Mr. Camejo, the floor is yours

When is a gubernatorial debate not a fair fight? When you exclude the Green Party candidate and his views. Don’t worry, we didn’t.

Gray Davis

Gray Davis

Courtesy Of LA Times

Democracies are political systems in which the people hold the power. California ostensibly is a democracy, but Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo would have been included in the only gubernatorial debate if the people were really in charge.

In every major poll about the debate, Californians have said they wanted to see Camejo on the podium with Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Bill Simon. In Sacramento, a News10/Survey USA poll found 69 percent support for including Camejo in the October 7 debate. Other polls showed support as high as 88 percent.

Decisions about what the debate format will be and what candidates to include are certainly difficult and subjective. Even political reformers like Jim Knox of Common Cause say they want lively debates among all viable contenders, but that “the difficulty in the issue is where you draw the line.”

This week’s debate also raised the question of who was drawing that line and why that line excluded third-party candidates such as Camejo from even sitting in the audience of the debate, which was put on by the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper defended Camejo’s exclusion from the debate by stating it follows federal guidelines for presidential debates, which only include candidates polling at least 15 percent.

“I will insist that Peter Camejo be a part of any debates,” Simon declared during a Sacramento campaign stop in August. But, trailing in the polls during the entire campaign, Simon hasn’t been in a position to insist on anything. Davis made exclusion of Camejo a condition for the debate, and then, when Simon included Camejo on his guest list, Davis reportedly threatened not to show if Camejo was in the building.

“You are not invited,” Camejo said he was repeatedly told by Los Angeles Times employees when he showed up with his ticket. Camejo was unhappy to see the newspaper cave in to Davis’ demands—so unhappy that Camejo is working with attorneys to consider suing the paper for violating the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits businesses from “arbitrary discrimination” based on political beliefs or other protected characteristics.

“It’s obvious that the L.A. Times wouldn’t have objected to me being there. It was only because Davis said he would walk out if I was in the room, and I think that’s a statement addressed to democracy, the people of California and to the Latino community,” Camejo said.

“The way the debates are organized and the way our elections are running, we’re not seeing the will of the people respected,” Camejo added. “All I was asking for is the most minimal respect. Here, I’m a candidate, with one poll showing me at 9 percent support, well that’s 2 million people in California. I can’t have one person from our campaign be present at the debate? We’re treated like we’re nothing, like garbage. And, being a Latino, right at the moment when Latinos are breaking with Davis and they don’t support Simon? The point is we are a legitimate part of the community of California and the politics of California, and the way we were treated by the Los Angeles Times is not acceptable.”

Also unacceptable to Camejo and others is how the powers that be have ordained that either Simon or Davis will be the next governor, even though polls show most people don’t like either candidate. Davis is seen as a far better campaign fund-raiser than a leader, someone lacking a vision or guiding philosophy. Simon is knocked for questionable business ethics, political inexperience and being too conservative for the state.

Beyond just the men, there’s a problem with their issues or lack thereof. The campaign rhetoric so far has been mostly an exchange of claims and accusations about who is most trustworthy (or rather, who’s the biggest scoundrel), a tone continued through most questions and answers during the debate. Neither major-party candidate is talking about any fundamental changes in California’s political course.

That’s where someone like Camejo comes in. To begin with, this guy is no political dilettante. He’s a brainy, liberal idealist who went from helping spark Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in the 1960s to being the Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1976 to being involved in a list of international and domestic political causes since then.

Those who have trouble getting past his reddish roots may note that he’s made millions as a successful businessman and then used his wealth as a force for social change by founding Progressive Asset Management and writing the book (literally) on socially responsible investing: The SRI Advantage: Why Socially Responsible Investing Has Outperformed Financially.

In person, he’s an even stronger force who conveys a passion and intelligence that his opponents can’t seem to conjure up on the stump or one-on-one. Yet, what truly sets Camejo apart from the two major-party candidates is that he’s advocating things Davis and Simon don’t even want to discuss: mandating living wages, setting up universal health care, decriminalizing marijuana, public financing of campaigns, abolishing capital punishment and improving education without “counter-productive test mania.”

Some of these seemingly radical ideas are out of synch with mainstream Californians (i.e., ending capital punishment), but others are closer to popular will than positions held by mainstream politicians (i.e., ending the drug war). All of them, however, deserve open and honest debate.

