Md. ballot is novel for Nov. 2

Candidates: Seven party members are out there running for Congress against the `duopoly.'

Election 2004: The Green Party

August 29, 2004|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

THIRD PARTY is written all over Bob Auerbach. Could be the broad-brimmed straw hat with political buttons orbiting the crown - "Meat is Murder," "We Won't Go," "Socialist Party" - or the fringe of white beard or a blissful demeanor suggesting abiding faith in further human improvement. In other words, not your basic congressman.

Nonetheless, he is running for Congress as a Green Party candidate, which would not be so novel except that the Green Party will appear on state ballots this year.

Seven Green candidates for Congress - one for Senate, six for the House of Representatives - will be named, thanks partly to a court decision last summer making it easier for third parties to challenge what Greens call the Democratic/Republican "duopoly."

Naturally, this cheers Auerbach, of Greenbelt, who decades ago helped rouse Green impulses in Maryland.

When Auerbach and a few other party pioneers began meeting in private homes in Greenbelt in the late 1980s, the talk was about local environmental activism, not politics. They advanced no grand plans. They sought neither power nor office. They were interested generally in trash, specifically Greenbelt's recycling program.

"We didn't even consider putting up any candidates," says Auerbach.

If the subject of running candidates was discussed at those early meetings, says Rebecca Otter, now of Talbot County, who was also there, "it was discarded."

Now, the Maryland Greens see autumn 2004 as a historically significant moment for their party.

"I believe it's the first time, at least since World War II, a slate of candidates for a third party" has appeared on the ballot, says Dave Goldsmith, the Maryland Green Party's unofficial historian.

Of the eight U.S. House races, Greens are running in all but District 1, consisting chiefly of Eastern Shore counties, and District 8, in Montgomery County. A Green also is running against U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The seven include four women and three men: an accountant, engineer, elementary-school teacher, legal secretary, college professor, retired librarian and videographer ranging in age from 29 to 84. They work, raise families and attempt to do politics in the old Jeffersonian model of the humble farmer setting down the plow to mind the republic's business for a spell.

Jeffersonian concepts were dreamy enough in his day - he never quite lived up to them - and all the more so now that conducting the republic's business has grown expensive.

The Greens embrace the quixotic notion of amassing political power without the benefit of contributions from corporations, political action committees or unions, strictly by the combined force of ideas and shoe leather.

The folks with the money appear to be winning, but Auerbach is undaunted.

"I tend to be optimistic," says Auerbach, running for the District 5 seat occupied by Steny H. Hoyer, one of many entrenched House Democrats, in office since 1981. "Optimistic" is one word for a man running against the military-industrial complex in a district that includes the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, commonly believed to represent around 80 percent of the local economy in St. Mary's County.

At age 84, Auerbach stands at the purist edge of the Maryland Green Party's ideological spectrum, a kind of political maharishi. One need not ask how he feels about the war in Iraq after hearing that he first took to the streets of Washington to protest the exercise of American military power during World War II. Hitler, he insists, could eventually have been vanquished by Gandhi-esque mass resistance.

He was ineligible for military service in World War II because of a disabling bone marrow inflammation in his left leg, which struck when he was a boy and slows him somewhat to this day. The experience of being segregated in classrooms for "crippled children," he says, heightened his attention to the experiences of the disadvantaged.

In civil rights movement days, he was arrested twice in one day in protests in New York and New Jersey, and later served as a marshal during the "I Have a Dream" March on Washington in August 1963. He has been a socialist and now, a Green, embracing what the party refers to as the "Four Pillars" of the faith: "social justice," "ecological wisdom," "grassroots democracy," "nonviolence."

Don't look for Auerbach's beatific smile on billboards or television ads. He might drop some leaflets. Expect two colors: black and white. Perhaps green, if the budget allows.

Money is an inescapable topic of discussion among Greens, as they work to resist its corrupting influence. The party does not accept contributions of more than $1,000 per individual contributor and takes no money from PACs or corporations.

`Not about issues'

Theresa Mitchell Dudley, a Prince George's County teacher and civic activist running in District 4, says it appears politics "is not about issues, is not about quality of life, it's about how much money you have. Whether you're willing to sell your soul to the special interests."

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