Green Party’s Stein: ‘Yes, I do think we can win’

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is making her first high-profile campaign trip to Michigan, planning Saturday to weigh in on the Flint water crisis, Detroit water shutoffs and pitch her “Green New Deal” to fix the economy and environment.

On the same day Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is scheduled to visit a west-side Detroit church, Stein and running mate Amaju Baraka will be at Bert’s Warehouse Theater in Eastern Market to argue they are a superior choice to voting for the “lesser of two evils” that they consider in Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The 66-year-old Massachusetts doctor is also vying for attention with another third-party candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, who will give a speech later this month at the Detroit Economic Club. In a Detroit News interview, Stein said she thinks she can win the Nov. 8 general election.

“If you say to a young person: ‘You can’t win; there is no hope for your future; we’ll never get out of climate crisis that is about to crash down on our heads’ ... to me that is unacceptable,” she told The News by phone. “And that’s not what democracy is about. Yes, I do think we can win. I do think democracy can prevail if we actually allow a real discussion to take place.”

In recent national polls, Stein received an average support of 3.2 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. She was fourth in a four-candidate Michigan field, according to a July 30-Aug. 1 Detroit News-WDIV poll, getting 3.4 percent among 600 likely Michigan voters behind Johnson’s 7.5 percent.

Part of Stein’s strategy is to attract the disaffected supporters of Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who finished second to Clinton for the Democratic nomination and then endorsed the former secretary of state.

She even lobbied inside and outside of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia for Sanders’ backers with this plea: “I have a message for the Bernie movement, which is that it’s a movement, not a man, as Bernie said many times.”

Stein, who also was the Green Party’s candidate in 2012, said she can represent those excluded from having real influence in the money-driven political system.

“I see my role as giving a voice to people who otherwise don’t have a voice in this election,” she said.

There are differences between Trump and Clinton, Stein said, “but a lot of what Trump says, Hillary has already done. Like this head-long plunge into disastrous wars. Like a refugee crisis.”

She continued, saying: “Donald Trump wants to deport immigrants. But deporting immigrants is not, shall we say, worse than bombing Muslim people overseas, which Hillary Clinton has been very busy doing.”

Stein’s ‘New Deal’ pitch

The “Green New Deal” — a plan to feed U.S. energy needs all through renewable energy by 2030 — is a cornerstone of her campaign. It would cost about $500 billion, she said, stressing it is less than the $800 billion stimulus package of 2009.

The savings in health care costs as people breathe cleaner air coupled with a 50 percent reduction in military spending and closing more than 700 military bases abroad would pay for the massive clean energy plan, she said, comparing it to the World War II mobilization.

The plan would stimulate the economy as more people are put to work to build and install more solar panels, wind turbines and other clean energy sources, said the physician, who has fought to clean up coal plants and put a moratorium on garbage incinerators in Massachusetts.

“Well, put it this way: It’s not realistic to carry on as we are,” said Stein when asked about the feasibility of her environmental and economic plan, which includes a $15-an-hour or living minimum wage. “The science tells us we may see as much as nine feet of sea level rise as soon as 2050. So the science increasingly is telling us we have no choice but to recognize the state of emergency that we are in.”

During the Detroit event, Michigan Green Party officials also plan to address water shutoffs in Detroit, state-appointed emergency managers in Michigan’s urban communities and the Flint water crisis.

Who’s thrilled with Jill?

Stein has gained some Sanders converts.

“She is the only one,” said Elayne Petrucci, a theater teacher who lives in Trenton and a Democratic Sanders delegate who now volunteers for the Stein campaign. “Her platform coincides with Bernie’s 98 percent. She’s even more progressive in that she wants to do away with student debt.”

Because of her plans for increased government spending, political experts say Stein fights for votes with Clinton. But Michigan Green Party officials argue votes for Stein aren’t votes taken from Clinton because their votes don’t belong to the Democrats. Some may not vote at all if not for Stein, her supporters argue.

Still, Stein’s candidacy raises the specter of Ralph Nader, the Green Party nominee in 2000 whom many Democrats blame for siphoning votes from then-Vice President Al Gore and helping George W. Bush narrowly win Florida and the White House.

Stein’s supporters bristle at what they call “the myth about Nader.”

“Hillary Clinton doesn’t own those votes, and I think it’s a wrong assumption to make that those voting for Jill would automatically be voting for Hillary instead,” said LuAnne Kozma, the Green Party’s volunteer coordinator in Michigan.

The state’s Green Party has allied itself with socialists in the past few years amid slim support for third parties, said Michigan Green Party chairman Fred Vitale.

“The effects of the two-party system can’t be blamed on third parties,” said Michael Anderson, a self-described socialist running for a mid-Michigan state House seat on the Green Party ticket. “That’s a result of the monopoly of the capitalist parties. In my opinion, you should never feel guilty or ashamed of what you believe in.”

Michigan’s green infrastructure

Stein’s campaign in Michigan is run mostly by volunteers who are mounting more than 30 Green Party challenges for congressional seats and other offices.

The party has candidates in nine of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts, and candidates are competing in 10 of the state’s 110 House districts. Others are running for State Board of Education, university boards, county clerk or county commissioner.

Newberg Township Clerk Korie Blyveis is a Michigan Green elected official, Vitale said.

Nationwide, at least 137 Greens hold public office in 16 states, according to the Green Party. Most of the officials are in California and include City Council members and a mayor.

The Green Party has no paid staff in the state working on the Stein campaign, Kozma said. About 1,000 people signed up to volunteer, she said.

The party has an uphill fight. Stein received 0.5 percent of the vote in Michigan in 2012. The party’s 2008 candidate, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, got 0.2 percent of the state’s vote, while David Cobb received 0.1 percent in 2004 and Nader got 2 percent in 2000.

Stein doesn’t have a chance of getting many Clinton votes, much less a shot at winning the general election, said TJ Bucholz, a Clinton supporter and president of Lansing-based Vanguard Public Affairs.

Although the Detroit rally may draw people, Stein doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to win, and no one has heard of her, he said. By contrast, Nader had “name ID and had some money,” Bucholz said.

The Stein campaign, which makes it a point to reject corporate donations, has received $1.9 million in contributions from January 2015 to the end of July, Federal Elections Commission filings show. Clinton has raised $551 million, while Trump has generated $125 million after doing little fund-raising during the primaries.

Bruce Fealk, a 62-year-old retired court reporter who lives in Rochester Hills and a Sanders delegate, said he hasn’t made up his mind about whether he’s voting for Clinton or Stein.

“I think Jill lines up really well on issues,” Fealk said. “But she’s not in the realm of possibility yet.”

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Twitter: @MikeGerstein

Jill Stein

Age: 66

Home: Lexington, Massachusetts

Family: Married to Richard Rohrer, two grown sons

Background: Physician specializing in adult medicine and instructor at Harvard Medical School, 1982-2006. Green Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, winning 0.4 percent of the national popular vote and 0.5 percent of the vote in Michigan. Unsuccessfully ran as the Green- Rainbow Party candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, state representative in 2004 and secretary of state in 2006. Became active in environmental health issues starting in the 1990s.

Source: Detroit News research