AUGUSTA, Maine - Up until now, the Maine Green Independent Party has followed the practice of the state's two major parties by allowing only enrolled members to vote in their primaries. But at its state convention last weekend, the Greens decided to welcome all unenrolled Maine voters to help decide nominees in gubernatorial and legislative contests.
Maine's Greens are sending a simple message to all of the state's unenrolled - or independent - voters: It's our party and you can take part without having to join.
That's something that Green Party Co-chair Gil Harris says should be attractive to voters who do not identify with a political party - and they are the largest voter segment in the state. "There's a growing number of people who have alienated themselves from both of the Maine corporate parties."
With 44,000 registered members, Harris says the Maine Greens have come a long way from their fringe party beginnings, closely aligned with environmental activism and social justice issues. Harris says the party's 10 key values focus on community, diversity and economic sustainability.
"Our 10 key values are really a very mainstream approach to what Americans are thinking," Harris says, "and we just need to get that word out there as to what we do represent. Many people have the idea that the Greens are a fringe party, but if you look at what our real values are and what our platforms represent, they're pretty mainstream."
During the party's annual convention last weekend, the Greens elected a new state committee, and approved by-law changes that included the primary provision. The change will not extend to the Greens's presidential selection process, which is conducted through a caucus.
Still, the open primary system adopted by the Greens should provide a higher profile for the party. And that's something some election watchers say is long overdue.
"Well, I don't think there's any doubt that the Greens have been on the decline in Maine in the post Pat LaMarche era - I don't think there's any doubt about that," says Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
Brewer says the Greens relied on Bangor radio host Pat LaMarche to become the Green Party's standard bearer for governor in 1998 and 2006. Picking up 7 percent and 9 percent of the vote respectively, LaMarche provided a strong personality for the Maine Greens and gave the party a recognizable image.
Since then, Brewer says, the Greens have not been able to field strong candidates, and opening the party primary to independents could provide a much needed shot in the arm.
"The Green profile would seem to have a relatively natural constituency here in Maine," Brewer says. They've been in a lower profile recently. In my opinion that doesn't mean they have to stay that way."
Harris says unenrolled voters should be able to participate in the party's primaries beginning next year.