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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Green Party members reckon with lackluster election results

    Activist Kevin Blacker addresses truckers, laborers, and businesspeople, all opposed to the current plans for the Connecticut State Pier in New London, at a ally outside the state Capitol Monday, March 15, 2021 in Hartford. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut’s fourth-largest political party is trying to find its way after a disappointing election season.

    The Green Party, despite fielding hopefuls such as Attorney General candidate Ken Krayeske and 2nd Congressional District candidate Kevin Blacker, who are known for their ability to garner media attention, lost ballot lines in multiple races for failing to reach 1% of the vote. That triggers what Green Party members call an arduous process of having to collect signatures from eligible and registered voters totaling 1% of votes cast in the most recent election, or 7,500 signatures, whichever is less.

    Green Party supporters pointed to a hyper-partisan election season and straight line voting as a possible culprit for lackluster outcomes.

    Krayeske said there are many factors making third-party success in Connecticut difficult. He received 7,103 votes, or 0.57% of the vote.

    “The Green Party is decertified as a state party, and this is the ridiculousness of the Connecticut two-party system,” he said. “People can only register as Green in voting districts where the Green Party got 1%. So if you live in the north end of Hartford, you cannot register as a Green, but if you live in the south end of Hartford in the first senatorial district, you can register as a Green.”

    This election’s Green Party candidate for governor, Michelle Louise Bicking, who has been co-chair for the Greens and run for Congress for the party in the past, said this past election left her “very concerned.” She earned 98 votes, or 0.01% of the vote.

    “We’re in a process like the Independent Party because they weren’t able to secure 1% of the vote, so we’re losing our status as a party according to state regulations,” she said. “We have an uphill climb to regain it. We’re adamant about regaining the status for coming elections and retaining those that are still eligible to retain their Green Party affiliation, since we do have pockets of that.”

    Blacker is a good example. He crossed the 1% threshold in southeastern Connecticut in multiple towns, including in New London, where he received 178 votes, and Groton, where he received 305 votes. Blacker has high name recognition here, since he is from Noank and due to his activism against the State Pier project. He didn’t do as well in other parts of the state. He earned 2,439 votes, or 0.86% of the vote.

    New London Green Party Chair Ronna Stuller called Blacker’s run “experimental.” She said she regretted being so involved with the statewide petitioning process for various candidates — which was the first sign this wouldn’t be a good election for the Greens — as the party didn’t recruit Blacker fast enough.

    “If we had talked to Kevin and recruited him in May or June instead of the end of August…It wasn’t enough time for us to have a campaign with him either in terms of filling him in on the issues he was less knowledgeable about or bringing him to parts of the district where people didn’t know him,” Stuller said. “In New London, everyone knew him. In Groton, everyone knew him. If the New London vote and the Groton vote were what prevailed, he’d have done great.”

    Despite disagreeing on certain issues, the marriage between Blacker and the Green Party was a relatively happy one, although he said he hopes not to run for office again.

    “He goes for the jugular. He tells you exactly what he sees and will call you on your b.s. and has no problem with it, and he does his homework,” Bicking said of Blacker. “I am greatly appreciative of the kind of energy he brings to the party, and I look forward to supporting him in any fashion, wherever he sees himself.”

    There was some friction, though, when Blacker took the stage at the Garde Theater during a congressional debate hosted by The Day. He defended the Electoral College as helpful for representation in rural areas when asked whether the popular-vote winner in presidential elections should win the office.

    “Ken Krayeske took real issue with that,” Blacker said. “He said, ‘This is a big issue for the Green Party, and here we finally get a candidate into the debate, and he gives this shitty answer…I was saying, ‘Well, that’s what I think.’”

    Influencing the dialogue

    University of Connecticut Political Science Professor Paul Herrnson, who has written a book on third parties, said a third party candidate’s success isn’t measured only by their vote share but also by their influence on the political dialogue. In some cases, the best a third-party candidate can hope for is for one or both major parties to take up their pet issues.

    “One of the most important things the Green Party does is they raise issues, and sometimes they’re issues that major parties haven’t thought of, or don’t want to confront,” Herrnson said. “When they raise issues and people start paying attention to them, they have influence, especially in ensuing elections, because if a popular issue takes hold, candidates from one of the major parties will try to co-opt it and eventually the entire party may co-opt it.”

