Challenging Barbara Lee From the Left

In California’s top-two primary system, only the top-two vote getters advance to the general election, meaning that only two names will be on the ballot for each race in November. Since California is a very blue state, that often means that two Democrats advance, as in the Senate race between incumbent Dianne Feinstein, the Anti-Trump candidate, and former State Senate President Kevin de León, the More-Anti-Trump-than-Feinstein candidate. However, three Green Party candidates for the US Congress advanced in California races this year. Among them is Laura Wells, whose name will appear alongside that of incumbent Barbara Lee in the East Bay’s District 13 race.

The only name that appeared on the primary ballot was Barbara Lee’s because she’s understood to be so unassailable that no one else bothered to pay the $1740 filing fee or collect the 2000 signatures required to add their own. Laura Wells’s name will appear alongside Lee’s on the November ballot because she won 77% of the official write-in vote and therefore placed second in the top-two primary.

I spoke to Laura, who beat the Republican, Libertarian, No Party Preference, and American Independent write-in candidates by a long shot.

Ann Garrison: Congrats, Laura. That was creative politics. Can you explain how you and your supporters did it?

Laura Wells: We had to gather the signatures, do the paperwork, and then Get Out The Vote, which is crucial in any election, in this order:

1) We gathered 60 signatures and checked to make sure they were all on the voter rolls so they wouldn’t be thrown out. Even a write-in candidate has to gather 40 to 60 signatures to be an “official” write-in candidate, meaning to have their write-in votes counted. When people write in their cat, their cousin, or their parakeet, or any other unofficial candidate, their votes aren’t counted.

2) I sent emails to everyone I know in District 13, and they forwarded them to friends and family. (Thank you all very much.)

3) We reached out to the Peace and Freedom Party. This year the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party have been working together more than ever, and they were very helpful in this campaign. They didn’t have an official write-in candidate, so they put our name on their voter guide.

4) Then we made our case in our Alameda County Green Party Voter Guide. Many Alameda County residents study our voter guide before voting or vote our slate card whether they’re registered Green or not. Developing such a highly respected voter guide has been one of our greatest accomplishments.

AG: Barbara Lee has been a hero to many in District 13 and beyond ever since she voted against the Patriot Act and the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the “War on Terror,” right after 9/11. I know you’d have done the same, but you differ with her on many issues. Could you summarize those?

LW: I support:

– a real healthcare system, Medicare for All, nothing short of that;

– the abolition of student debt, which is entirely doable;

– public banks, not bailing out and strengthening Wall Street banks (Barbara Lee voted for the bank bailout);

– vastly reducing military spending, including closing almost 1000 U.S. foreign military bases;

– never voting for the bloated military budgets;

– reversing the militarization, and stopping the impunity, of our police forces (Barbara Lee voted to transfer surplus military equipment to domestic police);

– stopping the horrific treatment of immigrants and refugees;

– supporting efforts to tax the rich;

– the Green New Deal, the transformation of our economy from a war economy to a sustainable economy, as advanced by our Green Party presidential candidates in 2016;

AG: California Senator Dianne Feinstein and District 12 Representative Nancy Pelosi have both refused to debate Green challengers, and in 2008 Nancy Pelosi said she “has a day job,” so she couldn’t make time to debate independent candidate Cindy Sheehan. Barbara Lee, however, is much closer to her progressive, grassroots constituents. Do you think she’ll debate you?

LW: Well, if she doesn’t, we’ll have to ask, why not? We need a real debate in California, not between the corporate Democratic and Republican Parties, but a debate between a Democratic Party team player and a Green Party no-corporate-money candidate. This will give people a chance to really dig into the issues, and the options that we have. There are solutions.

As a Green, I would point out that there is no excuse for problems that we take for granted in the wealthiest country in the world. No excuse for the obscene disparity in wealth and income, or for the lack of real justice for all people. What has the two-party system done to ensure that people have the basics? BASICS, like housing, healthcare, meaningful work with a decent income, a good environment, and opportunities for our next generations. We need to put these things on the table in a debate. If they’re not on the table, then we are denied the possibility of even looking at solutions.

AG: If Barbara Lee does agree to debate you, what forums do you think might host such a debate?

LW:The League of Women Voters has been the strongest supporter of debates. They organized and hosted the presidential debates until the Democratic and Republican Parties joined together to force them out in 1987. There are opportunities. We now have the wonderful situation where we have three Greens running for Congress on our November ballot, all running against Democratic Party incumbents, and together we’ll mount a strong campaign for opportunities to debate and present our solutions.

Also, what about unions and the Sierra Club? They have been endorsing Democratic Party leaders for decades, and all the while the Dems move to the “center,” which formerly was called right-wing. They might like a chance to put some pressure on the “progressive” Democrats, with real no-corporate-money Green candidates.

AG: You and Barbara Lee are both familiar voices on Pacifica’s KPFA Radio-Berkeley, so that seems like at least one broadcast outlet that should be willing to host a debate.

LW: I’m ready whenever KPFA and Barbara Lee are.

AG: There’s no “vote for the lesser evil” argument to be made in this race, is there?

