California's newest statewide political party--the Greens--was born Thursday when Secretary of State March Fong Eu announced that the party appeared to have registered enough voters to qualify for a spot on the ballot for the June primary.
Although known for its environmentalist focus, the Green Party of California can be expected to push other issues as well, possibly including abortion rights, greater access to health care, education reform and a redistribution of the state's tax burden.
"Californians now have an alternative--an activist party standing for diversity, ecology, social justice, peace and grass-roots democracy," said Hank Chapot, a spokesman for the party.
By registering more than 78,992 voters--1% of the number of votes cast in the last statewide election--the Green Party becomes the state's sixth qualified political party. The Greens join the Democrats and Republicans--who control all but two of the 120 seats in the Legislature--and the American Independent, Peace and Freedom and Libertarian parties. The Libertarians, in 1980, were the last to achieve official ballot status.
About two-thirds of the new party's members are women, and about three-fourths are from Northern California, according to party leaders.
So far, the fledgling party is taking most of its new members--about 60%--from the ranks of Democrats, with about 15% coming from Republicans. But Green Party Chairman Kent Smith said the number of former Republicans registering with the Greens is climbing because "we've been hitting the malls lately instead of the (Grateful) Dead concerts."
These percentages, and the Greens' guiding philosophy, which overlaps that of the Democrats, are causing unease among Democratic leaders who fear the Greens could help elect Republicans by siphoning off Democratic votes in close races.
"Now that they've qualified for the ballot, they have the responsibility of deciding who they are going to help and who they are going to hurt," said Bob Mulholland, political director for the Democratic Party.
But many Green leaders--the party is run by consensus with no rigid hierarchy--say that prospect does not bother them because they see little difference between the positions of the two major parties that have dominated California throughout this century.
"We're intent on becoming the leading opposition party in California," said Smith. "We're convinced the Democrats and Republicans are two branches of the same party--the entrenched incumbent Republicrat Establishment."
Still, with new political districts expected to give Republicans a chance to seize control of one or both houses of the Legislature, some Greens have said that they want the party to look closely before jumping into races for the Legislature and Congress.
"In some races when we see good candidates (from other parties) running, we will have no qualms about throwing our support behind those candidates," said Cuest--her full name--a spokeswoman for the Greens in Sacramento. "Our main goal is not to get elected and reelected but to shape policy. We're not intent on being spoilers in every situation."
When Greens do begin showing up on the ballot, they might tend to be younger than candidates running under the Democratic and Republican banners, with more women and minorities among them, according to Michael Twombly, a party spokesman who is a former aide to longtime Democratic Assemblyman John Vasconcellos of Santa Clara.
"There are a lot of minorities and women who have not been able to find a place to run," Twombly said. "The Green Party is a place where they are welcome."
The Green Party of California, which began organizing two years ago, evolved from an organization with roots in Germany where Greens were first elected to Parliament in 1983. The movement has spread to more than 50 countries, including Canada and Mexico, and the state of Alaska. Greens are waging ballot drives in other states, including Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Arizona and Missouri.
Each state Green Party is autonomous, as are the 10 Green Party regions within California.
They share several broad philosophical principles, which they define as ecological wisdom, respect for diversity, nonviolence, post-patriarchal values, grass-roots democracy, decentralization, community-based economics, personal/social/global responsibility, and future focus.
Beyond that, each region and candidate is free to interpret the guiding principles for itself.
Eu said official certification of the Greens will await the year-end voter registration totals from the counties. But preliminary reports show that more than 83,000 Californians had registered with the party by Tuesday.
On Jan. 19, the counties will send their final reports to the state, which will reflect the removal of some newly registered voters from the rolls because the addresses on their registration cards were inaccurate.
Democrat Mulholland said a recent mailing he sent to 20,000 new Greens turned up 4,000 bad addresses. If that ratio is reflected in the Green membership as a whole, the party could fall short of the number of voters it needs to qualify for a place on the ballot.
Times staff writer Paul Feldman contributed to this article.