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Stein renews pitch to get on stage during presidential debates

Jill Stein, Green Party presidential nominee
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein sees a path to victory — or, at minimum, more public attention to her key issues — if the Commission on Presidential Debates will bend its rules and allow her and Libertarian Gary Johnson to join in the presidential debates.

“We’re talking about just four candidates’’ on stage, Stein said, referring to the series of four debates that begin in about two weeks.  Washington University will host one of them, on Oct. 9.

Stein stopped in St. Louis on Saturday to promote her party’s issues and help raise money for local Green Party groups who will be charged with getting out the vote in November. She’s among five presidential hopefuls on Missouri’s ballot.

Stein contends that many polls indicate that most Americans also want to hear from more choices than Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, who Stein says are the “most unfavorable and most untrusted’’ major-party choices in decades.

“Americans all over the country have made it quite clear,” she said during an interview. “They’re not happy with the rigged economy, they’re not happy with the rigged political system that keeps us locked into that economy and they’re definitely not happy with the two choices that are being rammed down our throats by the Democratic and Republican parties.”

In her case, Stein highlights her background as “a physician, not a politician. I am not part of this same corrupt system that has been throwing people under the bus.”

So far, most polls have tallied Stein’s support at less than 5 percent. Fifteen percent is the commission’s threshold for debate participation. Stein and Johnson had filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed in August.

But while questioning the polls’ accuracy, Stein also predicts that the Green Party ticket in Missouri and elsewhere will attract more support in the coming weeks — especially from progressives who had backed Bernie Sanders, who had sought the Democratic nomination. Sanders has since endorsed Clinton.

A Green Party alliance with Sanders’ supporters, she said, would be “a marriage made in heaven.”

The Green Party has the issues, she said, while the Sanders supporters— many of them disaffected Democrats— have the activism.

As if on cue, a former Sanders backer — military veteran Timothy Lee, who's now back in college — walked up to Stein during the interview, held at Maplewood coffee shop. He asked to have a photo taken with her, and also pledged his support.

Lee, 35, said later that his key issues include climate change, economic disparities and his concern about the Middle East conflicts.

Promises to end most college debt

Stein has been promoting her promise, if elected, to wipe out all college debt and make education free at public colleges and universities. She wants more aid and cheaper loans at private higher-education institutions. Such views are similar to those espoused by Sanders.

The huge debt shouldered by tens of millions of American students is making it even harder for them to improve their economic status, Stein said.  She also points to various studies showing that the nation’s birth rate is declining, and people are marrying later, trends that she ties to the huge college debt.

Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis military veteran Tim Lee, who's now attending nursing school, backs Jill Stein for president. He had supported Bernie Sanders.

“There’s no society that has ever survived by devouring its own young, but that’s kind of what our society is doing right now," she said. "No jobs, skyrocketing costs of higher education, skyrocketing costs of housing, young people who are essentially locked out of an economic future. And the climate is crashing on their watch.”

It’s only fair that college students get debt relief, Stein added, when trillions of federal dollars were doled out to “the crooks on Wall Street’’ who touched off the nation’s recession in 2008 and 2009.

Lauds Obama decision delaying pipeline

Stein’s massive proposed jobs program centers on rapid expansion of clean energy, including wind and power.

The Green Party opposes the construction of any new major pipelines in the United States, among the reasons Stein joined protesters last week opposing the Dakota Access pipeline.

Stein now faces an arrest warrant from a North Dakota county, because she spray-painted a piece of construction equipment during the protest. The charges levied against her are both misdemeanors.

The Obama administration announced Friday that it was putting a hold on the pipeline’s construction, which it addresses complaints from Native American tribes that the route destroys sacred land.

“I think the president’s actions underscore why we were out there saying, “This cannot go forward,’ “ Stein said. But she fears that the oil industry will pressure the administration to back off. “We also have no illusions that this is the end of the road.”

Overall, Stein said her message to voters is:

“Americans don’t have to go quietly into this dark night that is sending our jobs overseas, and depressing our wages, making healthcare unaffordable, locking an entire generational into unpayable student-loan debt, and keeping us mired in these wars that are making us less secure, not more secure, and also making us bankrupt.”

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Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.