Larry Gist is running unopposed for the Green Party’s nomination in the governor’s race, except possibly by the party itself.
When the Arizona Green Party released its list of endorsements for the 2010 election, Gist was one of three Green candidates who failed to make the cut.
One candidate later received the party’s seal of approval, and a second withdrew from his legislative race when his petition signatures were challenged. But Gist is a mystery to party officials; they don’t know who he is, what he believes, or whether he truly stands by the Green Party’s principles.
“I think that carpetbaggers in any party are a concern,” said Celeste Castorena, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Green Party. “(Gist) never came forward and worked with us. He never came to a single meeting. What can we say? These are just people who have not been active.”
The Green Party has reason to be wary. In 2008, the Green Party campaigned against a Green candidate in Legislative District 10 who was accused of running at the behest of Republican Rep. Jim Weiers.
The candidate, Margarite Dale, denied that she was running to benefit Weiers. But her husband was the pastor at the then-House speaker’s church, and the Weiers family helped her qualify for Clean Elections funding with $5 qualifying contributions.
Dale didn’t win, but she drew enough votes from Democratic incumbent Jackie Thrasher to help Republican Doug Quelland claim her seat. Dale got 2,358 votes and Thrasher lost by less than 600.
Thrasher, who is running again for her old District 10 seat, said having a Green candidate in the race — whether a legitimate Green or not — contributed to her loss in 2008.
“I think there were probably many reasons, but that was definitely part of it. And having that extra candidate in the race definitely split the vote,” she said. “This year I think they’re trying to be proactive and trying to catch these things before it’s too late.”
Gist did not return several messages and e-mails from the Arizona Capitol Times, and Green Party spokesman Erik Andersen said the party has been unable to reach him as well. Andersen and Luis Heredia, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Gist had been a registered Democrat for several years until shortly before he filed to run for governor in May.
“Those are all flags that as we evaluated this clearly created a need to further seek our relief,” Heredia said.
The Arizona Democratic Party is concerned as well. The party challenged the nominating petitions of two unendorsed Green Party candidates — Gist and Anthony “Grandpa” Goshorn, a House candidate in Legislative District 17. Goshorn dropped out after the challenge, but the complaint against Gist was withdrawn and he will remain on the ballot.
Both candidates were in races where Democrats are expected to be competitive. District 17 is majority Democrat, and the party holds all three of the district’s legislative seats. In the governor’s race, polls show Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard in a tight race with several of the Republican candidates.
The Democratic and Green parties may have both had their eyes on Goshorn and Gist, but their motivations are far different. While the Democrats are worried about Greens siphoning off votes, the Green Party is simply interested in making sure its candidates represent its ideals.
Andersen said the party hasn’t done anything to increase oversight of its candidates because it simply lacks the volunteers or the resources. But he said the Green Party might run a write-in candidate against Gist in the primary.
“We’re not sure yet if we’re planning to run somebody against Gist or if we want to actively oppose him,” he said.
But Green Party candidate Kent Solberg, who is running for the House in District 27, said the party is watching candidates like Gist and Goshorn a little more closely to try to prevent another Margarite Dale from getting on the ballot.
“This concerns us because they could embarrass the party. We don’t know what their political philosophy is. We don’t know what issues they’re going to raise,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what their campaigns are about. Some of them are more communicative than others. So we’ll deal with that in the next month or so.”
Solberg rejected the notion that Green Party candidates cost Democrats elections, an accusation most frequently heard in 2000 after many Democrats blamed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for helping George W. Bush win Florida.
“That’s a fallacy. The Democrats lost two presidential races in a row not because we took away votes but because they ran terrible campaigns,” Solberg said.
The Arizona Green Party, which has just 4,345 registered voters, garners few votes, but members are hoping 2010 could be its most successful year since it was founded 20 years ago. Including Gist, there are nine Green Party candidates running for office, which may be the party’s widest field ever.
It is also the first time since the Arizona Green Party’s founding that it has been recognized by the state as an official party for two consecutive election cycles. The party was decertified for ballot access after 2008, Luisa Valdez said, but in April it submitted the 20,449 signatures it needed to qualify for ballot access in 2010.
Valdez, a Green Party candidate for the House in District 15, said write-ins could give the party as many as 14 candidates, which she said has only happened once before in its 20-year history.
“I think it’s kind of important just to energize our own party and definitely have people for our Greens to vote for,” Valdez said. “It’s one thing to achieve ballot status, but if you don’t have anybody to vote for then it’s kind of difficult.”