'Young voters are very concerned. It is their future.' Talking election with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins

Winning the White House isn't his goal. It's using his third party to influence the policies of the other two.

Above, Howie Hawkins (back row, left center) at a 2019 Minnesota Green Party presidential primary debate. Photo: Dario Hunter/Wikipedia.

By Darrell Delamaide

(Darrell Delamaide is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C. He has specialized in business and finance over a long career, writing for Barron’s, Dow Jones, Institutional Investor, Bloomberg, and MarketWatch, among others. A longtime correspondent in Europe, Delamaide also has written about international economics, global markets, and foreign policy.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Callaway Climate Insights) — Howie Hawkins is counting on Democratic nominee Joe Biden winning the presidential contest in November, because it will boost his Green Party in future elections.

“We always do better when Democrats are in power because they disappoint people who think they’re going to do something,” says the co-founder of the Green Party and this year’s presidential candidate. “Biden will disappoint the progressives and climate activists.”

Hawkins claims to be the first politician to run on a Green New Deal platform when he campaigned for New York governor in 2010. He acknowledges that it was only when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) got behind it that the idea really caught on. 

“They took the slogan and watered down the content,” Hawkins says. They removed the ban on fracking, extended the deadline on 100% clean, renewable energy from 2030 to 2050, took out the ban on nuclear power, and went vague on the details. “They will lock us into a fossil-fuel future.”

Changes like the sense of urgency about climate don’t come gradually, Hawkins says, but in big steps, so he doesn’t consider the party too ambitious in its goals. The Green Party candidate has been a political activist since the 1960s. “If you had told me then that our anti-Vietnam War stance would become majority opinion a few years later, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he says.

Halting greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change will require a mobilization like that in World War II, Hawkins says. Biden may talk about $2 trillion over four years to meet the challenges of climate change, but the Green Party is calling for $2.75 trillion a year.

The federal government and the Federal Reserve can provide the credit, but as in World War II, the government must take charge of manufacturing and construction of infrastructure, the Green Party reckons. Measures like a carbon tax can help incentivize industry, but they are “supplementary” and insufficient by themselves to effect the change needed.

Hawkins isn’t running for president to move into the White House. “Our role is to do what third parties have always done in this country,” he says. 

It was third parties that put abolition of slavery and the antitrust movement on the national agenda, for instance. The parties behind these initiatives weren’t successful in winning office but they forced the major parties to address the issues.

“Getting into the debate is half the battle,” says Hawkins. He credits his opposition to fracking in the New York governor’s race in 2014 for forcing Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo to reverse his position and oppose the controversial drilling method.

The Green Party’s climate action plan, unlike the Democratic platform, is chockablock with details, championing many objectives that have now become mainstream, from restoring forests and grasslands to retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency.

“Young voters are very concerned — it is their future,” says Hawkins, “and frustrated with their elders who aren’t taking it seriously enough.”

Many Democrats still blame Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for tilting the balance in Florida in favor of George Bush and handing him an Electoral College victory in 2000, even though Al Gore won the popular vote.

The Democratic Party is fighting to keep the Green Party off the ballots this year, and recently won decisions from state supreme courts in swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

Trump won Wisconsin 2016 by 23,000 votes as Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 31,000. In Pennsylvania, Donald Trump won by 44,000 votes, where Stein got 50,000. Even if not all Stein votes would have gone to Hilary Clinton, Democrats see it in their interest to block the Green Party from siphoning off votes.

“Democrats have done this since we started,” says Hawkins. “They play this game, even though exit polls in 2016 showed that 61% of those who voted for Stein would not have voted at all otherwise.”

The Wisconsin ruling against the Green Party on a technicality also removed Hawkins’ running mate, Angela Walker, an African American trade unionist, from the ballot. “She is a native daughter of Milwaukee,” says Hawkins. “How do you think voters will feel about that? They will stay home.”

The Democrats’ efforts are nothing less than voter suppression in his view. Suppression of black votes, suppression of youth votes. “They should focus their efforts on getting rid of the Electoral College,” says Hawkins. 

The Green Party advocates ranked-choice voting that allows individuals to express their priorities with the popular vote determining who will be president. 

Maine, which approved ranked-choice voting in November 2016, won a ruling against Republican opponents, also on a technicality, from the state supreme court this week to go ahead with applying it to the presidential election for the first time.

The Green Party has some 200 candidates in down-ballot races, mostly on a municipal and county level but also for state legislatures. There are currently about 100 Green Party elected officials.

Hawkins is patient in building his party but eager to have an impact as a thought leader. He is impatient with the major parties and their lack of urgency in addressing the environmental challenge. “The way I sum it up is the Republicans say climate change is a hoax,” he says, “and the Democrats act like it’s a hoax.”