The Fall Of the Illinois Green Party
After failing to get on the November ballot, the Green Party's candidates for Governor and Secretary of State say they will launch a write-in campaign in this fall's election. That comes less than a decade after the Illinois Greens pulled in enough votes to reach "major party status" in Illinois.
In the 2006 Governors Race, Judy Baar Topinka was challenging incumbent Rod Blagojevich. There was also Rich Whitney, who ran for Governor as a candidate for the Green Party, and got more than ten percent of the vote that year.
"In 2006 when I ran, there were a lot of Democrats who had had their fill of Blagojevich even then. And there were a lot of Republicans who were not very enamored of Judy Baar Topinka, so it was kind of a perfect storm for us," said Whitney.
While finishing third may not sound like a perfect storm to some, it was for the Greens because they pulled enough votes to be considered an established party, meaning that they would have a much easier time of getting on the ballot for the next round of elections. Instead of having to get the signatures of 25,000 voters - as third parties do... they would only be required to get 5-thousand. The same as Republicans and Democrats.
Politically... it looked like the Greens had arrived.
"I would suspect of those that voted for the Green Party in 2006, that a very small percentage of them knew what it was all about or knew who Rich Whitney was and what his positions were. They just wanted to vote for somebody other than the major candidates," noted Chris Mooney, head of the Institute of Governor and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.
Use the terms you want to describe the Greens that year, "perfect storm" or "catching lightning in a bottle". While the Greens had it that year, the party didn't have a base Mooney says is needed to truly be successful as a third party
"If I was to be a person who was interested in organizing a third party, I would probably build it from the ground. From local elections, you'd probably have better luck where you could do a sort of one on one thing," Mooney said.
Mooney said another way that third parties have flourished at least for a time... is relying on personality.
"Ross Perot, George Wallace...Henry Wallace," he said. "These are people who had a personal following and the down side of that is of course when that person either has a personal peccadillo or they just decide to get out of politics then the party falls apart, so that's not a great way to build an institution either."
The Greens couldn't carry the momentum to the 2010 elections. It was evident they didn't have the spark the second time around. With Whitney running for Governor again, he finished fourth with less than three percent of the vote.
Whitney can cite a couple of factors,nearly four percent of the vote went to an independent candidate and the race between the Republican and Democrat that year was so close that voters were less likely to vote for a third party candidate. It was also a sign, that voters may not have had any sense of loyalty to the Greens.
Beyond the dismal showing, the 2010 election also knocked the Greens back into third party status which meant for this year they needed to get five times the amount of signatures as last time in order to get on the ballot. They turned in the signatures, but Democrats successfully challenged the validity of them and won that challenge, knocking the Green Party off the ballot entirely for the major statewide races this year.
For Scott Summers, this year's Green gubernatorial nominee, the barriers are too onerous in Illinois.
"We are very unfortunate in this country to have a two party system, as far as I'm concerned. We all are hardwired for that as children, but it strangles democracy," Summers added.
It's not completely a lost cause. The Greens still have some candidates on the ballot in parts of the state. They will field candidates in two congressional races. One in the Chicago area, and the other in Southern Illinois.
When the party convenes for its state meeting in Chicago late this month, there will be sessions on trying to get more candidates involved at the local level.
But overall for the Green Party, the 2006 election, appears to have been more of an electoral footnote on the weaknesses of those major party candidates, rather than a major shift in a state where the powers that be aren't keen on sharing control.