Howie Hawkins may be the Green Party’s presidential nominee, but he isn’t Jill Stein—or at least, he can’t be, because he’s not on the ballot in as many swing states as Stein was in 2016. Courts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania decided this week to keep his party’s ticket off of the 2020 ballots. But Hawkins told me he’s not Kanye West either, even though Republican operatives have been helping both the Green Party and West’s “Birthday Party.” People who believe that West’s effort and his are the same, Hawkins said, “are gullible.”
Hawkins is running not to win, he told me, but to get his party better ballot access for local races in the future. If his candidacy ends up being the reason Donald Trump is reelected, “I won’t like it,” Hawkins said. But, he added, he thinks that’s unlikely. Speaking with me for the latest episode of The Ticket, he insisted he’s not a spoiler, and said he’s been abandoned and vilified by progressives who he believes should support him.
Listen to our conversation here:
Here’s a sample of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: You were involved with the starting of the Green Party in America. And here you are as the presidential nominee. How does that happen?
Howie Hawkins: Bad luck. I never wanted to run for president. In fact, my message to that first Green organizing meeting back in August 1984 was that we can’t build the party out of a presidential campaign. I’ve been through that with the Peace and Freedom Party in 1968, the two People’s Party campaigns in ’72 and ’76, and the Citizens Party campaign in 1980. People put a lot of effort into the presidential campaigns, but there was nothing left afterwards. So I said we’ve got to organize local groups and start getting involved in local politics. And I still believe that. And ironically, as I later learned, to be able to run local candidates, you got to have ballot lines. And in 40 of the 50 states, the presidential vote is a factor that determines whether you have a ballot line going forward, which makes it a lot easier to run local candidates. I’ve been involved in the Greens for a long time, and I was minding my own business—and a bunch of people drafted me to run at the beginning of 2019 and took a few months to convince me. But I was finally persuaded. So here I am.
Dovere: Do you think that the Green Party would have been in better shape if you had started out as a party running for president?
Hawkins: No, I think what we did in 1984 is go out and organize those local groups. So by the time Ralph Nader was ready to let us use his name in ’96— he didn’t run an active campaign, but he let us use his name to get ballot lines—we got on over 30 ballots because we had an organization on the ground. And that led to the 2000 campaign where Nader ran all-out.
Dovere: You told The Washington Post that of the Republican lawyers helping you out in Wisconsin, “you get help where you can find it.” So were you being supported by Republicans in your efforts there?
Hawkins: Apparently, the lawyers are Republicans. We sought out progressive lawyers that were recommended to us. They didn’t get back to us. So, you know, you go to court, you need a lawyer. And these are the lawyers we could get.
Dovere: Are Republicans helping out anywhere else beyond Wisconsin?
Hawkins: Our campaign has had no contact with Republican officials. Republicans, like Democrats, play games behind the scenes. We’ve seen that for years. Here in New York, they will seed some people into the Green Party so they can collect petitions and put in a phony Green candidate who is really a Republican who thinks they’re going to split the Democratic vote—which I don’t think actually works that well, but that’s what they try to do. These games go on. It’s one of the reasons people are disgusted with both major parties and they want something else.
Dovere: Does it concern you, though, that that might be part of what the motivation here is, from folks who—even though you don’t want to be a spoiler—are trying to make you one?
Hawkins: They’re looking at one little weed in the whole forest and they’re not dealing with the whole forest, which is what has really impacted, say, the presidential elections? Black-voter suppression going back to what Kathleen Harris did in Florida [as the state’s secretary of state during the contested 2000 presidential election], even before you get to the vote count and the hanging chads and all that. If the Black vote hadn’t been suppressed like it was in Florida, [Al] Gore would have easily won. In 2016, those 75,000 votes were never counted in Detroit. It was the Greens in court trying to get them counted, and we didn’t have standing because, the judge ruled, we couldn’t win the election even if all those votes went to us. But the Clinton lawyers were there, and the judge asked them if they wanted to get involved. They said, “Oh, no, we’re just observing.” And then they turn around and blame us.
Dovere: Kanye West is also running, saying he’s the candidate of the Birthday Party—though he doesn’t seem to have a clear platform for why he’s running or a clear rationale for it. Should he be on the ballot?
Hawkins: I think Kanye West is a Republican dirty trick. If Roger Stone didn’t think of it, he wished he had. The Birthday Party? I mean, come on. There has to be some criteria for getting on the ballot. Anybody with money can hire petitioners and get on the ballot. There should be some threshold for recognizing parties—a level of organization, so there’s really a base there, and they should be allowed to make their nominations by convention.
Dovere: With Republicans helping the Green Party out, some Democrats would say there’s not much difference between what you’re doing and what West is doing.
Hawkins: Well, I think some people are gullible. I heard Rachel Maddow call us a Republican op the other night. But that doesn’t mean that’s the reality. We are a serious movement. We’ve been around for 35 years. There is a difference. And if people don’t see that, they’re not stopping to think.
Dovere: Many progressives, including Bernie Sanders, have taken the approach that they have to support Biden even if they don’t agree with him, for the sake of stopping Trump. What do you make of that?
Hawkins: The Green Party is a second front against Trump, and the question for progressives like Bernie Sanders is, how are you going to vote against Trump? You’re going to vote for the guy who’s against your signature issue, Medicare for All, or are you going to vote for the Greens, who are for Medicare for All? … You vote for Biden, he’s not for those things. And your support for those things gets lost in the sauce. You’re just another Biden voter. Don’t waste your vote. Make your vote count. Vote for the kind of things you want, and make the politicians come to you.
Dovere: In 2016, the Green Party won more votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin than Donald Trump’s margins for victory. If something like that happens again, people might say Howie Hawkins is the reason why Donald Trump is reelected. Would you be comfortable being in that situation?
Hawkins: Well, I won’t like it. I think it’s unlikely. The polls have been pretty steady. Biden’s set up to win in an Electoral College landslide, and the voting is starting. I want Trump out of there more than the damn Democrats do. They could have impeached his sorry behind, you know, early on for all kinds of lawlessness and self-serving and violations of things like the emoluments clause, telling Border Patrol people to break the law. There’s just a whole long rap sheet that could have mobilized public opinion around an impeachment based on how he was hurting workers and consumers and the environment. They had a chance. I don’t think they fight the fight so hard. And the other assumption in that, you know, accusation that no doubt would be thrown at me is that our people would have voted for Biden if I wasn’t on the ballot. And we know from 2016 exit polls that 61 percent of Jill Stein’s voters would have stayed home.
Dovere: Would the issues you care about be better off if Trump were president or if Biden were president?
Hawkins: “Better off” is too positive a word. They’d be maybe less bad.
Dovere: Do you ever have any moment where you think, This might work out, and I’ll be the president of the United States?
Hawkins: No, I really haven’t thought that. We’re building a movement. We’re trying to get ballot lines so we can elect thousands of Greens to go into the 2020s.
Dovere: Are you in touch with Jill Stein at all?
Hawkins: I talk to her occasionally and give her advice, and sometimes she asks for my advice.
Dovere: What kind of advice has she offered?
Hawkins: The latest thing was the Federal Elections Commission wants her to give back a whole lot of money in matching funds she got. And we have a matching funds application in.
Dovere: In 2016, she raised a lot of money for a recount effort in Wisconsin. But then she used some of that money to pay her own legal bills around some of the inquiries that were going on with her. Have you discussed that with her?
Hawkins: I was not in the details on that. I do know they separated their recount money from the party money.