The Montana Green Party held its first statewide convention in 10 years Saturday at the University of Montana's Payne Family Native American Center, where party supporters appointed committee members, elected a candidate for the upcoming special election and heard from Green Party 2016 presidential nominee Jill Stein via Skype.
The all-day convention included an informational workshop on petitioning, speeches from local organizations and free breakfast and lunch, complete with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The event was part of a larger effort on the Green Party's behalf to work locally, according to party organizer Dani Breck.
"We've often been accused of only showing up for presidential elections," Breck said. "So we're trying to fix that. We're focusing on local."
The party's priority, Breck said, is getting a slot on the state's ballot for upcoming elections, including the at-large congressional district special election of 2017, in which a Montana representative will be elected to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke.
Eight Democrats and seven Republicans are also vying for their parties' nomination in the special election to replace Zinke, and both parties will hold nomination conventions in Helena – the Democrats on Sunday and the Republicans Monday.
Ron Vandevender, chair of the Montana Libertarian Party, said it will pick its candidate for the special election at a convention in Helena Saturday.
Breck said a Green Party option is important for Montanans who feel the Democrats no longer support the state's true progressives. Montanans, Breck said, need a political party and representatives who support Native American communities, women, the LGBTQ community and renewable energy options.
Democrats locally and nationally have become far too moderate politically and corrupt morally, according to Montana Green Party Delegate and newly elected Treasurer Cheryl Wolfe.
"The goal of this convention is to give voters a choice," Wolfe said, "if they don't want to vote for a party controlled by corporate donors."
Jill Stein reiterated many of these thoughts when she addressed more than 20 members of the Montana Green Party via Skype Saturday afternoon, despite many attempts at distraction caused by Stein's adorably incessant cat, Willy, who pawed at Stein's face and even unplugged her headphones.
Stein said her introduction into the political world was through her own health activism. As she watched a new generation of children grow up with ailments that seemed nonexistent in the past, including specific cancers, learning disorders and asthma, Stein said she learned about the harmful effects mercury and pollution were having on our nation's children.
When Stein brought "win-win" solutions before her state's legislature – renewable energy and recycling plans, budget cuts to a bloated military – Stein said the politicians wouldn't even consider her measures. That was her "rude awakening."
"The whole political scene is a scam," Stein said. "We the people are silenced and talked out of our power."
Stein said the majority of Americans are unhappy with the nation's current political climate, and the presidential election of 2016 was only an illustration. Most supporters of President Donald Trump, Stein said, didn't see their votes as being for Trump, but rather votes against Hillary Clinton.
Stein said the American people don't need to be persuaded that the country's duopoly democracy has failed them. Instead, she said, they need viable solutions, starting with ranked choice voting. A ranked choice voting system allows voters to vote for multiple candidates in order of preference, and is legislation that can be passed on local and state levels.
Maine recently adopted a ranked-choice voting system, Stein said, and the system allows people to vote morally.
In her closing sentiments, Stein gave the Montana Green Party words of encouragement.
"You can do this," Stein said. "You have everything it takes. In fact you have more, because you aren't slaves to the corporate system."
Of course, it was a ranked-choice voting system the Montana Green Party used to nominate Thomas Breck as the party's candidate for the 2017 special election. While the party has a slim chance at replacing Zinke – it would need to gather 5,000 signatures in the next four days just to get a spot on the ballot – a plan to sue the state of Montana on charges of unfair access to the ballot is in the works.
While the party essentially elected Breck as a plaintiff for the lawsuit, he pledged his allegiance to the Green Party's platform, saying it was his children who inspired him to make an effort to better the world.
"I don't want to be a politician," Breck said. "I want to be a representative of the people."