With an environmental law degree from Lewis and Clark College, Mandy Parkinson was a natural fit with the Pacific Green Party of Oregon. Four years ago, she cast her vote for Ralph Nader.
But this year Parkinson has traded in her Green Party registration card for one stamped "Democrat."
"We know this isn't the year for Greens," says Parkinson, who's volunteering for Dennis Kucinich. "Our main goal is to get Bush out of office."
After shouldering the blame for siphoning Al Gore votes in 2000, many fellow Greens have followed Parkinson's lead. Both the local campaigns of Kucinich and Howard Dean report a throng of remorseful Greens who are backing the Democrats, at least for now.
The Kucinich chapter in Oregon--founded by Adin Rogovin, a former Green--estimates one-fourth of the Ohio Congressman's supporters here are former or current Greens. The local Dean list sports a similar emerald hue, bolstered by a long list of volunteers, including Sarah Mason, 27, and Michael Phoenix, 45, with Nader 2000 pins tucked in their attic.
Such anecdotes may warm hearts and hopes within the donkey party, but they are tempered by some cold, hard facts. Oregon Democrats and Republicans have actually lost registered voters since the 2000 election, while state Greens have nearly doubled their ranks. In fact, although its numbers are still dwarfed by those of the major parties, the Pacific Green Party is the fastest-growing political party in the state (see chart, page 12), now boasting more than 14,000 voters. Nationally, the Green growth has also been steady though not quite as dramatic, rising from 196,000 registered voters in November 2000 to 303,000 in November 2003.
Lewis & Clark College political-science professor Robert Eisinger chalked up the phenomenon to historical trends and the perils of a two-party system.
"The rise of third parties through disenfranchised voters is nothing new," Eisinger says. "Oregon in particular has a history of individualism."
Marnie Glickman, one of two Pacific Green delegates to the national party, puts it more bluntly. "Our numbers are increasing because the Democrats are continuing to fail people that are progressive," says Glickman, a former fundraiser for Oregon Democrats.
But as Election Day 2004 draws nearer, those progressive voters may look at the current resident of the White House and decide that maybe Al Gore wasn't so bad after all. (Nader captured nearly 97,000 votes in the decisive state of Florida, where Bush finished with a precarious 537-vote margin over Gore.)
Liz Trojan, co-chair of the state Green Party, concedes that the desire to cast a meaningful vote against Bush, particularly in a swing state like Oregon, will be hard to resist, particularly if the Democratic nominee at least talks the Green talk. "We do talk about voting Democrat," Trojan says.
"If there's a Democrat who shares 80 percent of our values...I have a tough time with that one. I have to take it on a race-by-race level."
The two candidates who came closest to that test were Kucinich, whose campaign has never caught on, and Dean, who was shaken by his poor showing in last week's Iowa caucuses. Democratic activists like lefty media icon Michael Moore are hoping to keep those candidates' grass-roots frenzy behind the eventual Democratic nominee, no matter who it is.
"The worst thing that could happen now would be for the Dean revolution to come to an end," Moore said following the Iowa caucus. "They've set the tone and the bar and have jump-started the movement to save our country."
And then there's the Nader factor.
The two-time presidential candidate recently announced that he won't seek the party's presidential nomination this year (though he hasn't ruled out an independent bid for the White House). Some party activists say that's a good development.
"I talked to Ralph a couple of weeks ago and told him that I had concerns if he were our candidate for a third time," says Blair Bobier, a founding member of the Green Party in Oregon. "The Green Party isn't a one-trick pony or the extension of any one individual."
Bobier is backing Texas lawyer David Cobb, one of four candidates seeking the national party's endorsement in June.
Green Party member Xander Patterson, chair of the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, hopes fellow Greens will focus their energy into issues other than the presidential sweepstakes. The party is currently pushing changes in state campaign-finance and election laws that would give minor-party candidates a greater chance of winning office. Says Patterson, "Until we get electoral reform, we are always going to be irrelevant or the spoiler."