Local Greens weigh in on Obama, Nader and…Cynthia McKinney?

Not so long ago America’s two-party system confronted peril. Ross Perot had agitated enough votes in the 1992 presidential races to keep Bush I from being a two-termer. (Some would say that Perot also cost Bob Dole votes in 1996 as well.) Minnesotans once allowed Jesse Ventura to govern their great state, and Ralph Nader lent credibility to (in 1996) and then took misplaced anger for (in 2000) the Green Party during his presidential bids.

But save for Dean Barkley’s run against Al Franken and Norm Coleman for a Minnesota U.S. Senate seat, not much is shaking in the third-party world these days.

So, where are the local Greens in decision 2008?

“Cynthia McKinney all the way,” says Cam Gordon, the lone Green on the Minneapolis City Council. “She’s a great person and she’s where we’re at on the issues.”

Right, Cynthia McKinney. Wait … who?

McKinney — and you’re forgiven if you haven’t noticed — is the Green Party nominee for president this time around. She was a six-term congresswoman from Georgia, the first African-American woman to represent that state in the U.S. House, which she did beginning in 1993, when she was a Democrat. She’s running with community activist Rosa Clemente as the party’s VP nominee. And though McKinney comes with plenty of bona fides, McKinney/Clemente isn’t exactly rolling off the tongues of potential voters this time around.

Split on Nader
What about the presence of Nader, who left the Green Party before the 2004 presidential bid, on the ticket? He did, after all, bring the Greens some national prominence — although maybe not always in a good way — when the party desperately needed it.

“I’m disappointed that he wasn’t willing to hang in there with us after 2000,” Gordon says of Nader’s exit. “He splintered off, but he’s still out there raising issues. He did a lot for party-building. He was a significant and enormous leader in this party.”

But Ken Pentel, a former Green candidate for the governor of Minnesota in 1998, 2002 and 2006, isn’t off the Nader bandwagon entirely. “I don’t really know who I’m supporting, but I’m leaning toward Ralph Nader,” Pentel says. “After the 2000 election, it had a neutralizing effect on the party. But Ralph Nader had been raising important issues since the 1970s.”

In a sign that the old Greens ain’t what they used to be, Pentel admits that he is no longer in the party. He has started, instead, something called the Ecology-Democracy Network, which he says  intends to establish a “whole cost accounting system” in Minnesota — that is, weighing the true ecological and environmental impact on, well, pretty much everything we do. And Pentel says he’s hoping there would be a framework in place from that to help him run for governor again in 2010.

Hope for Obama
As for either of the two main party candidates, Pentel is less than charmed. “I’m all for [Obama] being in the race, I’m not against him engaging people,” Pentel says of Obama’s big-tent oratory. “But he and McCain are part of the central money system, like Exxon Mobil or whoever. They run the show, and John McCain and Barack Obama are acceptable candidates to them.”

And that’s the nut for Pentel: Any candidate from either party is in the pockets of corporate America that he views as enemies to the environment. “Let’s bust this system into a multi-party system,” he says. “We’re killing the frickin’ earth right now. It’s nuts.”

(And on that level, Pentel says he finds a somewhat kindred spirit in Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate for Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat: “It’s great. He has a voice that reflects another party.”)
 
Still, for all the idealism, what’s a Green (or a former Green) to do? Gordon, for his part, seems comfortable with being of two minds.

“It’s very exciting that Obama is running, especially as the first African-American nominee,” Gordon concludes, though he won’t vote for the senator from Illinois. “I have no illusions about McKinney winning, though maybe you shouldn’t quote me on that. I’m hoping that Obama wins.”

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