“There are just so many issues that didn’t get mentioned that would have been mentioned with a Green there,” Camejo said. “For instance, opposition to the death penalty when they talked about law and order, or getting rid of three strikes; renewable energy when they talked about the energy crisis. It’s just one issue after another, whether it’s saving the final 4 percent of our ancient forests, never mentioned; living wage, never mentioned; affordable housing, never mentioned. You could just go on and on.”

Bill Simon

Courtesy Of LA Times

It’s a debate that the people want to hear. But, unfortunately, people don’t set our election rules of engagement. Politicians do, and usually only the front-runner. But, through the magic of word processors and Photoshop, SN&R has decided to present its own gubernatorial debate, and we invited Camejo.

Using some paraphrased questions and judicious editing of the Davis-Simon debate transcript, we’ve cut away all the obfuscations and mudslinging (well, most of it), we’ve inserted Camejo’s comments from a phone interview we conducted shortly after Monday’s debate, and we’ve made a good-faith effort to present a debate that effectively contrasts the positions of the three candidates, while giving Camejo the space he was denied by the daily media.

Now, you can compare their positions and actually read more than just a summary of the Simon-Davis debate—something the Davis camp sought to avoid by insisting the exchange be held during Monday’s midday broadcast wasteland.

A note on the Camejo focus: It wasn’t an easy decision to exclude the other three minor-party candidates, but that’s where we’ve chosen to draw the line, for reasons we’ll expand on at the end of this piece. For now, SN&R presents The Debate That Should Have Been:

How would you have handled last year’s energy crisis differently?
Davis: “If I knew today that El Paso Natural Gas bilked us out of $4 billion, the company in which [Simon’s] family trust invested money and made profit off of our suffering here in California, if I knew today that Enron was taking advantage of us, had all kinds of fancy games called “Death Star” and “Ricochet” and “Ice Angel” to confuse the California electricity grid about how many electrons were on the grid at any given time, I would have asked the attorney general of the United States to investigate immediately and put someone in jail. Someone from Enron should go to jail. Not only did they drive small businesses out of business in this state, they bilked us of about $20 billion. The wholesale price of electricity before deregulation in this state was $7 billion. The first year of deregulation, it was $27 billion. Mr. Simon has said the only thing wrong with electricity deregulation in this state is that we don’t have enough deregulation.”

Simon: “You know, Mr. Davis is once again characterizing one of my positions of my family with false statements. But let’s talk about the real problem. Mr. Davis didn’t answer the question about whether he waited too long. He told the Sacramento Bee that he panicked, and that he didn’t understand the energy situation. I think that’s borne out by the facts, and the facts are this: You shouldn’t have allowed the utilities to enter into long-term contracts. You should have constructed more plants. You should have looked at more options. You should have made sure that the state did not go into the power-buying business. And I said at the time that the state did go into the power-buying business that we should fly the flags at half-mast because I knew they’d bungle it, I just didn’t know how.”

Camejo: “First of all, what [Davis] did was utter incompetence. He went and wrote a $43 billion check to a whole bunch of energy companies. It’s unbelievable. In six months, [the package of contracts] was worth about $11 billion. That’s a world record. That’s the worst investment ever made in the history of humanity. I would never have done that without hedging. Now hedging means you buy insurance on it. That would be very easy to do. … Something I have been saying that I would have done, which neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have said anything about, would be to call a meeting of the owners of these companies, which is the pension funds. And I would have proposed to the pension funds that every one of these companies, the four or five key ones that were creating the problems, that we simply vote out their boards, replace their management and put law-abiding citizens in charge. That would have solved the problem immediately. And we wouldn’t be now negotiating contracts with them. In fact, we could do that today. We don’t have to just look to the past. If I become governor, we will do that. We will kick out the board of El Paso and of Reliant and of Calpine, and we will put law-abiding citizens in there, and we will rip up those contracts.”

How would you have handled the current state budget?
Simon: “I thank you very much for asking that question because that could be, perhaps, one of the most crucial questions facing our state right now, which is our budget crisis. You know, we do have upwards of a $24 billion budget deficit right now that Mr. Davis said he’d balance, but the fact is he did not. The legislative analysts have projected now, over the next five years, a $50 billion budget deficit. Last week, I came out and said specifically [that] I think in the coming year, that deficit could approach in year one alone, $20 billion. But we can balance it without raising taxes. I’m confident of that. And the reason is this: because the government, during Governor Davis’s first three years, grew at 36 percent at the same time that our inflation rate grew at 5 percent, our people grew at 7 percent. The underlying rate of growth was 12 percent, but we allowed the government to grow three times faster than that. Now, that’s a prescription for disaster in any business, charity or any entity I’ve ever been involved with. If we had a rule, a spending limit, that would restrict growth to the rate of population growth and the rate of inflation growth, like they do in Colorado, perhaps we would have the surplus that Colorado has right now. What we need to do right now is shrink government.”

