Green Party nominee on reclaiming the Green New Deal

By Timothy Cama | 07/08/2020 07:26 AM EDT

Activist Howie Hawkins, nominee for a party that rarely gets more than 1% of the popular vote during presidential races, has been talking about the concept of a Green New Deal for years.

Green Party activist Howie Hawkins getting arrested at the New York State Capitol in 2018 during a demonstration on climate and environmental issues.

Green Party activist Howie Hawkins getting arrested at the New York State Capitol in 2018 during a demonstration on climate and environmental issues. Erik McGregor/Sipa USA/Newscom

The last two years have been a major boon for the Green New Deal in the Democratic Party, but the Green Party’s presidential candidate wants to reclaim the concept.

Howie Hawkins is the presumptive 2020 presidential nominee for the party that rarely gets more than 1% of the popular vote in a presidential race.

The retired UPS Inc. worker, 67, is a founding member of the Green Party and is set to formally become the presidential nominee in the coming days during a virtual convention. Labor activist Angela Nicole Walker is his vice presidential running mate.


Hawkins lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and has run for countless offices, including U.S. Senate, mayor, city council and governor. The Syracuse Post-Standard, which has been tracking his activism for years, put the number at 24.

In his 2010 gubernatorial race, Hawkins became the most high-profile U.S. political candidate at the time to champion the concept of a Green New Deal — a set of climate change and other policies meant to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while guaranteeing rights to housing, employment, income and health care, among other priorities.

Central to his 2020 presidential campaign against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican President Trump is a $27 trillion "eco-socialist" Green New Deal proposal that would have the government at the center of a massive economic transition.

Hawkins spoke with E&E News ahead of the convention on his policy priorities and how he sees the Green Party in the current political climate.

What alternative do you present to the major party candidates?

Let’s start with the climate meltdown. There are life-or-death issues we face, and Trump calls climate change a hoax while the Democrats act like it’s a hoax.

We’re calling for an eco-socialist Green New Deal that involves public enterprise and planning, particularly in the energy, transportation and manufacturing sectors, so we can get to zero to negative greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.

That’s what climate scientists’ carbon budgets say rich countries like the United States need to do if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

I was the first candidate in the United States to campaign on the theme of a Green New Deal back in 2010, when I ran for governor of New York. And back then, as today, it was not just a climate recovery program, it was an economic recovery program.

As part of that Green New Deal, we have an economic bill of rights, which deals with the life-or-death issue of inequality.

That includes a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, a right to affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education for pre-K through college, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits.

The third issue is the new nuclear arms race. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has their doomsday clock the closest it’s ever been to midnight. Climate is part of that, but so is this new nuclear arms race.

So we’re saying, instead of modernizing our forces — putting more tactical nukes and conventional forces, making the strategic nukes six times fast — we should take peace initiatives.

Cut the military budget 75%, bring the troops home from these endless wars, pledge no first use of nuclear weapons, disarm to a minimum credible deterrent, and then go to the other nuclear powers and say we want complete and mutual nuclear disarmament.

What’s the difference between an eco-socialist Green New Deal and other Green New Deal proposals?

We have a much stronger emphasis on doing this through the public sector. There’s just not time — a carbon tax, regulations here, mandates there — it’s just going to get gummed up by the vested industries that resist. We need to bring them under the public sector and just get it done.

What do you think of the idea that a third-party candidate would be an election spoiler, particularly for the Democrats?

We’re not spoiling the election, the Democrats are. There’s a proven nonpartisan solution in the presidential race. It’s to replace the Electoral College with a ranked-choice national popular vote. We’ve been telling the Democrats about that since [Ralph] Nader ran in 2000. And they have yet to embrace it.

That solves the spoiler problem. The system sets up the dilemma for voters; there’s a solution. But the Democrats would rather knock us off the ballot than solve the problem.

Has it been difficult to get on state ballots?

It has unique challenges in this pandemic, because the public health guidelines say to keep your social distance. We do have people out in states where you need to gather signatures, and they get some things said at them.

We’re on 25 ballots, so there are 26 more to go. And we have appealed for relief in many of the states, saying in a pandemic, they shouldn’t make us go out and petition. We’re having some success in that. Some states are allowing electronic signatures.

Ballot access in this country is more difficult than almost any other electoral democracy in the world.

Why do green parties seem to get more traction in countries other than the United States?

Most of those countries have proportional representation. So if you’re a 20% party, you get 20% of the seats in the legislative body. And then when they form coalitions, the greens are included, in many cases. In the countries that have plurality winner systems — single-member districts — they’ve broken through.

In the United States, there’s ballot access, so it’s much harder for people to get to the race. The other thing is, we have a political culture and a media culture that acts as if there are only two parties, and that’s all that’s worth covering.

But in local elections, the greens have 129 elected officials. For a third party, you’d have to go back to the heyday of the Socialist Party to find that many.

Some of Hillary Clinton’s supporters argued Jill Stein was one of Russia’s favored candidates in 2016, and Clinton herself called Stein a Russian asset. What do you think about that?

I think Trump was the favorite candidate of Russia, to the extent they intervened. The Democrats tried to make that their excuse for losing in 2016. It wasn’t the Russians, it was the Electoral College.

Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. Democrats should be with us and embrace the reform we’re looking for — having a national popular vote. And we say it should be ranked choice, so you get rid of the spoiler problem, too.

For Clinton to say Jill is a Russian asset, that’s just a smear. Jill had a message about both the U.S. and Russia cutting their military budgets and putting that money into climate action and providing for the people’s needs.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.