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Green Party in race to retain major-party status in Minnesota
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Members of the Green Party David Cobb caucus vote during the party's convention in Bemidji (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)
The Green Party of Minnesota held its state convention in Bemidji over the weekend. Party activists selected 28 delegates to represent them at the Greens' national convention in Milwaukee later this month. But those delegates disagree about their choice for president. For the first time in eight years, the party is without standard bearer Ralph Nader, who is running for president this year as an independent. Party officials say that void could cost the Green Party its major party status in Minnesota.

Bemidji, Minn. — The Green Party of Minnesota is one of four major parties in the state. It earned that status when consumer advocate Ralph Nader garnered 5 percent of the vote in the last presidential election. Now there are eight candidates seeking the party's endorsement.

Nick Raleigh, the state party chair, worries the lack of clear support for a single presidential candidate could cost the Greens their major party status in Minnesota.

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Image A presidential candidate speaks

"Our strategy about major party status is to act as if we're going to lose it, prepare for that reality, because that's the biggest setback that we can see out of the next stretch of time here, and just do everything that we can to build the party's base and make sure that we are here and we are strong with or without it," he said.

Without major party status, the Greens would lose public campaign subsidies as well as automatic ballot access for candidates.

Raleigh says Minnesota Green delegates will carry a mixed message when they head to Milwaukee for the June 24 national convention.

"I think the message is that Minnesota Greens hasn't united behind one particular position regarding the presidential campaign. We are all in agreement that we don't like George Bush. But we're all in disagreement about what the best path for the party is regarding the presidential campaign," according to Raleigh.

Eleven of Minnesota's 28 delegates will go to Milwaukee undecided or uncommitted. Two delegates support endorsing Ralph Nader. Five are committed to an attorney from Texas named David Cobb. And nine delegates believe the national party should run no candidate at all this year.

Joel Sipress, a Green Party activist from Duluth, urged the party to instead focus on strengthening its base. Sipress says running a presidential candidate this year would only distract Greens from that goal.

We should not be a party whose answer is always run somebody for the highest office possible, because that sends a message that we are a party that is more about making a statement than making a difference.
- Joel Sipress

"We should not be a party whose answer is always run somebody for the highest office possible, because that sends a message that we are a party that is more about making a statement than making a difference," Sipress said. "And what we need to do is demonstrate to people in our own communities in tangible ways that we can make a difference in people's lives."

The only Green Party presidential candidate to address the delegates this weekend was David Cobb. Nationally, he's considered the party's front-runner. Cobb dismisses the idea that running a candidate this year would pull votes from Democrat John Kerry and help re-elect George Bush.

"Some may call it spoiling. We call it participation. We are going to exercise our democratic right to participate in the democratic process. And if anybody thinks that are participation is spoiling, then it indicates that the real problem is a voting system that forces people to vote against what they hate rather than for what they want," Cobb said.

Cobb and the Greens have long said the solution is instant runoff voting. That's a system that allows people to rank-order their candidates by preference. It would allow a voter, for example, to cast a vote for a Green candidate. If that candidate is unsuccessful, the vote would go to the voter's second choice.

The Minnesota Green Party hasn't had much success pushing such election reforms. Ken Pentel, a Green activist and two-time gubernatorial candidate, says reforming the system will become even more difficult if the Greens lose major party status in Minnesota.

"It's very important, I think, not only to the Green Party, but to the state of Minnesota in general. I think we need more choices out there," Pentel said.

Pentel says he's exploring the party's legal options. He believes state law would allow the Greens to maintain their major party status through a petition drive. Party officials say they're still researching that possibility.

Meanwhile, there was one theme that was constant at the Greens' gathering in Bemidji. Activists are determined to elect more Green candidates into local offices. Already, there are Greens on county boards, school boards and city councils. Several will seek Minnesota House seats this fall.

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