Prittle-Prattle: My Duty as a Citizen

What it’s like to run for office as a third-party candidate.

Dave Gross, who helped organize Maryland’s Green Party, agreed to a Crunchable interview during his race for a seat in the state House of Delegates.

Jonathan Ratican: Throw as much political mumbo-jumbo at me as you can.

Dave Gross: Well, there’s no mumbo-jumbo here. Just good ideas.

JR: When did you first take an interest in politics?

DG: I’ve always been interested in politics. My first vote for Green politics was in 1996, voting for Ralph Nader. In 2000, I got involved in Maryland’s Green party. I helped — with a lot of other people — to build it, which involved a heck of a lot of petitioning. We established Maryland’s Green party in the year 2000.

That same year, I ran for Congress in District 1. And despite lots of petitioning, the Board of Elections determined that I did not turn in enough petition signatures. It was very close. We think we turned in enough. But in any case, I was not on the ballot in 2000.

JR: Are you on the ballot for the current race?

DG: Yep.

JR: What would you say that you learned from the last race that you are applying to your current campaign?

DG: Well, you have to leave plenty of time for petitioning. I probably spent no more than two months petitioning to get on the ballot, which for a Congressional race is a heck of a lot of petition signatures. Nearly impossible.

I learned a lot about election laws in Maryland, and how unfair it is that candidates who aren’t Democrats and Republicans have to petition to get on the ballot. It’s like starting a 100-yard race at a 150 yards.

I learned a lot about election law. And we’re actually still challenging that decision. Maryland’s Green Party took exception to leaving my name off the ballot. Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, heard oral arguments about leaving my name off the ballot. They heard the arguments in November of 2001, and we’re still waiting for a ruling from them.

JR: How did you go from being interested in Green politics to saying, “I want to be a Congressman”?

DG: I figure it’s my duty as a citizen to participate in government. I think I can represent people as well as or better than big money Democrats and Republicans. It’s not like it’s a goal of mine to be in politics. It’s just that I feel it’s my duty as a citizen.

I think there should be Green representation in all levels of government. It just so happened in 2000 that Congress was the only race that was taking place in my district. This year I decided to run for state delegate.

JR: Why do you choose to be a member of the Green Party?

DG: There’s a lot of ways that I think that Greens can better represent our interests as common people. Maryland’s Green Party has guidelines about campaign contributions, which is one of the things that really sets apart Maryland Greens. None of our candidates are taking any money from corporations or political action committees, which really gives us a voice that others don’t have because we’re not beholden to those interests.

That’s one of the reasons why a lot of people spend their efforts working for Greens, because of that crucial difference. Also, I think that voters deserve a lot of different choices on the ballot. I don’t think they ought to be stuck with one or two choices. In a lot of races, people just have one choice. That’s not much of a democracy, is it?

There are also other Green ideas that I think are very important. Things about health care, things about education, things about non-violence. I think it’s all important. I definitely agree with what most Greens agree with.

JR: What do you think the state of the Maryland Green Party is, and how does it compare to other state Green Parties?

DG: I’m not gonna be able to tell you much about how it compares to other state Green Parties, except that there are long standing Green Parties in California, Oregon, and maybe New Mexico. In Maryland, I can tell you that we are growing very quickly. There are hundreds of people who register as Green every month. I think that’s a great thing. But I’d like to see a lot more people from other parties register as Green. Particularly because when one percent of Maryland’s voters register as Green, the petition requirements go away. So not only would there be no more candidate petitions, we would not have to continue to petition to have the Green party recognized as a legitimate political party.

JR: So that’s actually in jeopardy?

DG: Every two years, we have to have to get 10,000 valid signatures from Maryland voters saying that it’s okay to recognize the Greens as a political party.

JR: So that’s not even saying that a person wants to join or anything like that. That’s just saying that these people recognize the party as existing.

DG: Yep. Every two years. Which is difficult. We did it in 2000 for the first time, and we’re doing it now.

JR: How do you feel about your competition? Do you think this is a very competitive race?

DG: I don’t know. I don’t have pollsters or anything. The three incumbents have been there for quite a while, and they’re pretty strong. But I couldn’t tell you what my chances are or what their chances are or what the Republicans’ chances are. [Note from the eds: Each district in Maryland is represented by three delegates. Some districts are divided into parts, with one or two delegates for each; others have all three delegates represent the whole district.]

JR: What methods of campaigning are you using that might be different from methods traditionally used by major party candidates?

DG: Well, according to you, I have a better Web site than they do.

JR: No, it’s the fact that you have a Web site at all that puts you a leg up. Although I should mention that two-thirds of that Web site still says “under construction.”

