries, and Green candidates are automatically added to ballots. Since then, Mr. Mondragon has left the Greens. He's backing Mr. Redmond because of their common position on a single issue: a fight to return all Spanish land grant areas from Federal ownership to a group of Hispanic families. It seems an unlikely alliance, but to many observers it's part of a bigger picture. When Mr. Mondragon ran for Governor, the Republican candidate won. And Albuquerque Journal columnist Larry Calloway says many Democrats still blame the Greens.

CALLOWAY: There's been no evidence brought to light that the Republicans are really actively using the Greens. They're certainly profiting from them. And certainly the Republicans love the Green party and wish it well.

MONKS: The presence of Green Party candidates in 2 recent Congressional races also helped send 2 conservative Republicans to Washington. In Albuquerque, the Green candidate took 16% of the vote in a special election last spring. And last year here in northern New Mexico, Green Carol Miller won 17% of the vote in the race to replace Bill Richardson, who left Congress to become Ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson is a liberal Democrat, and Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district nearly 2 to 1. But with Carol Miller taking much of the liberal vote, Republican Bill Redmond won. Both Green candidates are running for Congress again this fall, and that's making many of the state's environmentalists angry.

RODGERS: The Green Party has been one of the greatest electoral boons to the Republican Party in the history of the state of New Mexico.

MONKS: Sally Rodgers heads the non-partisan New Mexico Conservation Voters Alliance.

RODGERS: In every single election in which it has been a player, it has served to elect anti-environmental, anti-socially-progressive, Newt Gingrich-type Republicans. That's a very, very serious concern.

MONKS: Representative Redmond has voted to approve road-building in wilderness areas, to limit protection of endangered species, to freeze fuel efficiency standards for cars, and to delay enforcement of stricter clean air standards. Even some Greens say it's not worth the risk of re-electing someone with a record like that.

GUTMAN: I don't believe in good conscience that we can contribute to his return to Congress under these circumstances.

MONKS: Abraham Gutman is one of the founders of the New Mexico Green Party. He's run for City Council, state legislature, and US Senate as a Green. He wants to see the party become a strong electoral force, but he says it doesn't do the Greens any good to help defeat a candidate who shares most of their values and elect one who does not.

GUTMAN: I believe we can only effectively build this party by being very selective in choosing our battles. Carol Miller is not going to get elected to Congress in 1998, and I hope to see her in Congress some day. But right now, my priority is to get Tom Udall elected and to make sure that Bill Redmond is not in Congress any more.

MONKS: Tom Udall is the Democrat in the race with Mr. Redmond and Ms. Miller. Mr. Gutman has organized a Greens For Udall campaign. In his 2 terms of New Mexico's Attorney General, Mr. Udall has developed close ties with environmentalist. He's also the son of Stewart Udall, the former Congressman, Interior Secretary, and legendary environmental crusader. Green candidate Carol Miller is not deterred by the threat of being called a spoiler who could keep Mr. Udall from winning. If the Democrats can't win a 3-party race, she says, it's their own fault, not hers.

MILLER: Sixty percent of the registered voters in this district are Democrats. If they can come up with candidates that the Democratic voters want and will actually go to the polls and vote for, they've got it made. I mean, the Greens are only 1% of the registered voters.

MONKS: In Ms. Miller's view, New Mexico's Democratic party is politically bankrupt, practicing traditional insider politics with a timid conservative agenda.

(Milling and cheering crowd)

MAN: Bill. Bill Redmond!

MAN 2: Yay, Bill!

(More cheering; the band strikes up)

MAN 3: Viva New Mexico!

WOMEN: Viva!

MONKS: From his point, Congressman Redmond joins Carol Miller in dismissing charges that Green candidates are responsible for Democratic losses.

REDMOND: If the Democrats of New Mexico think that they're only bleeding to the left, toward the Green Party, they really need to wake up and realize that they're bleeding to the right as well. There are more people moving out of the Democrat party into the Republican party than moving from Democrat to Green.

(The band and cheering continue)

MONKS: Still, Mr. Redmond has tried at least once to sway voters from Democrat to Green. In the last election, his campaign mailed copies of a pro- Green Party newspaper article to Democrats.

GIRL 1: I say dump!

GIRL 2: You say Udall!

GIRLS: Dump! Udall! Dump! Udall!

GIRL 1: I say dump!

GIRL 2: You say Udall!

GIRLS: Dump! Udall! Dump! Udall!

MONKS: Democrat Tom Udall believes that, at least in this district, it is the voters on the left who will decide the election. And he's making a pitch straight to potential Green voters.

UDALL: This Green Party here in New Mexico has a large number of issues that they're concerned about, and these are the issues that I have been working on as Attorney General the last 7-1/2 years. So our real challenge is to bring them back into the fold and we're going to do that.

(Cheering crowd)

MAN 1: We're gonna get this done, aren't we?

MAN 2: We certainly are.

MAN 1: Hey, Joe!

WOMAN: How are you? Good to see, hi!

MONKS: Polls suggest that Mr. Udall may win back many of the Democrats who defected to the Greens in the last election. A recent Albuquerque Journal survey found Mr. Udall with 42% of the vote, Representative Redmond with 35%, and Carol Miller with just 8%. Meanwhile, the Green Party has decided to stay out of some key races, including this year's contest for Governor. Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Martin Chavez says the Greens decided not to run partly because he pledged to work for electoral reforms. Reforms that would make it easier for third parties to run for office. Even though his party has recently been hurt by the Greens, Mr. Chavez says more parties make for better democracy.

CHAVEZ: The days when 2 parties alone served all the interests seem to be passing us by as we approach the new century. And so, this allows other interests, all the interests to participate, and no one essentially to be excluded in the process.

MONKS: The rise of New Mexico's Greens has opened up the political process. But voters here can be forgiven if it's left their heads spinning just a bit. They have a Democrat who avoids a challenge from the Greens in part by promising to make it easier to Greens to challenge Democrats. Another Democrat tries to win back Green votes while running against a Republican who prodded Democrats to vote Green. A prominent Green endorses a Democrat. A prominent ex-Green marches with a Republican. And as the Greens have bitten off big chunks of the electorate, Republicans captured 3 big races with less than half the vote. Got all that? The Greens have yet to win a major office in New Mexico, but they're certainly shaking up the state's politics. For Living on Earth, I'm Vicki Monks in Santa Fe.



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