By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
This is not, after all, a perfect world.
"I, on a personal level, sold my car in 1981," says Pentel of his old Honda Civic, which by his estimation was getting 45 miles per gallon on the freeway. "I borrow friends' cars. There's enough cars around." When there aren't, Pentel takes his bike.
While the Green Party is most identified with environmental politics--anti-nuclear energy; for conservation and preservation of water, soil, air, and natural habitats--Pentel is also talking up electoral reform this fall. He believes in complete public funding of campaigns and advocates an electoral system in which a party's representation would reflect the percentage of votes it receives. Such a setup would, it's clear, be a boon to minor parties, and anathema to the dominant majors.
Among the so-called fringe-party office seekers this season, Pentel is the candidate most accustomed to working within the system. He has walked the halls of the Capitol as a registered lobbyist, working on environmental issues such as the 1994 fight over nuclear waste storage at NSP's Prairie Island plant. He spent 11 years as a canvasser for the local office of Greenpeace.
He describes the Green Party, around the nation and here in the state, as a "spontaneous emerging movement." He says, per its politics, that the party is decentralized and has a philosophic kinship, but not an organizational relationship, with the party that emerged in Germany in the late '70s. In 1996 Pentel served as the Minnesota campaign manager for the Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke Green Party presidential bid which was on the ballot in 21 states. The pair got close to 25,000 votes in the state.
By some indications, the Green Party is more organized than other small parties, with local affiliates of the statewide organization active in both Minneapolis, Duluth, and St. Paul. Pentel says he's managed to post about 125 yard signs around the state, including on some prominent real estate in Duluth, Bemidji, and Rochester. His square, wooden campaign buttons have his name stamped in green soy ink (it just didn't work: They're barely legible).
Pentel acknowledges that his résumé is that of a behind-the-scenes player, but he says no one else in the party was willing to take on the role of candidate. "I really wanted to manage a campaign," he stresses. "But since no one stepped forward willing to talk about these values, I was not going to stand by and hear silence around key issues." He hasn't had a job since his contract as a field organizer for the party ended in March; after November 3, he figures he'll be looking for work. (McCloney, ever the coalition-builder, swears he'll offer Pentel and other minor candidates positions in his administration.)
Pentel acknowledges some affinity for at least one of the major parties: "A number of my inspirations come from the Democratic Party...There's a progressive element of the DFL that's very aligned with what we're doing." Pressed for political heroes, his list includes three DFL legislators: Rep. Karen Clark, Sen. Ellen Anderson, and Rep. Alice Hausman--all of whom support, however unofficially, the Green's four-pillar philosophy: grassroots democracy, social and economic justice, nonviolence, and ecological stewardship.
Pentel's proposals include a "nuclear free" state, powered by Minnesota-generated renewable energy sources. He talks of diversifying rural economies and promoting organic and "community supported" farming. As governor, he would work to license farmers to grow industrial hemp, and to decriminalize marijuana use.
In another incarnation, the graduate of Hopkins Eisenhower had more celebrated dreams. "I left high school to go into show business," recalls the 37-year-old Pentel. "I was into dance and I was singing. I went out to L.A. and I took improvisational theater and I kept the dancing up." But the work wasn't there, and his thoughts turned to the thick clouds of smog hanging over the city, pollution shutting down beaches in the Santa Monica Bay, and frequent air advisories warning children and the elderly to stay indoors. It was the Reagan era, and Pentel turned to politics for a stage, attending Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings over discussions to build nuclear reactors along fault lines. He had found his calling--environmental activism.
Today Pentel works out of the cramped back room at the Arise! Resource Center on Lyndale Avenue in South Minneapolis. The space is thick with scattered paper, loose cassette tapes, empty orange-juice bottles awaiting recycling, a box of campaign lit, yard signs awaiting a home, an IBM knock-off computer, and a neatly stacked archive of Utne Reader back issues.
"Live small, think big--that's what I've been saying," Pentel offers by way of mantra, from his crowded office perch. "The Green Party offers hope. Direct democracy is the way to solve problems."
Protect the Earth Party
"I'm kind of the hopeless candidate," Leslie Davis admits. Davis is more hopeless than most because he isn't even on the ballot this year. Instead, the longtime environmental activist and emerging perennial candidate is staging a one-man write-in campaign under the self-styled Protect the Earth Party and the populist plea, "If I win, we all win."
Getting on the gubernatorial ballot in Minnesota isn't that complicated: all it takes is the aforementioned 2,000 signatures and meeting your filing deadlines. But Davis, the only member of his newly christened party, says that route wasn't open to him, because he hadn't recruited a lieutenant governor as his running mate by the time the deadline rolled around in July. He placed classified ads in the Star Tribune over the summer--which proclaimed, "This Race is Between Me and Norman Coleman"--but so far there have been no takers. (After the primary, Davis changed his mind about who his main opponent is: "Now it's me and Humphrey.") He says that he wanted to tap Barbara Davis, president of St. Louis Park barbecue sauce purveyors Ken Davis Products, so he could run a "Davis and Davis" slate, but she turned him down. Still, he remains undaunted: "I'm interviewing a number of people."