State Senate candidate Asher Platts: “We definitely have a democracy crisis”


Asher Platts is a State Senate candidate in Portland, Maine. He is running as a Green Independent, and he is also Statewide Chair of the party.

Platts also maintains a vibrant blog and video channel as the Punk Patriot, though his campaign has been occupying much of his time as of late. He is also a musician, a screen printer and a volunteer. We discussed what he calls the “democracy crisis” in Maine and the country at large, the Green Party, and why the concept of political corruption is not as simple as some people think.

Just to let you know, I am recording.

Oh, thank you.

Yes, unlike the NSA, I will let you know about it. “I welcome the debate.” You said earlier in our conversation that you made $11,000 last year doing whatever you could, which is far below the poverty line.

Yes, although the most I have ever made was working at L.L. Bean in the factory and I made $17,000 a year, so I am pretty strongly coming from working class roots. [Laughs]

And maintaining those roots.

Yeah, if I could make more while doing the social justice work that I do, I would love to. Having to worry about making rent constantly sucks. Some of the paid work that I have done pays very little but I have gotten to travel. Last Summer I was out working on a campaign in California. They had no money to pay me but they took care of my flight out and I got $300 for a month for 80 hours of work per week, but I got to see the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, which was cool.

So what are you up to now? Why are you knocking on doors?

I am currently running for State Senate here in Portland. I am running as a Green. I spent the first ten years of my political life as a Democratic Party activist and turn after turn through the Iraq War and the way the Democrats kept authorizing funding… And saying publicly that they don’t condone torture but after leaks it would turn out that not only did they condone it, they were complicit by not doing anything about it… Between all of that and impeachment proceedings, which the Democratic Party activist base was trying to do everything in their power to bring against the Bush Administration for war crimes and the leadership was doing everything that could be done to stop that from happening. Then from 2008 to 2010, when the party controlled the House, Senate and presidency, and here in Maine they controlled the governorship and both sections of the legislature, nothing progressive happened. In fact, here in Maine in 2009, Democrats voted for a flat tax, which is just crazy to me.

I became very disillusioned. I had believed very strongly in the idea that you stay in the Democratic Party and reform it but I had spent ten years doing that and it had only gotten worse. I had worked for Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign and I saw the immune response the party has within its various apparatuses to any progressive voices and I was just like, alright, this entire power structure has been build to prevent itself from reform. So I gave up on trying to reform an essentially broken structure and decided to work towards building a different structure entirely. The Green Party is that structure.

We are trying to build the party. We’re only 4% of the vote statewide, though it is a little bit higher in Portland. We’re not at 15% and we’re not at 30%, which is where I want to see us. I am not trying to steal away registered Democrats or anything like that. It’s not going to happen. With all of the cuts that are coming from both sides of the aisle now and with Obama going even further than Bush by having a kill list, if anybody is still a Democrat at this point—if they’re not unenrolled or identifying with another party at this point—they’re not going to change.

So you’re trying to pull people who are unregistered and unaffiliated to the Green Party?

So many people don’t even vote. The figures are going to change from year to year, but the number of eligible voters that don’t even bother to vote hovers around 60%. And why would they? Who do they have to vote for who represents their interests?

So now I am running for the State Senate to be someone to advocate for those people. And I am also running to win, which I want to be clear about. I ran in 2012 and I think I ran a lot more tame of a campaign. I myself had this idea that my then-opponent [State Senate President Justin Alfond] really was this super progressive guy but over the past two years—and looking over the past 6 that he has been in Augusta—he has been not LePage, but I have not really seen him advance the ball down the court. So it is great that he is sentimentally for raising the minimum wage and indexing a living wage to the cost of living and changing the tax structure so the rich are taxed more fairly, but where are the bills?

With the exception of Maine People’s Alliance, which occasionally calls for occupation of the State House on particular days… and it isn’t even occupation, it is usually single day actions… Why do you think that the state party does not make more earnest attempts to rally their base more assertively and radically to ensure that their rhetorical philosophies are actually turned into laws?

That is a good question, though I don’t know the answer. It is really a question for the Democratic Party leadership. My theory is that it is the same reason we see Sen. Max Baucus call for police to remove single-payer activists from Affordable Care Act hearings, which is to say that both of the parties have lots of paid staff that have to make their salaries. And the leadership places a lot of pressure on people who raise money from corporations. We have this idea that a lobbyist walks into a politician’s office and drops money on the desk and then the politician is corrupted, but it works the opposite way. They are getting pressure from their party to raise the money. They are calling the lobbyists in and asking them to do fundraisers for their parties and campaigns and they tell them, “You know, this last session I did really good for your company. Can you please do a fundraiser for me and invite all of your rich friends for me and let’s raise $100,000 in a night?” I think that’s a huge part of [why no real action is taken].

Regardless of that, there is a growing disconnect between those who are in power and those who are not. As [American Economist, and member of the Green Party Shadow Cabinet] Dr. Richard Wolff said, there is an abyss between the governors and the governed. Even see this in 2008 with Barack Obama, where he had this great activist network built up through Obama for America and then they just kind of changed tack and had back-door meetings with captains of industry. Were he a true, insurgent progressive voice, he could have worked separate from the party like Howard Dean has done with DFA. I think that has been an effective strategy to a large extent. But I think another effective strategy is just to get out of the party.

The state-wide party has had a pretty active ramp-up effort. You have the most people on the ballot since 2002. Can you talk a bit about that process?

We have been trying to go around the state and register more voters into the party. That is something we have been doing for a long time, but we haven’t been doing a great job of calling people to organize locally. We have had basically no money to do anything and no paid staff, so a big key component shift for us is to use data management software to keep better track of our donors, volunteers and activists so we can do a better job of turning our personal networks into a party base.

We have a real variety of people running this year. We have farmers, recent college graduates and retired attorneys. We have one guy—Mark Diehl—in South Portland who is a retired corporate attorney and he decided that he couldn’t do it anymore because he was losing his soul. Now he is running for State Senate.

What is the Green Party pushing for?

We are pushing for transformational politics. It is not just a matter of getting into power in the existing structure. We want to change the structure so that it is more democratic, so that there are more opportunities for citizen participation. In Iceland, the Pirate Party was able to introduce really serious structural reforms to their democracy there in addition so some of the buzz-wordy things like crowd-sourcing the constitution. There are some serious things [happening there] that I think we should look at here in Maine. They were having all of the same sort of bi-partisan problems that we have in the United States and here in Maine. They have proportional representation in their Congress. They have a none-of-the-above option [on the ballot]. And, by the way, there was a revolution in Iceland in 2009 where the government was scrapped and we didn’t really hear about it here.

We have a fiscal crisis, but really we have a democracy crisis. There is a lack of the ability to have a real say about how decisions are made in our workplaces and government and pretty much anywhere we make choices about how the resources of society are divvied up and used. We take for granted how many of our choices are made for us by extremely wealthy people on Wall Street ahead of time. We definitely have a democracy crisis. More democracy. More civic participation. That is what is going to make change. Your vote is your interaction with the government and if we have a lack of information transferring through any system of power, corporation or government, we are going to have problems of corruption. We are going to have problems of people feeling as if they have no efficacy at all.

PHOTO CREDIT: Susan Hopkins

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.