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John Eder (born January 18, 1969) is a Green Party Leader, social activist, and American politician from the U.S. state of Maine. Eder lives in Portland and is a member of the Maine Green Independent Party, the Maine affiliate of the national Green Party. He has served in the Maine House of Representatives as the legislature's first member of the Green Party for two terms and was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2004. Until his defeat in 2006 Eder was one of only a handful of independent or third party state legislators in the country and was the highest-ranking elected Green official in the United States.

BiographyEdit

Raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Eder left an abusive and alcoholic home at the age of 15. After moving between friends and relatives and finally being homeless he became a ward of the court and entered the Hope House facility for troubled boys in Port Jefferson, New York. At age eighteen Eder entered college in Buffalo, New York to study philosophy. Disenchanted with college and suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression as a result of a difficult childhood, Eder soon grew restless and dropped out. He spent the next several years studying philosophy on his own and working at the Greyhound bus station in Buffalo. Inspired by Buddhist teachers and the writings of the Beat poet Jack Kerouac, Eder traveled around the country—backpacking, hitchhiking, riding freight trains, and working as a migrant farm laborer. He went from place to place volunteering and engaging in direct action around a wide range of social justice issues. He spent this period squatting amongst a network of travelers from New York City to Mexico. While living in Austin, Texas he did a short stint as a Hare Krishna. A girlfriend from this period of Eder's life recounts her relationship with him in a popular episode of This American Life entitled "Cringe." "I love connecting with all kinds of people and hearing their stories," Eder said. "In my travels I learned that American people, especially the poorest ones, would give you the shirt off their backs and that they valued honor, family and friendship above all. It all made me very hopeful for this country."

In 1997 Eder took a cross-country bicycle trip that ended in Maine. He was briefly married to a woman who picked him up hitchhiking there. He lived in a solar-powered shack in the Western Maine Mountains with no running water and later attended massage school in Portland. In 1998 he was practicing massage, caring for the mentally ill, and painting houses when he became the co-chair of the Portland Green Party. In 2002 leaders of the Maine Green Independent Party asked him to run for an open seat in the Maine State House made vacant by term limits. He met his wife, former park ranger Suzanne Kahn, in Acadia National Park. Kahn lives with Eder in Portland and works at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.

2002 election to Maine House of RepresentativesEdit

As a first-time candidate in 2002, Eder took nearly 65% of the vote. His victory was in large part due to his strategy of bucking political convention and engaging Portland's youth voters between the ages of 18-35 who turned out to support him. His Democratic opponent, who had run for office in the past, received 35%. There was no Republican candidate in the race. Eder had widespread support from Democrats, Republicans, Greens, independents, small business owners, and active members of organizations such as the NAACP and the Maine People’s Alliance. Eder was endorsed by Maine Friends of Animals and the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance, and by Representative Michael Quint. Eder received the endorsement of all three Portland area newspapers: Portland Press Herald, The Portland Phoenix, and Casco Bay Weekly. Eder's campaign was managed by crime novel writer Patrick Quinlan, author of Smoked. On election night Eder received a congratulatory call from Ralph Nader. Nader sent Eder a box of books as well as several pieces of model legislation for Eder to introduce in the Maine Legislature. Upon election, Eder became the second Green elected in the City of Portland, joining School Committee member Ben Meiklejohn.

Since legislators not enrolled with a political party typically caucus with one of the two major parties, it was assumed by Maine political observers that Eder would be forced to do the same. However, he was able to secure recognition of himself as a one member Green Party caucus in the House. This established him as a truly independent figure in the legislature, giving him more power vis-à-vis the Democrats and Republicans than if he had just caucused with one of the two parties[1]. He negotiated to have a dedicated staff person assigned to him, something individual legislators in the Maine House - who serve on a part-time basis - do not have. With this Eder established the first ever Green Party Minority legislative office in any state.

In his first session Eder introduced legislation to give tax incentives for the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles, a bill to create a single-payer health care system in Maine and another to limit corporate power. He passed legislation protecting children from cancer causing chemicals in schools. This was the first legislation sponsored by a Green to be passed through a state legislature and signed into law in the United States.

Redistricting and service in the HouseEdit

In 2003 Eder was voted Portland's Best Politician in a readers poll conducted by that city's alternative weekly newspaper, the Portland Phoenix, just as redistricting in Maine was threatening to unseat Eder by separating him from his base of support in Portland's West End. The redistricting was seen by many as a deliberate effort by legislative Democrats to oust Eder. In response, Eder moved his residence to rejoin the district he had previously represented and face off against Democratic incumbent Rep. Edward J. Suslovic. In the end, his Democratic opponent found he couldn't compete against Eder's strong base of support. Eder won with 51% and became the only Green ever to be reelected to a State Legislature.

