First Green Presidential Nominating Convention – UCLA, 1996; Nader’s 1996 Campaign for President as the Green Party Candidate

The Green Party in New Mexico in 1993 and 1994 achieved remarkable growth. In 1994, Greens in New Mexico experienced electoral success — electing Cris Moore to the Santa Fe City Council and advancing many progressive proposals in northern New Mexico.
New Mexico Green Abraham Guttman, a founder of the state party, approached Steve Schmidt from Santa Fe, who had been a senior adviser to Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign and had worked on the campaign’s platform, which included many Green-aligned policies and “Rainbow Coalition” positions. Guttman wanted Schmidt and Roberto Mondragon, a well-regarded NM political and cultural figure, to join the Green Party and run for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor offices. Abraham also sought to join local organizing with state and national organizing. The resulting campaign and strategy was successful: the combination of Roberto Mondragon and Steven Schmidt received over 10% of the vote for their Governor/Lt. Governor ticket in 1994 and were in most of the televised debates. A slate of Green candidates received statewide media coverage, among them Lorenzo Garcia, the Green candidate for State Treasurer, who received 32% of the vote. The first New Mexico Green Party platform, whose drafting process was led by Schmidt, was highlighted in local and statewide press and in debates. The campaign election results turned the party, under the state’s election law, into the first independent party to become a “major party.” The media called the campaign one of the most successful state campaigns in the United States by an independent party in decades.
Buoyed by their success providing an example to Greens across the country, New Mexico Greens used their political capital to propose and then organize the National Green Gathering of 1995, held on July 27-30th. A follow-on strategy based on the NM model was written by Steve Schmidt, endorsed by the NMGP, and carried to California Greens for support. The aim was a national, multi-state organizing campaign that would build on local state-party success in New Mexico, using the model of a “serious, credible, national platform-based” campaign to build an effective Green Party and political voice.
After two years of greatly reduced attendance at Green Gatherings ’93 and ’94 — owing to divisions and factional fights involving the Left-Green leadership of G/GPUSA – the New Mexico Greens brought Greens together from all factions to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 1995. A sign of the times was that G/GPUSA was invited as one of many groups invited to the Gathering, a significant change from their assumption that they were the national umbrella organization. Mike Feinstein followed this same independent arrangement the following year when he convened the Green Gathering in Los Angeles, the Green presidential nominating convention that nominated Nader. These two precedents paved the way for the creation of the Association of State Green Parties in mid- November 1996, independently of G/GPUSA.
At the Albuquerque gathering, Steven Schmidt emerged as a major mover and shaker. He urged the Greens – in their expectations for themselves and for their party – to create a “serious, credible, platform-based” party. Schmidt, with a background in environmental policymaking going back to the 1960s, focused on the Ten Key Values as the basis from which a Green platform could and should be created. The platform of the NMGP turned out to be particularly significant because it was the foundation for what grew into the first platform of the national Green Party. This was accomplished through ongoing work by Schmidt, Holle Brian, and others after Schmidt registered and began a national forum for “3Ds” — discussion, debate, and decision-making, with wide-reaching circles of support.
Prior to the Green Gathering ’95 in Albuquerque, Schmidt wrote a “40-State Green Organizing Plan.” The aim was to build upon and export the “serious, credible, and platform-based approach” of the New Mexico Greens in 1994. He and Mike Feinstein and Greg Jan of the California Greens hoped to attract a national Green presidential candidate in 1996 and to work toward an electorally based national Green Party. According to their proposal, reasons to take this step were many, including a recent Times Mirror poll showing that 57 percent of respondents supported the idea of a third party. Other possible contenders for that role (the New Party, the Labor Party Advocates) had not tried to organize nationally and, organizationally speaking, were relatively recent efforts. In contrast, the Greens had a ten-year history of activism and had already gained experience running candidates at the local, county, and state levels. If any progressive alternative political party was going to step into the vacuum created by the neoliberal shift of the Democrats, especially after the passage of both GATT and NAFTA under the Clinton administration, the Greens were the most prepared.
The plan presented in Albuquerque was supported by the Greens. It was decided that the Green Gathering ’96 would be held in Los Angeles at UCLA, with preparations to be undertaken by the NM and California Greens initially. A few months after the Albuquerque gathering, the Green Party of California (GPCA) adopted a “receptive” process to place a candidate on its March 1996 presidential primary ballot, should a suitable candidate appear. In summary, many groups, organizations, and programmatic initiatives soon were moving towards exciting possibilities for a serious, credible, and platform-based progressive political alternative. It was also becoming clearer by the day that it would be a Green political alternative—indeed, a full-fledged Green Political Party. It should be noted that both the 40-State Organizing Effort and the Third Parties organizing effort were separate and distinct from GPUSA’s organization, program, rules, and mandates.
Complementing the efforts of Greens at the national gathering in Albuquerque, Rob Hager, another NM Green and an investigative lawyer and friend of Ralph Nader, contacted Linda Martin as a result of the Third Parties ’96 conference in June and its Common Ground Declaration. He had begun to think that Ralph Nader might be persuaded to run for President. During that summer and fall he bent his efforts in that direction. He conferred with Mike Feinstein and other California Green Party leaders in September.
All these efforts converged in stimulating Ralph Nader to agree in late November 1995 to run for president in California’s Green Party primary in June 1996. He would make the same commitment in Maine in January 1996 to the Maine Green Party – and in other states on a state-by-state basis during the ensuing year. At the culminating Third Parties ’96 conference in Washington, DC in January 1996, and in spite of an immense blizzard that blanketed the city, the Green Politics Network team and others (working the phones from Sam and Cathy Smith’s house in Georgetown) laid the groundwork for a national Nader for President Clearinghouse to be located in Washington, DC. Linda Martin would take the lead. She and her volunteers would soon be in communication with the 40 State Parties’ project of Feinstein, Schmidt, and Jan.


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