Jill Stein and the Dakota Access Pipeline

Green Party candidate adds drama to the 2016 race

News Writer: Nick Carrion

Photo retrieved from: jill2016.com

This year’s presidential election may go down in history as one of the most scandal-ridden races in recent memory. It is now September, and the past year of promises, accusations, rants, and investigations has left most Americans exhausted of the whole political process, as they longingly look towards November, when the next president will at last be chosen.

The Dakota Access Pipeline Vandalism

Indeed, both major-party candidates have been the subject of scrutiny regarding behavior before or during the race. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton faced an FBI investigation into her decision to send and receive emails on a private server during her term as secretary of state, against her department’s rules. Meanwhile, the recent fraud lawsuit against Republican Donald Trump for his eponymous “University” is just the latest in a long line of scandals for the Manhattan real estate mogul. (USA Today reports he is involved, either as plaintiff or defendant, in over 3,000 lawsuits.)

As a result, both candidates have faced vicious outcry from their political foes, and many lament that this year’s primaries seemed to focus on personal attacks almost as much as intelligent, substantive debate on the issues. The primaries may be over - and the candidates, controversial as they may be, have been nominated - but the campaign season is not over yet, and 2016 will likely give voters even more heartache before Election Day. With the Republican and Democratic nominees being as divisive as they are, more and more Americans have turned their attention to third-party options. And it seems that one third-party nominee wants to prove that when it comes to controversy, she can mix it up with the best of them.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein may not be as popular as the other presidential hopefuls - or unpopular, depending on who you ask - but her recent legal troubles are sure to put her on the map. The sheriff’s department in Morton County, North Dakota has issued an arrest warrant for Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka. The charges? Criminal trespass and criminal mischief, both misdemeanor crimes.

While protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, local officials say that Stein and Baraka entered a restricted area. Then, in a move that would have made her the coolest kid at most high schools, Stein allegedly spray-painted a bulldozer with the words, “I approve this message.”

And she does seem to approve this message. Rather than issue any sort of apology, she has doubled down on her protest, stating that she hopes authorities take action against “the real vandalism taking place at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation,” referring to the ongoing conflict between oil companies and indigenous tribes in North Dakota.

This conflict boils down to the possible ramifications of the pipeline, a crude oil pipeline that would run through parts of North and South Dakota. According to a complaint filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the pipeline “threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe.”

Stein, an avid proponent of clean energy initiatives, has thrown her support behind the Sioux.

If this situation feels a bit familiar for Hawai‘i residents, that’s because many have drawn a parallel between the pipeline and the recent conflict on our own island between indigenous people and developers over the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Like the TMT, the Dakota Access Pipeline is a complex issue, with many arguments being presented on both sides of the debate, and neither appears willing to give in.

Another layer of complexity, of course, is the plausible truth that while supporting her side of this argument, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein broke the law. She doesn’t deny this, and is reportedly working out a date to appear in court to take responsibility for her actions.

So what does this mean for her presidential bid? Americans have had a fair dose of drama this election cycle, but both Clinton and Trump have come up short of an actual warrant for their arrest. On the flip side, after potentially mishandling government secrets or defrauding thousands of dollars, a little bit of spray paint seems like a childish prank to some.

Then there is the most common response to any question about Jill Stein: Who the heck is Jill Stein? As usual, third party candidates in this election have so far failed to gain the same level of popularity as the Democratic and Republican names. Perhaps this is exactly what she needed to get hers out there. There’s no such thing as bad press, right?

Perhaps not. Many voters are tired of such behavior from individuals vying to become our nation’s next commander-in-chief. Tearoarii Viritua, the president of the UH Hilo’s political science club, says it boils down to a matter of professionalism. “It depends if they were in office or in an important decision making position,” Viritua said. “So what I mean is being young ends at one point.”

For Viritua, his standards condemn all three candidates equally. Clinton is under fire for her actions as secretary of state. Trump is battling allegations of misconduct while leading multinational corporations. And Stein is competing to be the face of a nation while defacing private property. A distinct lack of professionalism from all three, in his estimate.

And this lack of professionalism is catching the attention of others. Freshman Taylor Sanchez is excited for this election. It will be his first time voting, and he is looking forward to taking part in the political process. But he is also worried. If the road to November has been this crazy, what does that mean for the next four years?

“Past behavior determines,” Sanchez said, speaking about what he expects from whoever gains office. “So for example, if Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information, or Donald Trump lashed out in anger in a Twitter rant, I think that will reflect on their presidency.”

These misgivings are shared by many Americans, by everyone from first-time voters to those who study politics as a career. Akira Ruddle-Miyamoto, a political science lecturer at UH Hilo, expands on that sentiment.

“I think if their past behavior is questionable, there’s a higher burden of proof placed on them about convincing people whether or not they can actually be an ideal official,” Ruddle-Miyamoto said. “I’m not sure if policy or character will be a bigger issue this election.”

Ultimately, it is both policy and character that determine who Americans will vote for. And with the candidates being so divisive on both fronts, who will lead our country into the next four years is still anybody’s guess. We can only hope that whoever it is can set the scandals aside and lead us in the right direction.