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Howie Hawkins is running again — this time, for president

Howie Hawkins speaks with the Post-Star editorial board in Glens Falls in October 2018 while he was running for governor. (Provided photo — The Post-Star)

New York is the home state of President Donald Trump and two Democrats who hope to replace him, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Last Tuesday, another New York resident put his name forward — Howie Hawkins is running to be the Green Party candidate for U.S. president.

Hawkins, a retired teamster from Syracuse, is famous for running in whatever races the Green Party he helped found needs, including last year’s New York gubernatorial election, but this is his first real run at the presidency.

“(Before) I had a time clock to punch at UPS, so I had a good excuse,” he said.

Hawkins has already embarked on a multi-state swing through the South, and he spoke to the Times while driving between Atlanta and Birmingham on Monday. Like most of his other runs, this campaign was not his idea.

“A bunch of Greens asked me to (run),” he said.

Among those asking, Hawkins said, was former 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and it seems that Hawkins may have a relatively smooth path to the nomination. Although 13 other candidates have registered with the Federal Election Commission to run for the Green Party nomination, Hawkins said he does not think all of them are necessarily serious — it is unlikely, for example, that “West, Kanye Deez Nutz” is making a determined bid for the Oval Office on the Green Party ticket.

Hawkins has three main planks in his platform: advocating for radical action on climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and an economic bill of rights.

“I’m the first person in this country to run for a Green New Deal,” he said, during a gubernatorial run in 2010.

He is happy Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats have brought attention to it but is less impressed with the version they are advocating.

“They’ve watered it down,” he said. “We want to get to 100 percent clean energy by 2030; they push it to 2050.”

The Green New Deal is connected to issues of economic reform as well as renewable energy. Hawkins is advocating for universal health care, the right to a good job, a living minimum wage, free public college and affordable housing, among other things. To implement these ambitious goals, Hawkins wants a World War II-style all-out push, nationalizing fossil fuel companies and building alternative energy plants across the country. The companies would then be turned over the workers on a cooperative ownership model.

“When we talk ecological socialism, that’s what we mean — economic democracy,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins is currently working on a budget for his Green New Deal, which he expects will cost something like $2 trillion a year for 20 years. By comparison, the Congressional Budget Office projects $4.4 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year 2019.

The result of this significant outlay, Hawkins said, would be 23 million new jobs, 6 million of them in manufacturing — more jobs than Americans who currently need them.

“It’s labor that’s the bottleneck” for switching to renewable energy, Hawkins said. “Everyone can get good jobs. Wages would come up.”

For this and other reasons, Hawkins thinks the U.S. should loosen immigration restrictions, regularizing the status of those here without documentation and adopting a European Union open border policy — anyone who stops at the border and checks in can live, work and visit the United States.

Hawkins also has a third priority, one he said has not received enough attention from the current candidates — nuclear non-proliferation. He is concerned about the United States pulling out of nuclear agreements and modernizing tactical nuclear weapons. Instead of mutual disarmament, he worries the country could get pulled into a nuclear exchange with Russia, China or possibly North Korea.

“We’re into a new nuclear arms race,” he said.

Hawkins has sweeping proposals on a variety of other issues.

On criminal justice, for example, he favors legalizing marijuana, wiping prior offenses from people’s records and decriminalizing hard drugs. He wants law enforcement resources to focus more on white collar crime and white nationalist terror groups, and bring back Justice Department oversight of local police department misconduct.

On the issue of reparations for African Americans, he said the party has long supported an official government study — H.R. 40 — and in the meantime thinks the country can make a “down payment” in the form of an economic bill of rights.

The core of his campaign, though, remains the twin issues of economic inequality and environmental degradation. Hawkins has run and lost too many races to be unrealistic about this run for the presidency, but he is optimistic about shaping the national narrative.

“This is about organizing and positioning ourselves,” he said. “Everyone will have to talk about the Green New Deal we put forward.”

With increased grassroots environmental organizing in the U.S. and recent Green Party victories in the European Union parliamentary elections, he thinks the Green Party can be a trend setter and a refuge for progressives — including, if not especially in the South, where he is now traveling — fed up with establishment candidates.

“Working-class people are going to say, ‘I don’t like either one of them; I’m going to stay home,'” Hawkins said. “We’re reaching for poor people, young people, people of color who don’t vote as much. … We’re not going to spoil it; we’re going to improve it.”

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