Seeing Green: Gubernatorial Candidate Anita Rios on the Power of Third Parties to Shape Debate in Ohio

A shift in political momentum nationwide shows a growing interest in and support for third parties. The Old Guard, while still picking up a vast majority of votes, certainly doesn't hold the same sway for many Americans. Toledo resident Anita Rios, whose 2010 run at lieutenant governor brought 58,475 votes to her and Dennis Spisak's ticket, is trying to keep the Green Party alive in Ohio and bring some fresh ideas to counter the confused conservative mishmash of our current governor and boyish ineptitude of his Democratic challenger.

Eric Sandy: You've been on the last couple Green Party tickets. Was there any underlying cause or aspect of this current administration that prompted your run this time around?

Anita Rios: Well, to be perfectly honest with you, each time I have run for statewide office — I've run for lieutenant governor twice and now this time for governor — each of those times I've done that, the underlying issue is maintaining party status. My preference is to not be in this race. I think I would very much like to run for local race here in Toledo that I feel l could actually win maybe. Because of election laws, we're required to run somebody for governor. The laws state you have to get a certain percentage of the vote in order to maintain party status.

ES: Isn't that, like, three percent or something?

AR: It's my understanding that it's actually nebulous. However, I believe it's two percent. There have been two laws that have been struck down by the courts — we and the Libertarians have challenged and won. But what concerns me is that if you look at what the state legislature does here in Ohio, they don't seem to get the message that this is unconstitutional.

ES: In the event that you don't hit that mark, does the party dissolve?

AR: Well, that's what they did to us — at the beginning of this year and the end of last year, that's when all of this was going down. Yeah, they essentially said, "You don't exist anymore." Of course, the courts came back and said, "You do exist." If we're not successful, then, in the courts, we stop being a political party. Now, that doesn't mean we disappear. We were functioning in this state before we had party status. I started working with the Green Party in 2000. That was long before we gained party status. But it's very difficult, because you can only get your candidates on the ballot as Independents and the number of signatures you have to get is very high. It's very difficult to do.

ES: Given that looming threat, what actual causes are driving your campaign?

AR: Since you mentioned the current administration, I would say that it's a very personal run for me. I was employed at the abortion clinic here in Toledo that got closed down because of the change in the law that required clinics to have transfer agreements. Certainly it's been kind of poignant for me to do this race and launch a campaign against Gov. Kasich, who I feel has done some genuine harm to women and women's issues here in this state.

ES: One thing I've noticed is a steady increase in interest for third parties. The numbers bear that out. Have you experienced this firsthand over the past 10 years or so?

AR: When we did the 2000 Nader campaign — in terms of numbers that was very high for us. But, yes, in certain campaigns we've gotten a lot of votes. Interest in third parties is certainly growing — (a cat meows through the phone) I'm sorry, my cat wants to come sit on my lap — and we've seen that throughout the country.

ES: Since gaining party status the Green Party in Ohio has grown in leaps, it looks like.

AR: Here in Lucas County, the Green Party has tripled. I suspect, however, that growth for third parties means something very different than what it would mean for the major parties. I hope that we have many third parties. We're a very progressive party, and we feel that we're able to represent points of view that many Ohioans share, but certainly not all. For some people, we wouldn't be the right fit. I would like to see many small parties at the table.

ES: Well, that's what makes this week's debate so telling. The incumbent won't even be there.

AR: How unfortunate for all of us. This is our tool. I really believe in "We the People." We have such a remarkable model in front of us, and what do we do with it? We play politics. It's all about cynical political calculations that tell Gov. Kasich that it's more feasible for him to ignore the fact that he has competition.

ES: On the other side, through his own doing or politicking from his challenger, Ed FitzGerald's campaign has been interesting. Given some of your shared causes, is that campaign opening a hole that the Green Party could fill, at least in a dialogue sense?

AR: I think that there is always a hole there, regardless of what Ed FitzGerald would or would not have done in this campaign. We fill a hole, because we talk about things that aren't being talked about in politics. Whether Ed FitzGerald (sighs audibly) had a good campaign or a bad campaign, there are just some issues that we have learned by watching the Democrats that they just aren't going to discuss. It's because for both of the major parties, they play politics a certain way. It's a model for politics that's broken.

ES: Economically, your campaign is discussing the creation of a state-chartered bank, legalization of marijuana, and an increase of state minimum wage to $15/hour. Those are significant, if divisive, issues with ramifications that could potentially really improve Ohio. What do you make of the fact that most politicians stay away from that stuff?

AR: When we put those ideas out there, we shift the discussion out there a little bit. But I also think those things are very doable. We need to take a very holistic look at our economic situation. Here in Toledo, we keep talking about an economic recovery. I keep hearing pundits talk about how it's a weak recovery or about how it's a recovery that doesn't involve any significant growth in paychecks for the middle class, and, well, that's not really a recovery. I think when we stop fooling ourselves about that, we force ourselves to start talking about what economic stability means for communities.