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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Rise of the New Mexico Green Party

Air Date: Week of

Catalina Reyes of member station KUNM in Albuquerque reports on the emergence of the New Mexico Greens as a party to be reckoned with — albeit one with a bit of an identity problem. Green candidates and many of the state's mainstream environmentalists have taken pains to distance themselves from one another.


CURWOOD: Few if any races turn completely on environmental issues, even those where the emerging Green Party is a major player. Still, the environment is a large factor in New Mexico, where a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor is leading a slate of 7 candidates running under the banner of the Greens. And while the Greens have a good chance to gain major party status in New Mexico, they are having some troubles defining themselves. Catalina Reyes of member station KUMN in Albuquerque reports.

REYES: Sally Rogers is frustrated. She's a member of New Mexico's Conservation Voters Alliance, and people have been congratulating her about the successful Green Party bid to get on the New Mexico ballot. She says she's had to do a lot of explaining.

ROGERS: There has been, unfortunately, erroneous assumptions made that the Green Party had its basis in the environmental movement. And that in fact is not correct. The Green Party has its history rooted in European political activities rather than environmental activist work in this country.

(Bustling in headquarters: "Can I get a platform and a couple of Green banners, too?" "You bet!")

REYES: The Greens in New Mexico are more about activism, pure and simple. Hand-painted signs around their Albuquerque campaign headquarters read, "Let the People Speak," or, "Jobs and Housing Are Your Rights." But one poster artist has modified the state's symbol, which features a sun-like circle with radiating lines, by filling in the circle with a blue and green planet Earth. And the party's gubernatorial candidate, Roberto Mondragon, doesn't hesitate to rouse a crowd with a uniquely northern New Mexican environmental pitch.

MONDRAGON: The state of New Mexico was chosen for the purpose of producing the atomic bomb right here in Los Alamos. That was called Manhattan Project. Now, here we are, 1994. It's a new era of awareness, of awareness that we cannot have holes in the ozone layer. An awareness that we need to save the greenery that exists. [Applause] So we say, join in with us. And call for a Manhattan Two. [Applause and hoots] For the purpose of turning all of that technology of war into a technology of peace! [Applause and cheers]

REYES: Mondragon is a bilingual broadcaster, businessman, and folk singer. He's also served in the State Legislature and twice served as Lieutenant Governor under the incumbent he's now trying to defeat, Governor Bruce King. His long record in the state and popularity among rural Hispanics have done a lot to boost the Greens' credibility. But they still find themselves trying to dispel the perception that they're largely a group of middle-class Anglo tree-huggers.

SCHMITT: We're a legitimate party, not an environmental group.

REYES: Green Lieutenant Governer candidate Steven Schmitt is a former advisor to the Jerry Brown presidential campaign, and principal author of the Green Party platform, a document which spells out their views on everything from health care to corporate accountability.

SCHMITT: Our platform is 53 pages; it's broad. It comes out of people who have thought a long, hard time about policy issues.

REYES: With their emphasis on small business development and decentralized government, the Greens are drawing attention from across the political spectrum. One of their senior advisors ran Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign in New Mexico. And discontent with politics as usual is high. In the primary, more than 60% of Democrats voted for a candidate other than Governor King, a 70-year-old millionaire rancher. And Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Johnson faces fallout from a state investigation of his multi-million dollar construction firm for allegations of fraudulent business practices. And he's never held political office. All this has led even people in the so-called wise use or resource development movement to take a look at the Greens. Al Schneiberger, Executive Director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, says he likes what the Greens say on one of his big issues, local autonomy.

SCHNEIBERGER: But in amongst that populist message, there's this other message. A social agenda that is entwined in the platform. Gay, the homosexual community rights, the feminist agenda, and I don't believe that it is an agenda that is either mainstream or rural New Mexico. I do believe in local communities having more power over their lives, but I don't think they do. They've got it down on paper.

REYES: Some environmental groups remain equally leery about whether the Greens would deliver on their platform. But others praise the new dialogue the Greens are encouraging between ecological and social justice activists. They also say the Green alternative gives them leverage they can use to pressure other politicians like Governor King, whose environmental record they describe as poor. Roger Morris is a political analyst who's been an advisor to both Democratic and Republican presidents. He says more than anything else, the Greens are a response to disillusionment with the 2-party system.

MORRIS: That's what this Green movement is all about. It really is people making hand-lettered signs and getting out and going door to door. And Anglo and Hispanic and Black and environmentalists from Santa Fe and farmers from Dona Anna County in the South. And I think that's encouraging for the rest of the country. Whatever the Greens do here.

REYES: Morris says the Greens' momentum in New Mexico is a repudiation of big-money politics in a state that's traditionally been a bellwether for national political trends. And one independent poll showed the Greens should easily draw double the 5% support they need to qualify as a major party under state law. That means they're likely to continue influencing politics here, even if neither Roberto Mondragon nor any of the other current Green candidates get into office. For Living On Earth, this is Catalina Reyes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.



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