By Brenda Flanagan
Flanagan: We’re at NJIT in Newark. The Green Party is holding it’s annual national meeting looking ahead to the off-year elections in November. New Jersey is only one of two states with a governor’s race, the other one is Virginia, so the Green’s are doing some low-level politicking here. Now, Jersey is a tough state for a third party candidate because the media ads are expensive and because of the party line balloting. Jersey, however, is a little different this year. There’s a lot of anger and angst over the budget deadlock and the government shutdown. The question is are the Green’s going to be able to translate that possibly into a little bit of a voter shift into their column come November? We put that question earlier today to the Green’s gubernatorial candidate, Seth Kaper-Dale, and to their 2016 presidential candidate, Jill Stein.
Let’s talk Jersey first where we had a budget deadlock and government shutdown. Obviously people are very exasperated. Does the dysfunction make it easier for you perhaps to convince people to give you their vote?
Kaper-Dale: I’ve found before this last weekend’s debacle that people were already ready to give me their vote. They’re tired of the two-party duopoly, they’re tired of Wall Street and Trenton bring so in bed together that you can’t tell the difference between one and the other. But I do have to say that shaking hands was entertaining this past week with people as person after person said, “Are you going to get Christie out of there?” and I said, “Well, he’s gone anyway,” but they said good. So yeah, I definitely think people are ready to be done with the two-party duopoly and I’m glad to be offering a third party choice, or as I call it a new first party choice.
Flanagan: Let’s talk about the upcoming election now. You’ve got 120 seats that are going to be up in the New Jersey Legislature, but I think we’ve got in the Green Party one state Senate candidate, four Assembly candidates, a couple freeholder candidates, one school board candidate. Why is it so difficult to get people to run on a third party, the Green Party, ballot?
Stein: Unfortunately this is how the current system works where two political parties who are funded by business as usual have all sort of advantage to make it a very steep uphill battle. For example, Seth has to raise four times as much money as I had to raise in order to qualify. As a presidential candidate, I had to raise $100,000, he has to raise over $400,000 just to be admitted into the debate and to qualify for matching funds. That really says that this is a democracy that you have to buy your way into.
Flanagan: It’s not just the expense though. In Jersey it’s also the party line politics that plays a very dominant role in seeing who gets on the ballot. Does that make it even more difficult for a third party candidate?
Kaper-Dale: I really think the thing that makes it difficult is that we haven’t seen a strong gubernatorial candidate in a while outside the two-party duopoly. If we can change that this year, I believe there will be a wellspring of candidates that arise in New Jersey because a lot of people are tired of this. We’re not only excited that this candidate, my candidacy, will lead to a governor in Trenton, but that in a very short time we’ll have other Assembly members and senators and school board members and everyone else starting to rise up here as well. Because you’re right, it’s about being local.
Flanagan: There seems to be a lot of energy though. We had a 13 percent voter turnout in the primary in Jersey, which believe it or not is a lot. There seems to be a lot of energy focused on the fact that the governor is a lame duck, it’s wide open. How do you attract people’s attention?
Kaper-Dale: We are attracting people’s attention. I know that it’s very hard when the other candidate can put in $20 million of his own money to fund his own campaign. But the way we’re getting attention is we’re going to people who aren’t usually reached. Sixty-one percent of people in New Jersey did not come out to vote the last time a gubernatorial election took place. Thirty-nine percent is Chris Christie, he got the majority of the 39 percent and we believe that that 60 percent is an untapped resource of people who deserve to have a voice. We are the part of the people. We believe the people will rise up. I think there’s going to be a voter turnout that’s going to make both of the parties in the duopoly completely nervous because we’re going to win. With that as our mantra, that we’re going to start at the bottom, the last are first, and the wellspring from below can transform everyone in the state.
Flanagan: A lot of people look at voting for a third party candidate as wasting their vote, as throwing it away. As a matter of fact, you’re still being called the spolier for what happened in November. How do you convince people that that’s not the case?
Stein: As it happens, almost half of voters stayed home because they didn’t want to vote for the most disliked, untrusted candidates in our history that were being rammed down their throats. Seventy-five percent of voters were screaming for open debates so they could see who else they could vote for. And in fact, the majority of Donald Trump’s voters were not voting for him, they were actually voting against what they perceived as the only other choice. So it’s just not true that Greens took votes away from the mainstream candidates, or from Hillary Clinton.
Flanagan: Stein official endorsed Kaper-Dale for governor today. This meeting is going to run through Sunday at NJIT.