Published on Thursday, June 1, 2000 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
'Ficus For Congress' Takes Root In 24 Congressional Campaigns
by Laurence Arnold
WASHINGTON -- A team of candidates for Congress, deeply rooted in the environment, is trying to strike a blow against incumbency. But these challengers have to overcome unique disadvantages, such as an inability to speak and a need to be watered.
Mobilized by satirist Michael Moore, political skeptics have enlisted ficus plants to seek write-in votes for 24 congressional races.
"I'm doing this because the American people no longer show up to vote," Moore said during a campaign appearance for the plant that is challenging Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. "The majority of people feel they have no choice."
Moore is best known for his 1989 documentary "Roger & Me," a dark comedy that assailed General Motors Corp. for closing its plant in Flint, Mich.
Ficus plants are being offered as candidates in 23 House races in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. One senator, Republican Craig Thomas of Wyoming, has vegetative competition.
Among the House campaigns, 21 target Republicans. Another is against Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who switched his affiliation from Democrat to independent. The other is for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va.
Despite the political slant, the campaign originally was designed to challenge veterans in both parties who draw little or no competition.
"Voters have stopped going to the polls because today's politicians -- Republicans and Democrats -- all stand for pretty much the same things," reads the first plank in the ficus platform. "The ficus campaign has recaptured voters' imagination in a way no other candidate can, by offering a real choice: politician or potted plant."
Campaign volunteers say they see the effort as a lark, but one with a message.
Sarah Cook of State College, Pa., said she was "really disappointed" when she learned Republican Rep. John Peterson of Pennsylvania had no Democratic opponent. So she and her husband Sean volunteered to host a ficus campaign.
"I think that people need to know that even when an incumbent is running unopposed, they do have a choice," said Cook, who works at Penn State University.
Lorne Wolfe, an associate professor of biology at Georgia Southern University, is helping run the ficus campaign against Republican Rep. Jack Kingston.
"As a plant biologist," he said, "I was glad to see that (Moore) chose a plant to represent an alternative for the voting public." Ficus is a genus of tropical shrub or tree with glossy, leathery leaves, often found indoors as an ornamental.
Jeff Seeman, who is running the ficus campaign in Ohio against Republican Rep. Ralph Regula, said his campaign theory is simple: "Why not?"
Just like human candidates, the ficus plants are making campaign stops. One in Pennsylvania traveled on a "listening tour." In Georgia, the ficus candidate attended the opening of a greenhouse. A Texas ficus candidate sports a cowboy hat. The campaign slogan of a hopeful in New Jersey is, "Because a Potted Plant Can Do No Harm."
Incumbents targeted by the ficus are responding. Kingston pledged to "keep my feet firmly planted in the issues." Frelinghuysen charged that his ficus opponent is "truly green when it comes to politics."
Copyright 2000 Associated Press