The Green machine

Travis County Green Party Co-chair John St. Denis distributes ballots to delegates during the recent Texas Green Party State Convention in Bastrop. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
The Green machine

By Jodie Briggs

Guns, stem-cell research, and spanking: Texas Greens debate their platform

There were no prayer rallies. No one wore red, white, and blue outfits. Instead of gigantic convention halls and blustery pomp and circumstance, the Texas Green Party held its state convention in a middle school cafeteria, where party members heatedly debated 12 amendments to the Green platform including gun control, stem cell research, and corporal punishment.

"There's always a tension between having a detailed platform and one that's more general," said John St. Denis, adding that the Greens have struggled with the number of causes they champion. "You read the Republican and Democratic platforms and they're just these huge documents."

The amendments complement the Green's 10 key values, which include grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, nonviolence, decentralization of power, community-based economics and economic justice, feminism and gender equity, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and sustainability.

Changes to the platform begin at the county level, where Green Party members submit them to their delegates. County delegates then either introduce the item at the convention or send it to convention organizers, who find a proponent for the amendment.

Jack Borinski, who authored an amendment on gun control, explained that tweaking the wording might engender support from people who would otherwise not be inclined to join the Green Party." It would remove the fear that gun owners would have in reading our platform," Borinksi said.

Dallas County leaders suggested adding statements explaining that Greens oppose undue regulations and restrictions on gun ownership. The amendment would also have supported Second Amendment rights and hunters who contribute to conservation projects.

Other members argued that the reference to the Second Amendment raises too many questions of interpretation. "The purpose of a gun is to kill," said one Green member. The comment sparked minutes of debate about the nature and intent of the right to bear arms. "No, the purpose of a gun is to act as a deterrent in a fascist government," countered another Green.

Texas Greens ultimately rejected the amendment, instead adding the terminology: "This platform does not oppose legal ownership of firearms." In contrast, the Republican Party opposes licensing and registration requirements. The Democratic Party supports child safety locks in addition to photo IDs and background checks for purchasing firearms.

Amendments that would have expanded the scope of scientific research also stirred debate. In a harsh rebuke of the current platform that limits stem cell research, Bexar County leaders asked the party to support stem-cell research. "The current administration is putting limits on this," said the author of the amendment. "We need to support the expansion of stem-cell research."

Other Greens feared that such an inclusive statement could open the door for "Frankenstein practices." The amendment failed to win a majority, but the party passed an alternate statement that rejected restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.

"There's always a tension between having a detailed platform and one that's more general."

— John St. Denis

The party also rejected platform changes that infringed on civil liberties. George Reiter, who compared spanking children to the illegal and socially unacceptable practice of wife-beating, proposed an amendment that would criminalize corporal punishment of children. "It's essential in terms of the process of evolution of our society."

Self-described civil libertarians feared the idea of the government encroaching in private homes and rejected the idea of legislation governing child-raising. The Greens did reach a compromise and passed an alternate amendment that encourages education about the use of corporal punishment of children. Neither of the two major parties features the issue in their platforms.

An amendment to end the practice of predatory lending narrowly failed to win a majority. Dallas County leaders called for an amendment opposing pawn shop abuses, accusing these businesses of exploiting the poor by sometimes charging interest rates of 250 percent. "It's like a gun pointed to the head of the poor," said one member. Others criticized the amendment for lacking specific details about shops and suggested a return to Texas' usury laws, which limit lending rates for businesses.

Before concluding their convention on Sunday afternoon, Texas Greens approved an amendment supporting the use of medical marijuana. The Democratic Party wants more research on the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana before making a recommendation while the Republican Party currently rejects its use.

The Greens also passed an amendment supporting the separation of church and state with regard to federal funding. President Bush's faith-based initiative allows religious organizations to compete for federal money.

On that Sunday, while President Bush attended a tee-ball game on the South Lawn of the White House, the Greens concluded their convention, dispersing to their respective counties including Tarrant, Travis, Bastrop, and Bexar to continue their ballot access efforts, membership campaigns, and registration drives. •

By Jodie Briggs