In March 2005, Eder used his powerful position as a swing vote in the closely divided Maine House of Representatives to earn himself a seat at the table in budget negotiations on Governor John Baldacci's biennial budget. Eder came away with $200,000 for the Portland Bilingual Program and $500,000 to establish his concept of the state’s first "creative economy incubator" in Portland, along with an appointment for himself as co-chair of the Governor’s Creative Economy Council, which was established to advise the Governor on how this creative economy should be fostered. In that session Eder passed legislation requiring landlords to disclose the energy efficiency of rental units to prospective tenants to bring market pressure to bear on landlords who rent inefficient units that waste fossil fuels and are costly to heat.

On June 17, in the last days of the 2005 legislative session, Eder entered into budget negotiations with Democratic Party leadership and secured a commitment from Governor Baldacci on tax reform. Eder organized members of the Progressive caucus who refused to support the budget unless a bill for meaningful reform passed before the end of the session. But as pressure from leadership mounted, those progressive House members succumbed and voted in favor of the budget, but without securing a commitment to reform the tax model. Finally, only Eder and Representative Joanne Twomey (Biddeford) remained. Then Eder was able to negotiate a letter from Baldacci committing to hold a special legislative session on tax reform. In the end Eder voted for the budget but Twomey never voted for the budget.

In September 2005 during the break between legislative sessions Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Two weeks later Eder deployed with the Red Cross to drive a food canteen truck and provide case management to victims of the storm.[2]

In 2006, with switches of several of their members from Democrat to unenrolled, the Maine Democrats held a slim 74-73 numerical edge over Republicans in the House giving Eder a position of advantage as the only third-party member in the House. Along with the unenrolled representatives (Thomas Saviello, Barbara Merrill, and Richard G. Woodbury), he exercised enormous influence over votes that fell along party lines.

Eder enjoyed great support among Portland's residents. In April 2006, for the third time in the four years since he began serving in the legislature, Eder was voted "Best Local Politician" in a reader’s poll conducted by the city's alternative weekly The Portland Phoenix.

2006 electionsEdit

Eder lost the 2006 election to the Maine House by about 60 votes to Democrat Jon Hink. Eder entered the campaign as a favorite, and many environmental, gay-rights, labor, and progressive organizations lined up behind him.

A controversy erupted when Eder paid for an automated phone call to voters with a recorded message from the head of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsing Eder and questioning Hink's position on women's rights based on Hink's answers to NOW's candidate questionnaire. Hink declared himself pro-choice, but he did not commit to supporting a women's right to an abortion in every circumstance. The phone calls didn't mention that they were paid for by Eder's campaign. Hink claimed that the call violated state elections law by failing to disclose who paid for them. A new law passed earlier that year required that an automated robocall include a "tag" identifying who paid for them. The commission fined Eder $100. [3]

Hink won the election with 51.5% of the vote to Eder's 48.5%

ContributionsEdit

Since Eder's election to the legislature in 2002 the Greens have assumed a position as the second party of contention in Portland providing voters with an alternative to the Democrats who have long dominated the political landscape in Maine's largest city. A record number of voters cast their ballots for Greens in 2006. In a 2006 post election article in Portland's online political magazine The Bollard, editor Chris Busby wrote, "...though the Greens in Portland lost Eder, they held their own on the school board, made a giant gain on the council, and darn-near unseated two popular and longstanding state legislators." In the four short years since Eder first won his breakthrough election, the Greens have gone from holding one seat on Portland's School Committee to holding eight seats across various municipal offices today.

Several young activist who worked on Eder's previous campaigns won office in '06. Rebbecca Minnick won a seat on the Portland School Committee where she joined three sitting Greens on the nine-member committee while David A. Marshall and Kevin Donoghue took seats on the Portland City Council, becoming the first registered Greens to serve on that body and the two youngest members ever to serve in the council's history.

Post electionEdit

Eder is currently finishing his undergraduate degree. He recently worked to secure medical care for an Iraqi child sponsored by No More Victims, an organization that brings Iraqi children that have been injured by U.S. forces to the United States for medical care and rehabilitation. He also sits on the Cumberland County Health and Human Services Committee.

Eder is currently writing his first book which is part biographical account of his colorful life and service as the nation's highest elected Green Party official. The book will also be part how-to manual encouraging regular citizens to run for local office as a means to personal transformation and self-empowerment in a disheartening geopolitical climate. He travels the country lecturing on campaign finance reform and training citizens in methods of grassroots organizing and electoral reform.

There has been some early speculation on the web that Eder will run for Governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Eder has not made his intentions known.

ReferencesEdit

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