New York State

Howie Hawkins’ Green Party dream

The Syracuse resident talks to City & State about his presidential campaign and his hopes for the Green Party.

Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins.

Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins. Howie Hawkins Campaign

After running and losing 24 elections in New York, Syracuse resident Howie Hawkins has entered into his biggest race yet, as the Green Party’s presidential candidate.

The 67-year-old grassroots organizer has run for governor of New York three times, as well as Syracuse mayor, city auditor and common councilor. He's also run for Congress and the U.S. Senate – typically as the Green Party nominee. 

The biggest difference between his previous campaigns and this one, Hawkins told City and State, is that there’s a lot more work involved. “I've never been in a campaign where so many people stepped up to work so hard to get this done,” Hawkins said. “A lot of people are counting on me, so I have to work hard.”

In 2016, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein won more votes than Donald Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in the three pivotal battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That wasn’t the first time Democrats have blamed Green Party candidates for a loss after the left-wing minor party’s nominee picked off voters who would have otherwise been more likely to back the Democrat over the Republican. In 2000, Ralph Nader won more than 98,000 votes in Florida, which was decided by fewer than 600 votes and which determined the outcome of the presidential election. 

While those two Green Party candidacies did not lead to more progressive political outcomes, Hawkins hopes his campaign this time will hasten the arrival of “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal. 

City & State spoke to Hawkins about what he hopes will come of his first national campaign, growing the Green Party, rethinking the two-party voting system and why he thinks it’s not fair to call any candidate a “spoiler.” 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

You have run and lost 24 different elections in New York over the past two decades, so I have to ask what keeps you running in these different elections? What motivates you?

There are measures of winning other than winning the office, such as advancing a political agenda and raising issues that haven’t been picked up. For example, I got 5% (of the vote) running for governor in 2014. All of the reporting said that Cuomo wanted to run up the vote, get more votes than his father Mario (Cuomo) ever got and get more votes than he got in 2010. And at the end of the election, he had less votes. He couldn't take us for granted anymore. 

There were four issues that he had not supported before that election that he then took on after winning. He sort of changed his branding from the social-liberal, fiscal-conservative to the pragmatic progressive. So we got a ban on fracking, we got a $15 (per hour) minimum wage, we got paid family leave and we got the Excelsior scholarship, which was billed as tuition free public college – but it’s not. So we moved the agenda, even without winning the office. 

What are you hoping that you can change or influence, either in the state or the nation, with the campaign that you're currently running?

I started the campaign focused around what I called three life or death issues. The first is the climate meltdown, that's where the green New Deal comes in. I was the first candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal when I ran for governor here in New York in 2010. It's as much a program for economic recovery as it is for climate recovery. The second issue is inequality – inequality kills. We have a declining life expectancy in this country now, particularly among the working class. (Our campaign) has this economic bill of rights which includes a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, and “Medicare for All.” And then the third issue that none of the major party presidential candidates have talked about is the new nuclear arms race. We're about to get out of the last bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia, Africa and a whole lot of other treaties. We're calling for peace initiatives, deep cuts on military spending, pledging no first use of nuclear weapons.

I read that your campaign has received a lot of support from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters, which makes sense given the number of similarities between your two platforms. How do you think this could benefit or hurt your campaign?

Well, the way things have unfolded, I think we have a much bigger opportunity to get a big vote. When we started the campaign, we thought it might be (President Donald) Trump versus Sanders election and that Sanders would steal our thunder on some issues. Now Trump is crumbling and the Democrats chose (former Vice President Joe) Biden, who is a center-right politician that would be comfortable in the Conservative Party in Europe. (Editor’s note: Each European nation has its own political parties. The European Union parliament includes the European Conservatives and Reformists Party, which is largely focused on national sovereignty issues.Biden’s Senate voting record and campaign platform, by every empirical measure, is left of center in the United States.) So that opens up a big path for us. 

There has been some concern that you may be a spoiler in the upcoming presidential election. Do you think that’s a fair assessment or criticism?

The first question I usually get is, ‘Are you afraid of spoiling the election for Biden?’ And my answer to that is ‘No, it's Biden and the Democrats who are spoiling the election.’ Going back to Ralph Nader's campaign in 2000, (the Green Party has) been offering a proven nonpartisan solution to the spoiler dilemma, and that is to replace the Electoral College with a rank-choice national popular vote for president. And Biden and the Democrats are welcome to embrace that, we'll work with them on it and we get rid of the spoiler problem. 

What are your hopes for the Green Party in the future?

Well, to elect thousands (of Green Party candidates) to local office, state Legislature and Congress, so that when we raise issues like “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal, they cannot be dismissed by the Democratic Party, which has dismissed those things. 

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