An early Sabo opponent, Green Party’s Pond touts his progressive credentials

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With local and national political observers obsessing over the “radical” choice of Keith Ellison to carry the DFL banner into the November general election, which will decide who succeeds longtime U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, Green Party endorsee Jay Pond wonders what all the fuss is about.

Pond, who ran unsuccessfully against Sabo two years ago and spent six months earlier this year observing and filming Sabo’s activities at the nation’s Capitol, isn’t worrying that Ellison is too liberal for the district. He’s concerned that he’s too conservative.

“I don’t see Keith making much change in Washington,” he said.

Pond, a bookkeeper and Green Party activist, notes that Ellison’s strong anti-war positions, which served him well at the DFL convention and in the September 12 primary, emerged only after he and DFLer Jack Nelson Pallmeyer waved the anti-war flag in the weeks and months leading up to the convention. “I’ve been saying, ‘Out now’ for more than two years,” he said.

Still, the presence of Ellison on the general election ballot will allow the debate to go deeper than it would otherwise have gone—and that will allow Pond to have more influence on the dialogue than he had two years ago, when he tallied 6 percent of the vote against Sabo and Republican endorsee Daniel Mathias.

He hopes to use that opportunity to point out the “utter silence” of Congressional Democrats—include Sabo—on the war in Iraq, single payer universal health care, and other issues. The Green Party, he says, has “become a leader on these issues that have become mainstream issues.”

The South Dakota native, who counts former Sen. George McGovern among his major influences, roamed the halls of Congress earlier this year with his video camera and notebook, hoping to chronicle the activities of Sabo and other House Democrats who sit on influential committees. He interviewed several House members, though Sabo refused to participate, and came away with a sense of how the status quo governs the body more than its members.

“The legislative process keeps them safe,” Pond says. Its Byzantine structure and arcane rules prevents most citizens from understanding just where most members of Congress stand on any issue. But by closely observing committee meetings for six months, Pond learned that the House Democratic leadership—which includes Sabo—refused to act aggressively against the war or in favor of progressive legislation like single-payer health care. “The district is one of the most liberal and he was not standing up for what I believe were the beliefs of the district,” he said of Sabo’s performance.

Beyond the war and the health care system, Pond would like to see more attention paid to developing wind power in the U.S. He said he would favor the federal government working to support the construction of windmills on Indian reservations as a way to harness the power of the Midwest prairie wind and to provide Indian bands with a reliable revenue stream.

He’d also like to see more dialogue on the affect of 1990s welfare reform on the youth violence currently plaguing the city. Those changes in the welfare system in Minnesota, which forced many parents to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, resulted in a generation of kids growing without adequate parental supervision.

Pond said he realizes his is an uphill battle in a district in which at least 50 percent of the voters are registered DFLers, but he’s anxious to deepen the debate and perhaps raise some issues that otherwise would’ve stayed below the radar. If he’s unsuccessful in November, though, he’ll move on to other things—including a documentary film chronicling his months following Sabo around—sort of a “Martin and Me” look at how a political icon operates out of the public eye.

There’s no telling how popular the film will be, but one thing is certain, Pond said: “What’s opening up is a genuine disrespect for the two-party system.”

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