|Member of the Maine House of Representatives
from the 118th district
January, 2003 – January, 2007
|Preceded by||Speaker Mike Saxl|
|Succeeded by||Jon Hinck|
January 18, 1969 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Political party||Green Party|
John Eder (born January 18, 1969) is an American activist and politician from Maine. Eder lives in Portland and is a member of the Maine Green Independent Party, the Maine affiliate of the national Green Party. He 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. Eder ran for Mayor of Portland, Maine in 2011. In 2014, Eder won a race for an at-large seat on the Portland Board of Education.
Raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at the age of fifteen, Eder left the home of his abusive and alcoholic adoptive family. 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 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 was briefly 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".
In 1997 Eder took a cross-country bicycle trip that ended in Maine. He was briefly married to a woman whom he met while hitchhiking. 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, painting houses and organizing against pesticide use 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 House of Representatives made vacant by term limits.
2002 election to Maine House of Representatives
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%. Eder convinced the Republican candidate to leave 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/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 first Green elected to the Maine Legislature.
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. 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 schoolchildren from cancer-causing chemicals. 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 House
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 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.
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 (Tom Saviello, Barbara Merrill, and Richard Woodbury), he exercised increased 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.
Eder lost the 2006 election to the Maine House by about 60 votes to Democrat Jon Hinck. 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 Hinck's position on women's rights based on Hinck's answers to NOW's candidate questionnaire. Hinck declared himself pro-choice, but he did not commit to supporting a woman's right to an abortion in every circumstance. The phone calls didn't mention that they were paid for by Eder's campaign. Hinck 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.
Hinck won the election with 51.5% of the vote to Eder's 48.5%
Eder is considered a founding father of the Green Party in Portland. In the years since Eder first won his historic election, the Greens have gone from holding one seat on Portland's School Committee to simultaneously holding as many as eight seats across various municipal legislative bodies in Portland.
Eder is further credited with changing Portland's political landscape by bringing young voters in Portland into the political process and paving the way for the Greens to assume their present role as the second party of contention in Portland, Maine's largest city. Several young activists who Eder mentored have since won political office in Portland. Former Eder campaign volunteers David A. Marshall and Kevin Donoghue took seats on the Portland City Council, becoming the first registered Greens to serve on that body. In 2010, his former Legislative Aide, Ben Chipman, won a seat in the Maine Legislature.
Eder was the first member of a third-party to serve in the Maine Legislature since 1915 when representatives of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party (United States) held legislative offices there. Eder remains the only state legislator in the country to serve a full term as a Green and to be re-elected as a Green.
Since leaving elected office, Eder has studied at Southern Maine Community College to complete an undergraduate degree and 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 travels the country lecturing on campaign finance reform and training citizens in methods of grassroots organizing and electoral reform. Eder currently works as a Political Organizer. In 2014 he helped run the successful referendum campaign to protect public parks in Portland from being sold.
In November 2008 Eder was elected to the Cumberland County Charter Commission. Eder finished second out of five declared candidates running a write-in election for two seats. Eder travels the country speaking to regular citizens about to run and win local local office as a way to demystify politics and feel empowered by taking personal responsibility for their own governance.
In June 2010 Eder was elected Chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee.
2011 Portland mayoral election
Eder was a candidate for mayor in the 2011 Portland mayoral election. In the race Eder focused on providing living wages, affordable housing and health care for the city's working class residents. He was endorsed among the top three candidates for mayor by the League of Young Voters. Eder was also endorsed as the best choice for mayor by the Portland Phoenix on the issue of "social services." The Phoenix said of Eder, "as a campaigner who has championed the city's working poor — by advocating for living wage, affordable healthcare, and better housing options — Eder has shown that he is passionate about helping the city's neediest citizens".
Upon making its endorsements in the mayor's race, the Portland Daily Sun said, "John Eder’s ideas surrounding affordable housing and public transportation (especially when it comes to replacing school buses with METRO passes) were apparently good enough to be incorporated by several opponents."
Eder cross-endorsed fellow candidate and former legislative colleague Ethan Strimling, a first such cross-endorsement in the Portland mayoral race, which used instant-runoff voting for the first time in Maine.
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