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Green Party's Political Deforms

In Pennsylvania politics, even reformers are embarrassing

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To live outside the two-party system, you must be honest. Bob Dylan said that, more or less. Too bad he never signed Carl Romanelli's election petition.

A lot of other celebrities — alive and dead — have supported Pennsylvania's Green candidate for U.S. Senate. Supposedly. Among the signatures found on Romanelli's petitions: Robert Redford, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jesus Christ.

You'd have thought Oswald had done enough harm to Democrats already, though I was glad to see the Savior's name on there: Incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, almost convinced me that Jesus was a Republican.

My personal favorite Romanelli backer, though, is one "Jack MeOff," who apparently resides on "Cum Street," city unlisted.

These names are among thousands Democrats say were forged. In fact, at least one of Romanelli's apparent backers, Mickey Mouse, also signed petitions for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign back in 2004. Because of such forgeries, Pennsylvania Democrats had Nader disqualified from the state ballot; they're trying to do the same to Romanelli as this issue goes to press.

The fraud itself is bad enough. Even worse, the Romanelli campaign didn't identify Mr. MeOff's hometown as Intercourse, Pa. Clearly, this was an out-of-state effort.

Indeed, Romanelli's campaign hired a Florida firm to gather signatures. It paid for the service with money raised from Republicans. Other than $30 Romanelli contributed himself, the Web site tpmmuckraker.com reports, Romanelli's $66,000 campaign war chest was bankrolled entirely by the GOP. Clearly, Republicans hope Romanelli will peel off votes from Santorum's Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Bob Casey. The gambit is so obvious that even the conservative American Spectator magazine accuses Romanelli of being "bought and owned by another party's candidate."

"I hope I'm wrong, but I see this as the death knell for the Green Party in Pennsylvania," says Michael Morrill, who ran as a Green candidate for governor in 2002 but who left the party earlier this year. "We never had power, we never had money. All we had was our integrity. When you lose that, what's the difference between you and anyone else?"

Ask Romanelli's fellow would-be "reformer," gubernatorial candidate Russ Diamond. Diamond founded the group PACleanSweep to oppose the Harrisburg pay raise of 2005. But when Diamond used the organization as a platform to run for governor — surprise, surprise — his former allies denounced him as being "no better than the payjackers." Diamond then demonstrated his commitment to political openness by trying to purge his rivals from the PACleanSweep board.

Why do reformers end up being as shady as the hacks they seek to replace? The easy excuse is … Pennsylvania's election law makes them do it. Under that law, statewide third-party candidates had to come up with 67,000 signatures to get on this year's ballot; Democrats and Republicans needed only 2,000 signatures.

Major-party candidates even get a break when they're accused of fraud. Take state Rep. Michael Diven, the South Hills Republican whose campaign has also been accused of compiling fraudulent election petitions. Diven withdrew from the May primary before an elections judge could assess the petitions. But his supporters conducted a write-in campaign to put him on the Republican ticket. Diven is now assured of a place on the November ballot, all because he did an end-run around the court review Romanelli now faces.

That isn't fair. It's also unfair that Democrats and Republicans can pass strict election laws that limit our choices.

But these third-party fiascos — Nader's, Diamond's, Romanelli's — mock the idea of choice itself. Greens have long argued that there's little difference between Democrats and Republicans. Now Romanelli is taking Republican money to buy signatures because … well, what's the difference? A healthy contempt for politics-as-usual can turn into contempt for the political process.

While Morrill supports efforts to make it easier to get on the ballot, his advice to third-party candidates is to "do what the Christian Coalition did: run for local offices like school board." That may not be as glamorous as running for Senate, but Morrill is proof it can work: Elected to the borough council of West Reading, he has worked with a Republican majority to enhance local recycling efforts, and to pass an ordinance limiting mercury emissions.

The "purists" in the reform movement might be impatient with such halfway measures. But at least they appeal to voters who actually exist.

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