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Green leaders quit, join Demos

Leaders of the Utah Green Party disbanded this week and most will join the Utah Democratic Party, both groups announced Friday.

But whether this is really the death of the state Green Party, formed several years ago when consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran for president, remains to be seen.

State Elections Office director Amy Naccarato said the Utah Green Party is already certified to the 2004 general election ballot because its 2002 U.S. House candidates got at least 2 percent of the popular vote in their races.

The Green leader then was Craig Axford, who ran in the 1st Congressional District last year, getting 2.24 percent of the vote.

Axford told the Deseret News Friday that "nearly all" of the Green Party's state officers and Salt Lake County officers resigned, as did all of the county officers in Davis, Cache and Summit counties. Most of them have already joined state and local Democratic parties, he said.

They are welcome with open arms, said Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Meg Holbrook, who noted that many of the Greens had been Democrats before that party was formed.

The Green Party stands for a number of political causes, but basically says political decisions should be "value-based" and not follow old power rules of politics. It takes its name from advancing environmental concerns.

Axford and Holbrook said the Greens will form a new caucus within the Democratic Party, the Progressive Caucus. State Democrats have half a dozen caucuses that operate within state and county parties.

"The progressives will have our own political action committee, raise our own funds," said Axford. In fact, the caucus has already taken its first action: Endorsing Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson in his re-election this year, said Axford.

The mayor's race is officially non-partisan, but Anderson is a well-known Democrat, as are two of his early challengers, former Utah House minority leader Frank Pignanelli and local pollster/lobbyist Dave Spatafore.

The Green Party defections come not because of any actions by state Democratic Party leaders, said Axford, rather, Green leaders quit because of disagreements within their own party.

"A small group" of Green leaders "refused to move forward," said Axford. "They believe in total consensus decision-making — we all had to agree to actions, whether those be budgets or a strategic plan" to get Greens elected to office.

"You can't get 100 percent agreement 100 percent of the time, especially with a group of people dedicated to political goals," he said.

"It was important that the progressive movement go forward, however. So we had to go elsewhere" to the Democrats, Axford said.

The Progressive Caucus will push for campaign finance and electoral reform, health-care reform, full funding for education, arts and humanities programs and peace in the Middle East, said Axford.

He admits that Green Party candidates may still be on the 2004 ballot. "But I don't know what kind of organization" they can put together. Maybe they will be like Libertarians, running a few candidates in a few races, said Axford.

Third-party candidates haven't had much impact on Utah politics. Some politicos speculated that Axford's 1st District challenge in 2002 could cost Democratic Party nominee Dave Thomas the race, should Thomas just barely lose to GOP nominee Rob Bishop. But Bishop crushed Thomas, and Axford's 2.24 percent didn't play a part in the decision.

Utah has not elected a third party candidate to the Utah House or Senate in 75 years. It has never elected a third party candidate to any federal office.

Axford said both state Green Party co-chairs resigned along with dozens of other leaders and joined the Democrats.

Former Green co-chair Penny Archibald-Stone is the official Green representative listed with the state Elections Office, said Naccarato. "They are still a registered party, we have their constitution and bylaws on file. But we won't recognize just anyone who walks in (to her office) and says they are the new Green Party representative. We'll see what happens," she said.