Going Green

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Charles Laws talks about water, nuclear waste and being a Nevada activist

Charles Laws announced his candidacy for governor by getting arrested at a protest of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Charles Laws announced his candidacy for governor by getting arrested at a protest of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Photo By David Robert

For more info on Charles Laws and the Green Party in Nevada, visit www.charleslaws.org.

Ask Green Party candidate for governor Charles Laws what critical issues Nevada faces, and he’ll immediately respond: “nuclear waste and water.” But changing the face of Nevada’s communities seems to be his greatest passion.

The former environmental engineer and two-time Green Party candidate for Congress said that opening the lines of communication between government and the citizens the government serves are keys to establishing a more open and understanding society.

“We have to be able to develop our common understandings through frequent misunderstandings,” Laws said during an interview at the Reno News & Review. “We have to fail. We have to have the wrong ideas and express them without killing each other.”

Laws said that government has become the guide for society. He believes that government instead should be guided by society for society’s benefit.

“Within four years in government as governor, what I could do is change the procedures within the institutions to establish policies where the workers are recognized and where we can really identify [policies] that are inappropriate,” he said. “And realize at all levels of government that the people we serve are the ones paying taxes. We are not telling them what to do. We are shifting that around. Right now government is oppressive. It needs to become supportive.”

But changing how a government runs is something Laws said would take time. He said the groundwork for shifting the focus from controlling people to helping people would be met with a lot of resistance.

“The institutional resistance to any kind of change is very deep,” he said. “But certainly through changing procedures within departments, acknowledging through a positive approach toward establishment of goals within departments, establishing procedures for confirming those goals, both on an individual and on a departmental level, we could enhance the self-esteem of the individuals doing the work. Within four years we could find the means for establishing a more effective, responsive government at lower cost.”

As with any minor-party candidate, Laws knew he would have difficulty spreading his message to many Nevadans. His candidacy certainly isn’t helped by media like the Las Vegas Sun, which recently referred to Laws’ run for governor as a splinter-party candidacy.

The easy-going 70-year-old was born in Long Beach, Calif., received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Yale University in 1954, served in the military’s Chemical Corps in the late 1950s and got his master’s in environmental engineering from Harvard in 1971.

Laws said he was never a member of any political party until he joined the Green Party in 1985, so he could not have been part of a splinter party because he had no party to break away from.

“I was very much an adherent to the non-political realm, both as a scientist and as an activist for communities through nonprofit-type activity—conservation groups, energy groups,” Laws said of his past political involvement. “I was elected as a commissioner on a county charter commission, where we actually set out to strengthen the county to give it a little more of what we called ‘home rule’ in Massachusetts. However, I was never attracted to or satisfied by the major parties. And it was not until 1985 that I heard about people who were trying to put all the nonprofit activism together. [Then] we finally had something in hand which dealt with things in a holistic manner.”

He said the Green Party values—especially the 10 Key Values that guide the Green Party platform—appealed to him.

“There is an element of being a progressive but also being strongly aware of the values that hold our society together,” he said. “[And being aware of] how those are being eroded by greed and lust for power and of the resulting loss of family values and community strength, even community identity.”

While big government may be associated with left-wing politics, Laws said the Green Party is actually more interested in making communities stronger at the community level.

“If you take some of the basic conservative values, what underlies the development of our society? What sustains it? Those are essentials,” Laws said. “How you get to expressing those and what they really mean has changed over time. … I feel we have seen [Republicans] adopt business values as being the values that sustain community and society, and they have abandoned family values. So that leaves the far-right parties to keep us aware of the fact that family values are essential.”

But Laws was very clear that he didn’t believe the far right was approaching family values in the correct way: “I don’t think we should adopt politically the values which [the far right] espouses, primarily because I don’t believe that the government should be telling us what to believe.”

While Laws said the government should stay out of people’s personal lives, he did say that Nevada’s government needed to address two issues that he said threaten all Nevadans: scarcity of water and proliferation of nuclear waste. Laws took great exception to Gov. Kenny Guinn’s stance on water in Nevada.

“We have a governor who two or three years ago disassembled the state’s water planning,” Laws said, with a pained tone. “We have systematically done almost everything possible to take away local water commissions’ authorities and abilities to plan. Nevada is a parched state, and to decimate this vague responsibility for planning for water, consumption, provision, treatment, etc., is absolutely outrageous. It is beyond comprehension.”

The first-time governor candidate said that water use would be of utmost importance for Nevadans in coming years.

“The issue is where we use water,” he said. “Conservation doesn’t just mean turning off the water on the lawns and trees, but how we use it in our homes. Flushing our waste with water is something for 35 years that has been a very useful technology for securing public health. In its place, we have to find a more appropriate way for dealing with waste. Even with low-flow toilets, which are a major asset, you still have to deal with the fact that we consume, on average, 100 gallons per person, per day.”

Along with water, the creation of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is something that Laws said affects people around the world. Laws feels so passionately about the subject that when he first announced his candidacy for governor on Mother’s Day, he did so by stepping across a line that the Nye County Sheriff’s Department and federal agents had decided was as far as the protesters would be allowed to go. Laws stood on the line before giving a short speech. He then stepped across to be immediately taken into custody, where he was held by armed guards.

“The cumulative effect is that more people will understand that some of us have the guts to say that [nuclear experimentation] is a violation of life. It is one of the most absurd and heinous abuses that have ever been committed. We are saying, by putting ourselves in some kind of danger, that it is necessary that we do something at this time. We want to be as clear as possible that this has to be stopped."