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Know the West

New Mexico Greens lose steam

Democrats seem united behind Richardson for Governor


Note: this is one of several feature stories in this issue about the 2002 election.

SANTA FE, N.M. - This July, as the New Mexico Green Party fired up its campaign machine, it seemed like politics as usual.

The Greens had an articulate, quirky gubernatorial candidate in David Bacon, an alternative-energy consultant who drives a vegetable-oil-fueled Volkswagen Beetle and whose cousin, actor Kevin Bacon, phone-solicited for him. Bacon was expected to force discussion of tough issues the major parties would otherwise ignore, and distract any left-leaning Democrats from voting for their party's candidate for governor, Bill Richardson.

In recent years, this ability to draw Democratic voters has cast the New Mexico Greens as spoilers * most notably in the 1994 governor's race, when the Greens took 10 percent of the overall vote, and Republican Gary Johnson won by just a few thousand votes. Greens also outraged Democrats by taking a significant percentage in congressional races in 1997 and 1998 (HCN, 8/31/98: New Mexico Greens here to stay).

This success helped launch other Green parties in Arizona, Colorado and Utah, and the New Mexico party's 37-page platform became a template for the U.S. Green Party. The New Mexico Greens have no candidates running for Congress this year, so all eyes were on Bacon and the governor's race.

By late August, things had gotten strange. The chairman of the state's Republican Party offered to funnel an anonymous $100,000 contribution to the Greens, and the state's Democratic secretary of State attempted to derail Bacon's Green Party status on a registration technicality. Even The New York Times reported that the New Mexico Greens looked like a power other parties had to deal with.

But the Times, the Democrats and the Republicans overlooked one fact: The Greens' support here has actually declined. In a recent poll, only 5 percent of voters say they'll vote for Bacon. Among the signs of weakness, Miguel Chavez, an outspoken Green city councilman in Santa Fe, has defected to the Democrats. And the drought hurts the Greens - even Republicans are talking about water conservation, a topic once saved largely for environmentalists.

Only about 2 percent of the state's 930,700 registered voters declare they're Green, while 52 percent are Democratic and 33 percent are Republican, according to the Albuquerque Journal. This election, the Democratic majority seems united around reclaiming the governor's office.

The Green Party doesn't attract many Democrats anyway, says John Dendahl, the Republican chairman who offered the $100,000 to the Greens, reportedly from a donor in Washington, D.C., and then backed off. "The Greens rarely influence major elections," Dendahl says. "Most of their voters are so disenfranchised with the major parties, they otherwise just wouldn't vote at all."

Bacon remains optimistic. "I think we can get to 17 percent by the election," he says, noting that he'll participate in five televised debates with Richardson and the Republican candidate, John Sanchez, beginning Oct. 5. "We're doing just fine, especially considering we haven't paid for any advertising - against campaigns pulling in 4 to 5 million dollars."

The author writes from Sante Fe, N.M.

You can contact ...

  • Green Party of New Mexico, 505/473-3621, www.nmgp.org.