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Green Party seeks to challenge Republicans, federal appeals court to decide

By Richard Lawson, Editor DeKalb County Times


  1. Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Diane Black and Republican challenger Lou Ann Zelenik continue to duke it out over who is more conservative.

    Black wants to keep her job and Zelenik wants to take it from her in the rare primary challenge of an incumbent.

    Whoever wins the Republican primary is pretty much a shoe in for the Sixth Congressional District seat since Democrats aren’t challenging.

    But Patrick John Denver Riley of Lancaster, Tenn., sure would like a shot if the Green Party could get recognized as a political party in Tennessee and have the name appear next to his in November.

    In political terms, Riley, a local musician who favors Ron Paul but also green jobs and sustainability, is a small guy going against giants.

    He wants a fair shot at taking on the Republican, arguing that it’s not good for representative democracy to have someone run unopposed, that there should always be an alternative.

    A July 25 federal appeals court hearing could decide the Green Party’s fate across the state by upholding a federal court ruling earlier this year that state law dealing the minor political parties was unconstitutional.

    In all, the Tennessee Green Party has fielded 12 candidates for congressional races. “We’ve never had 12 candidates before,” said Katey Culver, the party’s co-chair.

    The Green Party ideals include non-violence, decentralization of wealth and power, gender equality and general environmental friendliness.

    While those ideals gives off what many may view as leftist, Riley sounds as conservative, if not more so, than the Republicans in the race. He wants the government out of your life, so much so, he supports abolishing the Internal Revenue Service. He supports stopping illegal immigration but also wants to end the War on Drugs as well as wars in general because they are bankrupting the country.

    He’s a Second Amendment guy, which is popular in these parts. Riley can give you chapter and verse about living without debt.

    “You get into debt you become a slave,” Riley said. “Debt reduces your freedom. And our country is in deep. The Founding Fathers probably didn’t think it should be that way.”

    Personally, Riley said he’s been debt free for 13 years. “I’m pretty free,” he said. “I live a simple life.”

    All politicians lately have seized on the message of cutting the debt and spending to get elected.

    “What people say and what people do are two different things,” Riley said.

    He’s a Ron Paul fan for the most part. They differ, however, on returning to the gold standard and abortion.

    “Ideally, I’m pro-life but realistically pro-choice,” Riley said, adding that health education should be a much big focus in schools.

    He can, however, go full circle into the Green ethos with his stated guiding principle: “Get lost in nature and find peace.”

    But his message gets lost if his party can’t on the ballot. 

    The Green Party has been battling the ballot issue in federal court for a year and has won. Federal Judge William Haynes ruled in the Green Party’s favor in February that Tennessee’s laws regarding political parties are unconstitutional.

    Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper appealed the ruling, arguing the laws don’t inhibit minor political parties.

    “The state has a right, if not an obligation, to limit access to the general election ballot to only those political parties that enjoy a substantial modicum of support among the electorate,” the state has argued in its filing. “The state’s ballot-access scheme does not unduly burden a minor-party’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights; the district court erred in concluding otherwise.”

    The Green Party along with others has been in court for years arguing that the states election laws regarding political parties are unfair and favor the majority parties.

    In 2010, Haynes ruled in favor the Green Party’s position and the state legislature made changes. Culver said legislators wouldn’t take input from the Green Party or others not belonging to major parties.

    Culver contended that law wasn’t changed substantially enough.

    “Those rules have been used to keep people from making a party,” she said.

    The legal arguments breakdown into the arcane language of court fights. Basically, the state has argued changes to law this year in how minor parties nominate their candidates, eliminating the mandatory primary requirement and makes part of the Green Party argument moot.

    Then there’s the argument over the deadlines for filing a petition with the state to get the party on ballots. The deadline is the last Thursday in April if a party uses a primary to choose a candidate. Otherwise, it’s 90 days before a general election for the petition, with the state arguing that the deadlines keep the state in line with federal election laws.

    Judge Haynes ruled that a deadline in excess of 60 days prior to the August primary was unenforceable. He went so far as to include in his ruling that the state “conduct a public random drawing for the order of placement of the political parties’ candidates’ names on the general election ballot.”

    Culver said state officials have dragged their feet interim and haven’t follow the judge’s orders even after state attorneys failed to hold off the judgment pending the appeal.

    “They’ve really handicapped our capabilities,” Culver said. The result is candidates don’t get invited to candidate forums and other political events along with the major party candidates.

    “It seems the state is intent on doing whatever it wants to do,” she said.