Camejo’s last stand

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

They say fear drives voters to the polls, but more than 600,000 Californians have voted for Peter Miguel Camejo, activist and Green Party candidate for governor, during his two runs. In 2002, he received the largest vote total—5.3 percent—for a third-party gubernatorial candidate in half a century. An investment banker and author, Camejo currently is campaigning in what he has said is his last run for public office.

SN&R: You said essentially that the Democrats already have re-elected Schwarzenegger and that progressives should feel free to vote for you, or not be as reluctant as they otherwise might be to vote for a third-party candidate.

Peter Camejo: The Democrats have a general problem. Their campaigns are funded by a group that has a different point of view than the people who vote for them. Being stuck in the middle, their candidates—whether they care or don’t care—who want to get elected play a game in which they can never be clear about what they stand for. Phil Angelides is one of the better ones. And yet, if you ask the average person in California, “What is it exactly he stands for?” they would have a hard time stating what it is. If you watch his ads, they’re all about that Arnold’s bad, not what he’s going to do or what he stands for.

The Latino leadership in the Democratic Party would not endorse their candidate. And this was transparent to anyone that was watching. The mayor of Los Angeles refused to endorse [Angelides] until three months later.

These are messages that people get. Some of these leaders clearly want Phil Angelides to lose. So, what you have is a disaster in which the majority party hands it to the Republicans. And the Republicans cannot get elected in California without the Democratic Party helping them out.

The Democrats in the Legislature supported Senator Sheila Kuehl’s universal-health-care bill, and it’s Phil who hasn’t taken a stance on it. How come there’s this disconnect between where the Democrats are at and where he’s at?

That’s a very good point. You raise exactly the point I’m trying to make. The base of the Democratic Party is 100 percent for universal health care. I mean, it’s overwhelming. And I believe that if explained, if the public could hear it, well, they would vote for it. The rest of the world has voted for it. All of Europe has it. The Canadians have a program that’s similar to a universal health care. Why is it we can’t have it? And why is it that Phil Angelides refuses to take a stance? It’s because the corporations are opposed to it. And the money will be cut off if he declares he’s for it. And Phil probably is for it but won’t say so. And so, you have a situation where people sense the dishonesty. How can [he] not know whether he’s for universal health care and single-payer? He’s full-grown. He’s in his 50s. How can he not know this?

What’s your platform on immigration?

First of all, let me just say that we do not have an immigration problem in the United States. That’s a total, completely fabricated myth. These people create jobs for American citizens because they strengthen the economy. And we already see it, so concrete, where they have raided towns and thrown out the undocumented workers. The American citizens immediately begin losing their jobs. And it hurts the economy. These people come here in a great personal sacrifice and earn very low wages, strengthen the economy, create higher-paying jobs for American citizens and then have become the scapegoat of a hate campaign against them.

Can you tell us what a legalization policy looks like?

I’ll tell you what it looks like: It looks like an Italian. It looks like an Irish. It looks like a German. It’s the exact same policy we followed for all the immigrants who came to our country through our entire history, except [for] people that weren’t white. And even there, we eventually went along and accepted it, that they were to be allowed into the United States. We do not have an immigration problem. If we closed our border, it would mean more of our economy would move out internationally. Wages would drop in America; unemployment would increase. People do not understand this.

Give us your critique on education.

The Democrats and Republicans took a state that had the best education in America, and we are now 48th in test scores, 49th in class size, and we spend $1,000 per student less than the national average. We did that so the rich didn’t have to pay taxes. And the rich, now, send their kids to private school. So, what we have done is allow our public schools to degenerate. It’s a terrible crime that has been committed. Completely unnecessary. When we had a lot less money in California per person, adjusted for inflation, 40 years ago, we had free education in the state of California. We were in the top five states in terms of the amount of money we spent per student. We were spending $600 more per student than the national average. Today, we’re spending $1,000 less than the national average.

In 2003, you actually got fewer votes—a smaller percentage—than in the 2002 campaign. How come the debate didn’t give you more of a bump?

Nobody knows how many people want to vote for me. There’s no way to know. But here’s the point: My vote I estimate to be around 15 to 20 percent. When you, in a spoiler system, can break 5 percent, you know that at least three times that would like to vote for you. There’s mass sympathy to hear what we have to say, but the American public is very well-trained. They understand lesser-evilism. They understand they have no choice. They cannot vote for an alternative voice.

You’ve been talking about corrupt elections and access to the process for years now. What’s it going to take to break through?

Yeah, so, this is one of those contradictions that will build up for a long time until there’s a massive explosion. And that’s what’s happened. That’s what happens in history. And it will happen. It happened prior to the Civil War, and they fixed a lot of things, but they didn’t fix the electoral system. They tried again at the turn of the century; the progressive movement tried to establish proportional representation but was unable to succeed. They did get the right of women to vote. That was a huge success. And this crisis of democracy, one day, it will explode. We saw a little sign of it in San Francisco when Matt Gonzalez ran for mayor against a candidate endorsed by the Democrats and Republicans combined that had him out-funded 10 to one. And he came within 6 percent of winning the mayorship.

In 2000, it seemed like there was a huge awareness and amount of activity. There really does seem to be a waning of the Green Party.

I think there was a wave of interest in third parties, which began in the early 1990s, and that wave, I think, ended with Nader’s [2000] run and the massive campaign they launched to try to accuse him of having elected Bush. After millions on millions of Democrats voted for Bush, they blamed Nader for Bush. I mean, Nader did not vote for Bush, and no Green voted for Bush. So we weren’t responsible for getting him elected. The fact is that the Democrats helped elect him, massively voted for him, but instead they launch this big campaign instead of saying our laws our wrong—because, the truth is, if you had a runoff, Bush would not have been the president. And instead of the Democrats saying we should obviously respect the will of the electorate and have runoffs, they instead said that Nader, and people that have dissenting points of view, should shut up. And we should not have free elections in America. We should not even have a debate and discussion about the issue. That was the decision of the Democrats, and, like the early abolitionists who said we will no longer vote for the two parties that support slavery, I now say to the public that I personally—and I urge people to join us—will never again vote for the parties that are destroying our planet. That’s all. Simple. We won’t do it.

You’ve said that this will be your last run for governor? Why?

Yes, because I’m getting old, and I don’t want my wife to leave me.

What are you going to do?

I’m going to work on a series of projects that I’ve been putting off for a long time. One that I’m going to work on—that I’m willing to go public about—is an idea, which is in my book on California, for how to spread solar throughout the United States, and that is to create assumable home loans for solar. The biggest problem for why people do not put solar on their homes is that if they go to sell their home, they won’t recoup their money. So, if the loan for the solar went with the house, the next buyer just takes over the loan. Then you could immediately switch to solar at no financial risk or loss. And people would massively start switching to solar.