Mar 252016
Former Gov. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. (image via petition for their inclusion in CNN forums)

Former Gov. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. (image via petition for their inclusion in CNN forums)

As the Republicans and Democrats each move toward nominating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings among general-election voters in decades, local activists in the national Green and Libertarian parties see opportunities this year — if they can get their own message out to the public.

Donald Trump is seen unfavorably by 57 percent of voters, and 52 percent have unfavorable views of Hillary Clinton in a recent CBS/New York Times poll, which would make them the least popular general-election candidates in the 34 years the question has been asked, according to an analysis by CNN.

But that bad news for the country’s major parties may be good news for parties seeking to provide voters with other choices, Orleans Parish chapters of the Libertarian and Green parties say.

The Libertarians and Greens were the most popular “third” parties in the last 2012 election, with former Gov. Gary Johnson garnering nearly 1.3 million votes for the Libertarians and physician Jill Stein winning nearly half a million for the Greens (just shy of 1 percent of the total). Both parties are recognized with ballot access in Louisiana, and both have chapters in Orleans Parish.

Mike Dodd, chairman of the Libertarian Party, said that members of his party remain focused on reaching 5 percent of the vote overall this year, the traditional threshold for public campaign funding that is also seen as key to ensuring that the party remains on every state’s ballot. Meanwhile, Johnson is filing suit with the Commission on Presidential Debates to appear on the main stage with the Republican and Democratic nominees, which Libertarians see as key to bringing their message to a wider audience.

“There’s a good chance he’s going to win access to the debates,” Dodd said.

With the amount of disgust for Trump and Clinton within their own parties — not to mention among independents — 2016 could be a key moment for expanding the Libertarian Party, said Kirk Coco, a member of the Orleans Parish Libertarian Party.

“You couldn’t have a better year to be the first year to be on that stage,” Coco said. “I think if you could get on stage, it goes to 5 percent.”

Stein has filed a similar suit against the debate commission, said Ryan Hargis, a member of both the state Green Party and the recently re-organized Orleans Parish chapter. Third parties face a daunting cycle of trying to get votes in order to propel their own ballot access — as every state has its own ballot access laws — but the debates could be key in aiding with that.

“Because of the oppression of the two parties, the only way to gain momentum is to have people vote for your candidate,” Hargis said.

Bart Everson, who has been leading the Greens’ monthly meetings at the Rosa Keller library in Broadmoor since last fall, said that the national candidacy of Ralph Nader essentially launched the Green Party chapter in Louisiana in 2000.

“It’s the thing that gets people charged up. Every four years, we have opportunity to catch some of that energy,” Everson said of Presidential elections. “Once Hillary gets the [Democratic] nomination, and Sanders encourages his supporters to vote for her, where does all that momentum go? Jill Stein will welcome those voters with open arms. She says she’s a better socialist than Bernie, and a better woman than Hillary.”

For both the Greens and Libertarians, however, what matters most is the work between election cycles. At the last meeting of the Libertarians at the Lakeview Brew Coffee Cafe, for example, they discussed lobbying efforts to strengthen gun-rights laws in Louisiana and to legalize the sale of raw milk directly from farmers to citizens, as well as their advocacy for the recently-passed decriminalization of marijuana in Orleans Parish.

“We were the only political party to support the ordinance, to have anyone there,” said Wendy Adams, who spoke before the City Council on the marijuana issue.

The Greens focused their attention on support for the recent protests at the Superdome against new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico, and whether to make recommendations on how to vote on the upcoming ballot issues regarding higher property taxes for police and fire protection. Members of the Orleans Chapter gave a recommendation in favor of John Bel Edwards for governor last fall, their first such public call for action in an election, and are considering running a candidate in the next sheriff’s election, to draw more vocal attention the human-rights issues at the jail.

“At the national level, people are saying the most important thing that the Green Party can do is run Black Lives Matter candidates in local elections,” Everson said.

Statewide activists in both parties will both gather in the coming months for their own Louisiana state conventions, when they will select delegates to the national conventions later in the year.

The Libertarians’ convention will be held April 16 and 17 in Baton Rouge, featuring a debate among at least five Libertarian candidates for President, including John McAfee. Dodd mentioned said he saw a similar debate at the recent Mississippi-Alabama convention of Libertarians, and while Johnson won the straw poll held there, McAfee was a standout on the debate stage.

“He was quite a surprise,” Dodd said. “I was very pleasantly surprised.”

The Orleans chapter of the Greens will host the state convention in New Orleans, though activists are still finalizing the debate for a weekend in late May.

The Libertarian Party of Orleans Parish meets the third Monday of every month at Lakeview Brew Coffee Cafe, 5606 Canal Boulevard, and will host a fundraiser from 5 to 8 p.m. today (Friday, March 25) at NOLA Brewing. The Green Party of New Orleans meets the last Tuesday of every month at the Rosa Keller Library, 4300 South Broad Street, and is planning an event for May Day, international workers’ day, on May 1.

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