    Blacker has said he hopes his race raised the profile of his most important issue — the State Pier project, with its scandals and cost overruns — as well as the profile of the Green Party.

    Ranked choice voting

    Blacker and others advocated for ranked choice voting, which involves voters ranking their choices from different parties for a particular office, which would ostensibly lead to minor parties gaining higher vote shares. An opponent of Blacker’s in the 2nd District race, Libertarian candidate William Hall, put him onto ranked choice voting, Blacker said. Krayeske is a major proponent of the parliamentary voting system, too.

    “I think ranked choice voting is a good thing. If you have 33% in a parliamentary system and you team up with someone with 20%, you got a government. Here, if you have 20% and someone else has 60%, they can ignore you,” Krayeske said. “It’s tyranny of the majority...When elections are in a winner-take-all, two-party system, they don’t truly reflect the will of the people.”

    For his part, Herrnson said he is not a fan of ranked choice voting because “any time you put any complexity into the ballot, people will be more likely to make mistakes, including not bothering to do the full ranking because they don’t know how it works, or they’re unaware of it.”

    Herrnson also pushed back on the idea that having a strong “two party-plus” system is bad for democracy.

    “If you’re about making sure every point of view is represented, then you may as well let anyone be on the ballot,” he said. “If the goal is to elect people who are likely to work together as a team…then it’s a good idea to have your choices structured to some degree.”

    “The idea that it’s difficult for a minor party to get on the ballot, that’s fair enough, but it’s very difficult for a major party candidate to get on the ballot, because you have to win the nomination,” Herrnson continued. “With the Green Party and other minor parties you need to collect signatures. Collecting signatures is difficult and it definitely inhibits the number of minor party and Independent candidates, but you have to contrast that with the fact that in some of these close races there are quite a few people contesting a major party nomination, and that’s pretty tough.”

    The spoiler theory

    He said third-party candidates are “spoiler” candidates in certain situations — namely when they’ve achieved a sizable vote share. But he downplayed that narrative as coming from major party candidates and the national news media.

    Blacker said people espousing the spoiler theory to try to sway votes away from third-party candidates due to fear of a Republican or Democrat being elected should “pound sand.”

    “People were dismissive…they thought I was doing something irresponsible by running, that me entering the race was going to cause Joe Courtney to be at a disadvantage, and God forbid a Republican won,” Blacker said. “You hear that from people you respect, and you know they’re thinking less of you, and that would be an argument for ranked choice voting. There should be some means to quell that fear.”

    “There’s no such thing as a spoiler candidate,” Bicking said. “If a so-called major party wasn’t able to secure a vote, that is a loss on their part. It’s disgusting how that same idea gets recycled every election cycle. We shouldn’t take away the chance for people to choose among different options. Republicans and Democrats have become indistinguishable, especially in the last 10 years.”

    Krayeske said: “I don’t care,” and made a similar point to Bicking’s about providing fresh choices to voters rather than the standard two-party fare.

    Paths to success

    Green Party candidates and officials have been brainstorming paths to success for the future. One model is something the Working Families Party and the Independent Party do often — cross-endorsing.

    “In Connecticut, candidates can win the nomination of more than one party and thus appear on the ballot twice,” Herrnson said. “If someone wants to vote for a Democrat but is fed up with the Democratic party, they may vote for the candidate on the Green Party line. That can give the Green Party or any minor party some influence. If the person’s victory margin was small, and smaller than the percentage of the vote or the number of votes they got on the Green Party line, they can say, ‘Hey, you have to listen to us and maybe appoint one of our people to a position.’”

    Krayeske, Bicking and Stuller all mentioned Green Party candidate David Bedell, who ran against Republican Paul Cicarella for the 34th state Senate District. Cicarella was unopposed by a Democrat, and Bedell earned 12.5% of the vote, coming in second place. Greens think this strategy — of putting forward a candidate in unopposed races — could help them maintain ballot lines for years to come.

    Stuller said one positive to come out of the last election season is, “we did get to see some towns where we’re not organized but where there is support, so we have a better idea of what towns we can concentrate our efforts on with municipal elections. Norwich for example has no Green Party presence, but our candidates got a decent amount of votes.”

    Bicking is hopeful the party can pick back up ballot lines it’s lost.

    “It’s incredibly difficult, but not impossible. I am the kind of person who doesn’t give up easily. I intend to run again for governor,” she said.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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