After the Green Party of Minnesota held its convention in Duluth last weekend, three candidates for statewide office walked away with endorsements: Ken Pentel (the veteran Green organizer now making his third bid for the governor's office), Michael Cavlan (a registered nurse running for U.S. Senate) and "Papa" John Kolstad (a West Bank musician who wants to be Attorney General). Aside from their membership in the Green Party, the three have one thing in common: they are all white men.
For party stalwarts like Dave Berger, that was cause for some concern. "It weighed on me a little bit," acknowledges Berger, who was the Greens' biggest vote getter back in 2002, when he mounted an unsuccessful but well-regarded campaign for state auditor. "I thought, if all these white guys are stepping forward to run for statewide office, do we really need another white guy?"
Berger, a sociology professor at Inver Hills Community College, was concerned enough about the demographic imbalance on the ticket (as well as the toll of running a campaign on his family life) that he told fellow Greens just before the convention that he was scuttling his bid for the state auditor's office.
But after endorsements were made (and no Green leapt into the auditor's race), Berger reconsidered and beseeched the party's executive committee to support his candidacy. In all likelihood, this means Berger will, once again, wind up with the Green endorsement. And while that will do nothing to rectify the gender and racial imbalance at the top of the ticket, his candidacy could still boost the Greens' lagging fortunes. That will be especially true if he manages to garner at least 5 percent of the vote, thereby giving the Greens something they've been missing since 2002: major party status.
In fact, the five percent threshold has been met only once by a Green in a statewide election held in Minnesota--during Ralph Nader's presidential bid in 2000. For a copule of reasons, Berger is probably the party's best hope to hit the threshold again this year: one, he is running for an office voters are probaly more inclined to "throw away" a vote on a third party candidate; two, he can tap into the disenchantment among liberals with DFL's endorsed candidate for state auditor, Rebecca Otto, who is vulnerable because of her past support for an anti-gay marriage amendment. "No matter how you look at it, she is not a progressive," Berger says of his opponent. "She's got serious baggage."
That said, like many Greens, Berger doesn't think reaching the 5 percent goal in a statewide race is as important as actually winning in local races. And in the local races, Berger points out, the Greens are fielding a more diverse slate of candidates than at the top-of-the-ticket. Some of the local race candidates--especially candidates like Farheen Hakeem--have a much better chance at victory since they are running in districts that are considerably more liberal than the state as a whole.