DG: I’ll have to update that. I work full time, so campaigning is something that I can only do in my off hours. I’m not able to spend all day campaigning. I’m not able to spend all day raising money or doing interviews or going to campaign events or all that kind of business. I’m spending a lot of time petitioning. That’s probably what I’ve spent the most time on so far.

Not only my own candidate petitions. I was able to get enough of those. But after that I began concentrating on the party status petition. I talk to people in my district and I tell them about my campaign. I give them literature. I should give you literature …

(He hands over a small flyer with his face on it.)

JR: You don’t have TV or radio ads. Is that something that you would do if your campaign had the money for it?

DG: I’m not opposed to television advertising. I think it is the responsibility of our media to inform their listeners about campaigns and democracy, but I’m not opposed to political advertising. But what I do that is very different is that I don’t take money from corporations of political action committees. So the amount of money I can raise, compared to other candidates, is possibly a lot less.

JR: So we’re talking strictly personal donations then?

DG: Personal donations in small amounts. I’m not taking more than a hundred dollars from anyone.

JR: So if I said right now that I want to give you $200, why would you not take that from me?

DG: Because when candidates take large sums of money from individuals or corporations or political action committees, they are compromising their representation. Their representation becomes more about getting money and less about representing their ideas or their constituents’ ideas. So it’s a principled stand not to take large amounts of money from anyone.

JR: I don’t have $200 to give you, by the way.

DG: Do you have a hundred?

JR: No, I have very little money at all. Crunchable does not pay me.

DG: Alright.

JR: Are you the best qualified person in this race to be the next delegate from your district?

DG: Yes. I am the best qualified because I have not compromised my interests with money.

JR: And you feel that all of your competitors have done that?

DG: Honestly, I can’t tell you. You’d have to go to the Maryland Board of Elections Web site and look at their campaign contributions and compare those to mine.

JR: Let’s talk about some of these issues that you mention in your literature, starting with universal health care.

DG: People’s health care should not depend on their employment. Businesses should not be in charge of health care. Not only because of the needs of the individuals, but also because of the needs of the businesses. Why in the world do we have people’s employers involved in their health care decisions? It doesn’t make any sense. People aren’t able to leave their jobs because of their health care. People aren’t able to start their own businesses because they have to worry about health care. Our current system of health care really impedes capitalism.

JR: It impedes capitalism?

DG: Yes, because people can’t start small businesses, which is the very foundation of capitalism. They can’t afford to keep themselves insured. Which is why I advocate for single-payer universal health care in Maryland. The state of Maryland would be the organizer, rather than people’s employers. It would end up being cheaper than our current system of health care, because you take away the profits from the insurance companies and you enable people to buy prescriptions en masse. It’s a much better system. The fact that Maryland has so many uninsured people is shameful.

JR: I imagine that some people would say that having a system of health care that is plugged into the state would be contrary to capitalism.

DG: I disagree. The only thing it would decrease is the profits of the giant insurance companies who profit off of our health.

JR: Can you comment on your position on civil rights?

DG: I am proud to say that I support civil rights for gay and lesbian people, and for bisexual people, and for transgendered people. Gay and lesbian people are still a class of people who it is okay to discriminate against, according to the laws. It’s reprehensible. I cannot believe that in 2002 it’s still okay to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.

You look back in the 50s and 60s at the civil rights movement and say, “I can’t believe those politicians didn’t say something for civil rights.” It’s the same now. If you really believe in civil rights for gay and lesbian people, politicians and candidates need to stand up and say so.

JR: What could you do as a state legislator to further that cause?

DG: One of the things that passed this last session was a civil rights initiative which protects gay and lesbian people in terms of employment and housing. I would continue to support that. There were efforts to overturn it immediately from very backwards-thinking people.

I would support [the anti-discrimination law]. But I would also extend it to include things such as benefits for partners and marriage. Everyone ought to have the right to marry who they love.

JR: Are you talking about something similar to what Vermont has for gay and lesbian couples? The reason I say that is because of the federal law there is only so much a state can do …

DG: No, it’s all state-based. States can make it legal to marry the partner of your choice. Maryland could do it this session, and I’ll work for it if I get elected.

JR: This is true despite the Defense of Marriage Act?

DG: What that act says is that marriage in one state might not be recognized in another state. And it’s misnamed. I wouldn’t call it the “Defense of Marriage Act.” What it is is the “Attack on Marriage Act.” It is from anti-family people.

JR: This is just sort of random and quirky, but why the full beard?

DG: That’s the way it grows. I guess I like the way it looks. I never enjoyed shaving.

JR: Are you the only bearded candidate in the race?

DG: I don’t think I know the answer. But I don’t think people should pay so much attention to what candidates look like. I think people should pay more attention to candidates’ ideas and consider those seriously.

Article © 2002 by Jonathan Ratican