Setting the agenda

Greens stir state and federal elections debate in a sea of red and blue

By Justin Chapman and Joe Piasecki, Pasadena Weekly, 5/25/2006

For perhaps the first time in local political history, a third party with candidates in races for Congress and the state Assembly appears to be setting the political debate, which this campaign season has taken on a decidedly anti-war character.

In the race for the 29th Congressional District, three-time incumbent Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) faces an array of candidates, including the Green Party’s Bill Paparian, who feel betrayed by his pro-war and often pro-Bush administration record.

And in the race for the 44th Assembly District, two Green Party candidates — Philip Koebel and Ricardo Costa, who will square off June 6 in the first competitive state Legislature primary election for the Greens — are running as a tag team to encourage pro-peace debate, even among Democrats, who are increasingly seen as sympathetic to President Bush’s plans to continue the fighting in Iraq.

By that standard, and the fact that LA County Registrar-Recorder’s Office statistics show Democrats outnumbering Republicans by nearly 30,000 registered voters in the 44th Assembly District race for termed-out Democrat Carol Liu’s seat and more than 35,000 registered voters in the 29th Congressional District, it certainly appears Republicans have little to gain in either race.

In fact, Republican congressional candidate Bill Bodell, a businessman from La Cañada Flintridge, didn’t even show up at a recent candidates’ forum at the Pasadena Senior Center, leaving Schiff to defend the war — and his record — by himself.

The race for the Assembly also features only one Republican, Scott Carwile, who is running in a field of eight candidates including two Greens (Koebel and Costa), four Democrats (Anthony Portantino, Diana Peterson-More, Adam Murray and Brian Center) and one Libertarian (Barron Yanaga).

Fred Mazie, an Altadena peace activist and registered Democrat, said at a small peace rally outside Schiff’s Pasadena office Thursday that he was considering changing his voter registration to Green and voting for Paparian, an attorney and former Pasadena City Councilman.

“It takes some courage to stand up against the Democratic machine: They have all the money and these guys don’t,” Mazie, 68, said of local Green candidates. But, said Mazie of the Greens, “They got the message, and I hope they’ll continue to stand up for what they think is right.”

In fact, the theme of another candidates’ forum, this one happening last week at Throop Church and moderated by Pasadena Star-News Editor Larry Wilson, was “Is the war an Assembly issue?” At first, the war in Iraq was only an issue for Koebel and Costa. Now, all candidates agreed it was important to the race, though some disagreed how effective any Assembly action, including a Democrat-sponsored resolution calling on the governor to withdraw California National Guard troops from Iraq, would be.

Koebel, who has run campaigns against both Schiff and Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, believes such a call would send a strong message to Washington and the world.

Once a Democrat, Pasadena Air Force veteran and former JPL engineer Gregory Harrison is now a Green, specifically because Democrats, as a whole, he said, have been too soft when it comes to standing up for the left.

“They take weak positions on things such as whether President Bush should be impeached, and also I’m concerned about the amount of money that’s involved in politics and that many of the same corporate funders support both the Republicans and the Democrats” said Harrison, 41, at the protest outside Schiff’s office.

“They’re really trying to fight for what’s right, but it’s a long uphill battle. People forget that there’s more than two parties, and the media — the corporate media — seem not so interested in that,” he said.

Case in point, said Costa, was the recent treatment by the Star-News of an April 5 Assembly race debate in Altadena. A story about that debate failed to mention that any Green candidates, let alone two, were even present.

“I can’t run an effective campaign without shaming the Democrats, and for that I have to be on the same page,” said Costa, a projectionist with Laemmle movie theaters.

Costa said he was also disappointed that Star-News elections coverage following the “Is the war an Assembly issue?” debate again focused on Democrats and failed to mention either the war or Green Party candidates until the 21st paragraph of a 22-paragraph story.

Meanwhile in the race for Congress, Schiff has found competition for the June 6 primary from the local progressive wing of his own party in the candidacy of peace activist and retired union organizer Bob McCloskey, who is being supported by Costa and Koebel as well as Green opponent Paparian.

“If Bob wins the primary, I return to my political retirement. I will support his candidacy. But if he does not win the primary against Schiff’s $1.3 million campaign fund, what will he and the other progressive Democrats that support him do? Will they help me defeat the pro-war Bush DINO (Democrat in name only) incumbent?” Paparian, a former Marine, wrote in a recent email to the Weekly.

Claire Gorfinkel, a Democrat peace activist who appeared at the anti-Schiff rally, didn’t want to discuss her vote but seemed to echo a campaign statement by Paparian.

“While he’s a good guy, he’s wrong on the war, and it’s important for him to know that members of his constituency feel strongly that the war needs to end, that the war was wrong from the outset and he was wrong from the outset in supporting it, which he did,” she said of Schiff.

Paparian, who was once registered Republican and Independent, is also supporting the two Green candidates in the Assembly race, along with the proposed Assembly Joint Resolution 39, which calls on Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Vermont and Illinois are also currently considering impeachment legislation.

And it is the Greens, with the help of candidates like McCloskey in the congressional race and the four Democratic contenders in the Assembly race, who are successfully driving the discussion about California’s role in Iraq, despite low registration numbers — 1,811 in the 44th Assembly district and 2,112 in the 29th Congressional District — and being underfunded and short-staffed.

“We are running for a very unique perspective that we’re bringing to the Assembly, and that is the idea that a California Legislature and any level of government has a responsibility to try to stop the war one way or another,” said Koebel on Saturday during a Green garden party fund-raiser in Altadena that was attended by some 100 people.

“The war gives us the opportunity to point out the distinction between us and the other two parties,” he said.

Not all progressives are excited about the Greens, however.

Longtime Pasadena peace activist Dick Smoak said he essentially believes in the Green platform but disagrees with a strategy of running for top political seats without first building a political base by winning local offices.

“I’m of mixed mind about the Greens. I admire their stand, but I think their politics are just terrible. They need to establish from the grassroots level, city council and school board, and work their way up. They’re pissing a lot of people off by not having a constituency but putting their message out there thinking people are automatically going to fall in line,” said Dick Smoak.

Hilary Bradbury-Huang, a Green Party member elected last year to the Pasadena City College Board of Trustees, agreed that the Greens need to keep focused on local government, but said Pasadena’s Assembly and congressional candidates are also serving an important local function.

“We’re influencing the debate on issues all too easy to push aside for other candidates — namely the war,” she said. We are a tiny little party, but we’re starting a dialogue.”

And though he may sound like a Green these days, McCloskey said he is very much a Democrat, only one that’s trying to change his own party.

“I want to take it back from the corporations and lobbyists that seem to control it now,” said McCloskey.

Louisa Cauci, a peace activist from Montrose and a registered Democrat, is a little more comfortable with the idea of someday wearing Green.

“They have good ideas. I think they will eventually rise,” she said outside Schiff’s office last week.

Vote by numbers

Registered voters by party,
according to the Los Angeles County
Registrar-Recorder’s Office

44th Assembly District:
American Independent—2,957
Peace and Freedom—974
Natural Law—290
Decline to State—41,067

29th Congressional District:
American Independent—4,479
Peace and Freedom—1,455
Natural Law—350
Decline to State—60,103