Once Again Republicans are getting Nader on the Ballot
Temp worker outraged at Nader petition drive
PORTSMOUTH - When the temp agency that hired her told her she would be collecting signatures for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Emily Sawka became a little concerned. But she had been unemployed for two months and needed the $12-an-hour the job would pay.
"I don't consider myself a political person at all - I try to steer clear of all of that because it's disunifying," said Sawka, a resident of Kittery, Maine. "But I needed the work."
But Sawka threw up her hands altogether upon discovering that Adecco, an international temp agency that has an office in Portsmouth, had hired her out to a consulting firm with Republican ties.
The firm, Sawka learned, was trying to get Nader on the New Hampshire ballot in November, in a roundabout effort to help get President Bush re-elected in November.
Sawka, 25, and six other workers hired through Adecco were directed to show up on Friday morning at Shaw's supermarket in Stratham, near the dairy farm where Bush was to speak to supporters at a picnic that afternoon. She was given a clipboard and a script instructing her to tell those at the rally: "Without Nader, Bush would not be president."
The consulting firm, Norway Hill Associates, is located in Hancock. The firm's principal founder, David Carney, said an intern for the firm was heading up a project to collect Nader signatures at the rally.
Carney, whose past clients include former Republican Senators and presidential candidates Bob Dole and Phil Gramm, said the intern was in charge of hiring between 10 and 15 people. He added that nobody from the Bush/Cheney campaign had asked Norway Hill to collect the signatures.
Sawka recalled that at the supermarket her boss explained that "what we are doing is collecting signatures for Ralph Nader in support of Bush, because if we can get Ralph Nader on the ballot, then that would take votes away from (Democratic candidate) John Kerry."
Most of the temp workers were young, she said, adding that some of them looked like "they were still in high school."
"I decided that I could not in good conscience do this," said Sawka, who along with another worker asked to be excused before collecting any signatures.
"I feel like it was just a really kind of underhanded thing for the Bush campaign to be doing. That just seemed really dishonest and underhanded to me. Not only that, but the people who were doing this are not even Bush supporters."
Many Democratic strategists believe Nader is partly responsible for Democrat Al Gore's defeat by Bush in 2000, claiming that the then-Green Party candidate attracted liberal voters away from the Democratic party.
In that election, Nader, who this year is running as an independent, received more votes in New Hampshire than Bush's margin of victory in the state. Bush defeated Gore by 7,211 votes in New Hampshire; Nader received 22,198 votes in all.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for the Bush/Cheney campaign in New Hampshire, denied that the campaign is actively trying to get Nader on the ballot in the state. The candidate must submit 4,000 signatures by Aug. 11 in order to have his name appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.
"The president is going to be successful in New Hampshire with or without Ralph Nader," said Comella. "We're focused on ensuring that we're growing our grass-roots organization here in New Hampshire."
In addition to the hourly wage, the temp workers were told they would receive $100 for every 100 signatures they collected, Sawka said. If signers were to ask the workers who was paying them, the recommended response in the script was: "Nader's campaign pays 75 cents a signature."
The script given to workers was titled "Talking Tips." To instruct them on how to be more persuasive with Bush supporters, one tip was to say: "In 2000, Nader got almost 30,000 votes - without his presence Al Gore would be president today."
According to Aaron Rizzio, who runs the petitioning drive for Nader in the state, some collectors with the campaign are paid for their time. But, he added, the workers at the Bush rally were not associated with the Nader campaign.
"That tells me that Republicans are desperate," Rizzio said of the signature drive in Stratham. "And I'm skeptical about how successful it would be."
Last month, Republican volunteers submitted more than 43,000 signatures to get Nader on the ballot in Michigan, which, like New Hampshire, is a swing state. The candidate needed just 30,000 signatures in order to appear on the ballot as an independent.
After saying it would not accept the Republican signatures, the Nader campaign later accepted them when it appeared to be the only way to get Nader on the state's ballot.
Kevin Zeese, the Nader campaign spokesman, said he was less concerned about Republican efforts in New Hampshire than he was "about the Democratic Party's dirty tricks in trying to get Ralph off the ballot in several states."
"We're going to have enough signatures to get Ralph on the ballot in New Hampshire, no matter what these people do," Zeese said, referring to the Republicans. "I don't think we're being used by the Bush campaign. Ralph has said that he wants both parties to stay out of the ballot access process."
Sawka, who will begin studies for a master's degree in social work at the University of New Hampshire in the fall, said the agents at Adecco were surprised when she told them that Norway Hill Associates was trying to help Bush rather than Nader.
"They seemed to feel really badly about what happened today," said Sawka. "They were surprised as well that that was what the whole thing was really about.
"They said that the guy that they had talked to had been pretty vague."
A spokeswoman for the corporate offices of Adecco said the agency contracts out workers for projects run by both political parties, and allows them to opt out of an assignment if they are not comfortable.
"This was a business arrangement, just like our affiliation with Democratic Party projects is a business arrangement," said Adecco spokeswoman Victoria Mitchell. "It's not that we are in support of what they are doing, or not in support of what they are doing.
"We supplied people for the (Democratic) convention in Boston a number of weeks ago. I believe they were helping to set up the FleetCenter for the convention."
Kathleen Strand, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said she was "disappointed" to hear about the petition drive.
"I think it's an outrage, but I'm not surprised that Republicans would be involved in helping Nader activities in this way," she said.
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