LW: No. Let’s look at the “worst case,” the worst that could happen if you vote for the Green instead of the Democrat. For some folks, the worst case would be the best case! We would have a Green in Congress, and finally, we would be able to advocate for alternatives and solutions that have been systematically ignored. The Canadians and British and other countries around the world have had Greens in their legislative bodies. Having a Green presence would improve the discourse, and the decisions, of the entire body.

AG: What do you know about the other two House races where California Greens will advance because they finished in the top two?

LW: It is very exciting to have Kenneth Mejia and Rodolfo Cortes Barragan as partners in this quest for Congress. They are young, former Berniecrats who took the DemExit route to the Green Party after they essentially received master’s degrees in the Undemocratic Internal Functioning of the Democratic Party.

It is interesting to note that Barbara Lee stayed on the fence between Hillary and Bernie, even though Bernie did end up winning more primary votes in the district than Clinton. In other words, unlike the nine Congresspeople who did endorse Bernie, Lee declined to be a progressive leader in the primary contest.

We three candidates for Congress will work together to break up this bankrupt two-party system as strongly as we can.

AG: Bernie Sanders has endorsed Kenneth Mejia, the Green Party candidate in California’s District 34 House race, but I think that was in 2016, the year that Kenneth ran as a Democrat. He may not extend his endorsement to Kenneth now that he’s running as a Green, but either way, will you seek Bernie Sanders’s endorsement? He’s still the most popular politician in the country.

LW: Yes. Good idea. Barbara Lee stayed on the fence between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but District 13 voted for Bernie Sanders in the June 2016 election. The Bernie Sanders platform—the domestic platform, not his foreign policies—is much closer to the Green Party’s than the Democratic Party’s, which has not changed nearly as much as you would think in light of Bernie Sanders’ showing. It hasn’t changed because, unlike Bernie and unlike all Green candidates, the Democratic Party takes money from the billionaires and their corporations, and that’s who they’re beholden to. I’m glad Bernie endorsed Kenneth Mejia in the past, and I hope he will endorse Kenneth, Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, and me.

AG: Someone asked me why you’re challenging a popular progressive like Barbara Lee instead of someone like California Senator Dianne Feinstein. What’s your response to that?

LW: We did challenge Dianne Feinstein. We didn’t make it through the top-two primary to the general election, but the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party both challenged Dianne Feinstein in June.

In this race I am running against the two-party system. Barbara Lee is a popular progressive, from the most progressive district in the country, but she is a team player. Despite all the disappointments the Democratic Party has dealt us in the past, and despite her many constituents who have left the party in disgust, she remains a team player.

The top-two primary is a terrible idea that was sold to the voters in 2010 as an “open primary.” People began to understand that it was a trick, and its approval rating started dropping but not fast enough, so it passed as a ballot measure. This possibility of winning a write-in vote was an opportunity to get on the November ballot despite the top-two primary, and wage as strong a campaign as possible against the terrible two-party system. Once Green Party activists pointed out the opportunity, I was the person in position to take up the challenge.

AG: Barbara Lee is on the joint House/Senate Committee on Appropriations and the House Budget Committee and various subcommittees of those two. Some people will say that those are powerful committee assignments, and if you win the seat, they’ll assign you to the joint House/Senate Inaugural Ceremonies, Library, or Printing Committees and the House Administration Committee, all of which would be Housekeeping assignments, so to speak. They might even create a Dog-Catching Committee just for you. Your response to that?

LW: She’s on the Appropriations and Budget Committees, and what have those powerful committees been doing? Our budgets have been terrible, destroying the country. As a nation, we need to look at where the money comes from and where it goes. Where can we get the money we need for the things other wealthy countries take for granted? In seven words, tax the rich and stop the wars.

Tax the rich the way they used to be taxed, where their over-the-top income was taxed at an over-the-top tax rate, 91% at the end of Republican President Eisenhower’s term in 1961. Why tax the rich? For two reasons, to provide money for a decent environment and society with services everyone needs, and for another very important reason: to reduce their power over our lives.

AG: One of Barbara Lee’s flagship issues is her demand that the president wait for a congressional Authorization of Military Force before starting another war or “intervention.” “Intervention” being the euphemism for starting another war without declaring it. But authorizing the use of military force that hasn’t been organized by the UN Security Council is a violation of international law. Will you advocate adherence to international law?

LW: Sounds good, doesn’t it, to have Congress instead of the president authorize military force? The problem is that solution does not go far enough. First, let’s respect, not violate, international law and the right of other nations to sovereignty and the rights of peoples to self-determination. If the UN deems it necessary, then yes, go for a congressional AUMF. Adherence to international law would help the US, both our image and our national security. The US has been making enemies around the world because we’re waging undeclared war and drone bombing all over the Middle East and North Africa and even in other nations that are not official enemies. The US has used its “War on Drugs” as an excuse for military incursions that violate the sovereignty of other nations.

AG: Where can I get my Laura for D13 window sign, bumper sticker, tote bag, and water bottle?

LW: I’m in the process of gathering a campaign team, and we’ll figure all that out. Meanwhile, please go to the national website, gp.org, and see the online store.

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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