Cynthia McKinney goes green

The controversial congresswoman brings her campaign for the Green Party presidential nomination to Sacramento

Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney shares her message at Carol’s Books on May 12.

Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney shares her message at Carol’s Books on May 12.

Photo By Anne Stokes

For more information on Cynthia McKinney’s campaign, go to

Want to see the state’s multibillion dollar budget deficit disappear? Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney says it’s a snap. If we cease spending money on the war in Iraq today, the state budget could be balanced overnight. Well, almost overnight. The controversial former congresswoman from Georgia estimates the United States spends $1 billion on the war every two days, so it would take 40 days to cancel out the state’s $20 billion deficit.

“We need to end U.S. wars abroad, extend health care to all and increase resources for students in kindergarten through colleges and universities,” she told a small but enthusiastic crowd during a campaign stop at Carol’s Books on May 12.

As the first black woman in Georgia elected to the House of Representatives, the outspoken McKinney instantly became a magnet for Republican attacks. Her views on 9/11 U.S. foreign policy and the Katrina debacle, considered heresy by mainstream media, are in fact shared by many Americans, if not the Democratic Party.

So, McKinney, who served six terms as a Democrat (1993-2003 and 2005-07), has gone Green. The daughter of a police officer who became a Georgia congressman after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 thanked her supporters for their hospitality. “It’s almost like I’m back in the South,” she said.

McKinney has been campaigning throughout Northern California, in the Bay Area and Humboldt and Sonoma counties, where Green Party support is strong. In Sacramento, she noted that politicians of both stripes, Republican and Democrats, are fiddling while Rome burns, expending treasure on an elective war even as health-care and social-service programs face deep spending cuts. The Democrat and GOP presidential candidates, as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are not having this discussion, but should be, she said.

The reason they are not, in her view, is that they embody the failed “two-party paradigm” that supports the corporate status quo and strengthens the political power wielded by the financier class.

Such candor has come crashing down upon McKinney in the past. In 2006, after heavily criticizing the war on terror and the illegal surveillance of American citizens, Republicans targeted her for elimination, urging the rank and file in Georgia to cross party lines during the Democratic primary and vote for McKinney’s opponent. She lost, and now the same tactic is being employed against Democrats via Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” to disrupt this summer’s Democratic Convention.

“All political parties should be able to select their own candidates,” McKinney said, decrying her state’s open primary system. California banned cross-party voting due in part to Supreme Court decisions such as California v. Jones in 1990.

McKinney hopes to reach Americans not typically involved with the Green Party. She may find its message has become more palatable now than ever. The party’s key values, ratified eight years ago, are not out of sync with the current beliefs of many Americans: promoting peace, improving the environment and health care, reducing poverty and inequality across color and gender lines.

An AP-Yahoo news survey of more than 1,800 people done last year found that 54 percent support national single-payer health-care insurance. A survey of more than 2,000 doctors in the Annals of Internal Medicine this April found that 59 percent back the same plan. Yet no presidential candidate from either major political party support single-payer health care.

McKinney supports a nonprofit single-payer system like Medicare, the federal program which serves about 50 million elderly Americans, that would insure every American. That would swiftly improve the lives of the 47 million people without insurance, 70 percent of whom have jobs, but no employer-provided health plan. Expanding Medicare would also help the 17 million people under age 65 who are under-insured, meaning the cost of their health-care coverage, the co-pays and deductibles, forces them to forgo filling prescriptions, seeing a physician, and getting medical tests or treatment.

What we need to bring such popularly supported programs to fruition, McKinney stressed, is a social uprising akin to the civil rights and women’s rights movements.

“Politics is like a chess game. We move some pieces and we gain advantages,” she said. In particular, she’d like to see the party make inroads to minority communities. “We have to run more candidates on the Green Party ticket to spread awareness of its values in relation to issues which communities of color are dealing with, like racial profiling and police brutality.”

Of course, spreading awareness requires money, the lubricating juice of U.S. politics. In the past, Green Party candidates have run electoral campaigns deep into the red, versus the enormous sums raised by Democratic and GOP candidates, which allows them to communicate with more voters via electronic and print ads. The U.S. Supreme Court strengthened this system of cash-register democracy in a 1976 ruling that equated political donations to free speech. Neither major party seems inclined to reverse it.

There is the voluntary public-financing system. To qualify for federal matching funds, McKinney has to raise at least $5,000 in 20 states, the Federal Election Commission’s “threshold requirement.” Upon meeting this level “the federal government (taxpayers) will match up to $250 of an individual’s total contributions to an eligible candidate,” according to the FEC.

Contrast the amount of public money available to McKinney with the cash the two top Democratic presidential candidates have amassed. Sen. Barack Obama had raised more than $190 million and Sen. Hillary Clinton over $151 million by late April, according to Richard Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain? Though his campaign was on its deathbed a year ago, he may be eligible for $85 million in public financing, depending on the resolution of a dispute within the FEC.

With no real chance to win the game, could McKinney be a spoiler, a candidate who will draw voters away from the Democratic nominee, throwing the election to the Republicans? She says it’s doubtful. “That’s an argument made by people not familiar with the facts,” she said, citing the role consumer advocate Ralph Nader played in the past two presidential contests. “Democrats want to conceal their role in Bush’s ascendancy and the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections.”

Not coincidentally, since they share many of the same views, Nader is McKinney’s strongest opponent in the race to gain the Green Party nomination. As of mid-May, McKinney led the race with 167 national delegates from 17 state primaries. Nader trailed her with 113 delegates. The primaries allot delegates to the national Green Party convention in Chicago, July 11 to 13. McKinney must garner a majority of the 836 delegates to be nominated.

Who might she choose as vice president? “I’m involved in the hunt for delegates now, and it’s not the time to discuss a running mate,” McKinney said.

Then she was off to UC Davis to speak on the politics of poverty as part of Justice Week, one step closer to the Green Party nomination.