A Silver Lining for the Greens?

Make no mistake. If you're a progressive, the Green Party's David Cobb wants your vote for president. He doesn't agree that a vote for anyone but Democrat John Kerry is a vote for BushCo. At least, not exactly.

The Green presidential nominee describes both Bush and Kerry as "corporatists" and "militarists." Both candidates, Cobb said, are part of a deep-rooted system that opposes change and forces people into voting against their own interests.

Yes, the Green Party – accused by some of chipping away enough of the progressive vote last election to put Bush in office – is still whistling the same decade-old tune: "Vote your hopes and not your fears."

But this election cycle, the party faces a serious challenge. With consumer advocate and former Green presidential nominee Ralph Nader running on his own, can the Greens even garner the 6,000 votes needed in Nevada to remain on the state's ballot in future elections?

When nominated, Cobb was sort of expected to, well, not campaign in battleground states like Nevada. In an RN&R interview last spring, when he was running for the nomination, Cobb said, "I am advocating for what I call a strategic, smart-growth strategy that focuses the majority of our resources on those Electoral College states that are not particularly in play." Progressive magazine called Cobb the "champion of the 'safe state' strategy."

Yet there Cobb was in Reno last Thursday. Cobb urged a couple dozen Northern Nevadans to vote for him as the only candidate who would bring troops home from Iraq now, pursue universal health care, and reverse the decision to send high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain on day one of his presidency.

"You gotta be willing to vote for what you want," Cobb said.

After taping a show at Sierra Nevada Community Access Television, Cobb spoke to supporters at Rainshadow Community Charter School in Reno. Cobb later spoke at the University of Nevada, Reno, then attended a Carson City anti-death-penalty vigil during the execution of Terry Jess Dennis. The Green Party opposes the death penalty.

The party's platform also calls for an end to corporate welfare, though it supports tax incentives for "corporations [that] act responsibly and include the interests of their community and employees" in their policies. It calls for an end to corporate intervention in public schools, free post-secondary education, an end to the "war on drugs," decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, fewer prisons, more alternative sentencing, publicly funded elections and a military budget cut by 50 percent over the next decade.

If you see anything you like, Cobb said, vote Green.

If the party gets fewer than 6,000 votes, Greens must hit the streets with petitions to restore ballot access.

UNR student Stacy Kennedy, the 18-year-old secretary for the Green Party in northern Nevada, said she'll be voting for Cobb. She said she understands why people are afraid that a vote for Cobb would be a vote for Bush. It's an idea perpetuated by the Democrats in order to get people to vote for their man, she said.

"I think people should vote how they feel," she said. "If everyone voted how they felt, we wouldn't have a ballot access problem."

Does Cobb, a progressive's progressive, really see no significant difference between Bush and Kerry?

He has answered this question before. The 41-year-old, dressed in a sharp black suit and bright blue shirt, leaned back in a chair at Rainshadow and carefully delivered his answer.

He reiterated the line about Kerry as "militarist" and "corporatist."

"Kerry voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the Patriot Act. He voted for NAFTA. He voted for No Child Left Behind."

Then Cobb leaned forward.

"But, as bad as Kerry is, Bush is qualitatively worse. He's declared war on the rest of the world, war on the environment. The neocon cabal that surrounds him is dangerous to the planet."

So what does this mean on Nov. 2?

Cobb said he "has a suspicion that the wheels are about to come off [the Bush] campaign.

"If it comes down to the wire that Nevada ends up truly, on Election Day, being a battleground state, then Bush is going down in flames."

Right, but –

"People say, 'Aren't we just spoilers?' " Cobb said. "What others call spoiling, we call participating. The solution is not to try to squelch the Green vote."

Then, he talked about a new concept in voting, "instant-runoff voting," in which a voter ranks candidates by preference, assigning positions of first, second, third, etc. Similar systems are used in voting for Academy Awards and by the Utah Republican Party. It has been approved in San Francisco but because of problems in the voter registrar's office it hasn't actually been implemented, though it is supposed to be used in November.

With such a ranking system – which Cobb calls "simple" – a voter could give her favorite candidate the highest ranking but choose a second place for the candidate who's "better than that guy." If nobody gets a majority on the first vote count, an instant runoff between the top two vote-getters would take place that included the second-place votes of those voters whose favorites had been eliminated.

Cobb, who grew up in an impoverished Texas shrimping village – in a home with no flush toilets – became a lawyer because of Ralph Nader's influence, he said. Nader ran as the Green Party nominee for president in 1996 and 2000.

"Nader has had more influence on me than any individual who's not related to me," Cobb said. "I'm always thankful for all the good work he's done over the years."

But now that Nader has left the Green Party to run an independent campaign, Cobb's responses to questions about his role model are guarded.

"In 2004, Ralph is making a terrible and tragic mistake," Cobb said. "He grew the party. Now Ralph is not building up the Green Party, and many of his comments are not helpful."

Nader's 2004 campaign has received large donations from some of the same donors who contribute to the Bush/Cheney campaign. In Nevada, conservative Republicans led by conservative political consultant Steve Wark provided funds to get Nader on the ballot.

In 2000, Nader received 15,008 votes in Nevada. Bush carried the state with 301,575. Gore received 279,978, and thus would not have carried the state's popular vote even with all of the Nader votes.

That said, Cobb favors voting for the Green dream. But for those dead-set on voting for Kerry as the lesser of two evils, Cobb suggested a plan. He theorized that Bush will be "in free-fall" by the time Nevada's returns start coming in on Election Day.

"Why not wait until Nov. 2 and see if I'm right?" he suggested. If Bush is already going down, "don't waste your vote."

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