AUGUSTA — The absence of a Green Independent Party candidate from the governor’s race means 6 percent to 9 percent of the Maine electorate will be up for grabs in November.

Who grabs it – or whether Greens just stay home on Election Day – is the latest political wrinkle in a race likely to be full of twists and turns in the coming months.

Last week, Green candidate Lynne Williams, a Bar Harbor lawyer, said she could not get the 2,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, leaving the Greens without a top-of-the ticket candidate for the first time in 16 years.

Since first appearing on Maine’s gubernatorial ballot in 1994, Green candidates have always gotten between 6 percent and 9.5 percent of the vote.

Williams and Ben Chipman, candidate coordinator for the Greens, gave various reasons for not making the ballot. For example, with 32,454 members in Maine – according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s Office – Greens have a fraction of the number claimed by Democrats and Republicans, making it harder for them to get 2,000 signatures.

comparison, Democrats have 319,160 members and Republicans have 260,108, state figures show. There are 978,543 registered voters in Maine.

Chipman, however, also acknowledged a split in the party over how important it was to get Williams on the ballot. Some said it was better to focus on legislative races, where Greens have more realistic chances of getting elected, he said.

“It would have been nice to have somebody on the ballot for governor, but it’s not the end of the world,” Chipman said.

And unlike past years, a recent law change allows political parties to keep party status, even if they don’t have someone running for governor.

“If we had to run someone to keep party status, we would have made sure we got the signatures,” Chipman said.

State law now requires at least 10,000 party members to vote in the general election to maintain party status.

Williams also tried and failed to qualify for public financing under new tougher standards, an effort she said distracted her focus on getting signatures.

Green Independent David Marshall, a Portland City Council member, said the requirement for candidates to raise at least $40,000 in private money to qualify for public money is too cumbersome.

“The state has made it almost impossible for anyone other than Democrats and Republicans to get public financing,” he said. “It’s like filling up a bathtub with a spoon.”

 

WHO GOES GREEN?

Democrats and Republicans are downplaying the Green absence in the governor’s race, saying they don’t think it benefits either party.

Arden Manning, campaign manager for the Democrats, said Green Independent Pat LaMarche got “a small percentage of the vote” four years ago, and she’s much better known statewide than Williams.

LaMarche, a former radio personality and former Green candidate for national vice president, got 9.5 percent of the vote in 2006. She also qualified for public financing, which means she had more money to spend than Williams would have had.

“I didn’t see Williams as being LaMarche in terms of people knowing who she is and in terms of funding because she’s not Clean Elections,” Manning said.

Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said he thinks independent candidate Eliot Cutler may pick up votes from Greens looking for a home.

“Why wouldn’t they go to him?” Webster said. “I don’t think there’s a significant impact, though.”

Cutler agreed it’s possible Greens may turn to him. He cited his strong environmental record – as an aide for the late Sen. Ed Muskie, Cutler was involved in passing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act – and the fact he’s running as a political outsider, like Williams.

“I’m going to be on stage in November as the only alternative to politics as usual,” he said. “I think that helps me. It clarifies things.”

Cutler and seven other unenrolled candidates have until June 1 to get 4,000 signatures to make the November ballot.

“A number of Greens may want to vote for him,” said Chipman.

If, that is, Greens vote. Two political science professors said Greens may just stay home, rather than support a major-party candidate.

 

LOST OPPORTUNITY

Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Orono, said much will depend on the Democratic and Republican nominees.

The Republicans, who have not held the governorship since January 1995, have seven men on the June primary ballot: Steven Abbott, William Beardsley, Matthew Jacobson, Paul Le- Page, Peter Mills, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin.

On the Democratic side, there are five candidates: Patrick McGowan, Elizabeth Mitchell, John Richardson, Steven Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli.

Fried said Greens are more closely aligned with Democrats on many issues, although they did help Republicans get signatures last fall to force a public vote on a tax-repeal question.

“In Maine, you end up with odd things that happen,” Fried said. “Some of those people may not vote at all.”

Chipman argues that because there will be legislative candidates to support, Greens will vote. And they will want to weigh in on the Oxford County casino question that will also be on the November ballot.

“It depends on who wins the primaries,” he said. “Some candidates on the ballot are appealing to Greens.”

Among them are the Republican Mills and the Democrat Mitchell, both of whom supported gay marriage, he said.

University of Southern Maine political science professor Ron Schmidt said it’s difficult to predict how Greens will vote.

“Generally speaking, I would assume it would work most to the benefit of Democrats getting back the votes they might have lost to a Green candidate,” he said.

Fried and Schmidt said it is damaging to the Greens not to have someone running for the most powerful job in the state. They lose face time at debates, as well as an opportunity to reach a statewide audience.

“They’ve managed to maintain a profile here in a way they have not in most of the country,” Schmidt said. “Absence can hurt you.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com