Davis: “I proposed a plan to bridge the $24 billion shortfall. I was pleased to sign a budget that did that without raising taxes on average people, preserving our high priorities. But Mr. Simon was nowhere to be found. He did not propose a budget to cover a $24 billion shortfall. He told the Daily News that if he made a number of additional cuts, he’d just be criticized by the governor for doing it. Well, welcome to the big time, Mr. Simon. People of this state expect governors to make the tough decisions, not run from them.”

Camejo: “We had the highest [Gross Domestic Product] for the last 10 years ever in the history of California. We had the highest income for this state that this state has ever had, and this governor led it to a $24 billion deficit. That is such a level of incompetence. And then people run around and say, ‘How would you solve this?’ Well, we would never be there. And it’s very difficult to solve it, once you’ve so mismanaged the money and destroyed the budget like he did. We had a $12 billion surplus at one point, and now we have a $24 billion deficit, and this is going to go on for years now. We put out a plan on how to balance the budget, with some key ideas. Among them: going to universal health care, single-payer, which would save us $4 to $8 billion; decriminalize marijuana, which could save $1.5 to $3 billion. We went through a whole series of ideas like that that I do think would help, but I do think we must raise some taxes. I don’t agree with Bill Simon on that at all. But we should raise it on the highest incomes. We should go back to what we had in ’91. I agree with Burton and the Senate on that. We have very high taxes in California. I’d like to lower them. But, right now, because of this crisis, we have to try and get through it and reorganize.”

Would you have signed AB 1493, which seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions?
Simon: “I would not have signed that bill. And the reason is this: I believe that that bill is not designed to achieve the objective that was announced. Once again, there’s lots of times when you have a noble-sounding objective, which is to reduce global warming or to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or make our environment cleaner, our air and our water cleaner. I think all those objectives are great, and if I was convinced that this legislation, or indeed other legislation, could do it in the most efficient manner, I would sign it. But this piece of legislation is ambiguous. … You know, this is all inappropriate, in my estimate. So, I believe yes, we should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and I believe, yes, there’s scientific evidence [that] indicates that there has been warming, but the cause is not agreed upon right now. There is a dispute in the scientific community as to what the cause is. And so, therefore, we can’t know precisely what the solution is.”

Camejo: “If you’re in a car going 65 miles per hour toward a cliff, and someone says slow to 40, of course you’re for it, but it may not be the answer. Yes, I’m for it, but I think much more needs to be done. Plus, we’ve heard this before from the Democrats, where they promise things and then they never happen. But I do think Bill Simon is just dead wrong to say we don’t know if there is global warming. The evidence and the scientific knowledge on that is overwhelming. I really want to try to convince Bill against that. I’m going to be on a talk show with him here today, and I may just raise that with him and say, ‘Bill, you gotta read stuff.’ I mean there is just so much evidence out there.”

Davis: The governor didn’t address global warming in his response but said of Simon’s “I’m pro the environment” claim: “Why is the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation endorsing me for governor, not Mr. Simon? I don’t think he’s a friend of the environment.”

How would you reduce traffic congestion?
Davis: “First of all, I’m the first governor to produce an infrastructure plan for five years. We are also spending more money this year than any governor has ever spent in real dollars improving, widening and expanding transportation opportunities. As I speak to you, we’re spending $7 billion this year. No governor has come even close in real dollars. In L.A., we’re widening the 10, the 405, the 15. In the Bay Area, we’re building BART to San Jose. We’re repairing the Bay Bridge. We’ve provided more trains from the Valley down to San Jose. We’re taking care of the 805 merge in San Diego. We’re making improvements in the Valley. So, no governor has spent as much money as I’m spending today to try and get you where you want to get quicker and spend time with your family, which is where we’d rather have you be, than stuck in traffic.”

Simon: “In addition to the population being up 70 percent, capacity is up 30 percent, but our drivers are up 140 percent, and our vehicle miles traveled is up 183 percent. So, demand is outstripping supply by six times. That’s one red flag. Second red flag: Mr. Davis dedicated a highway last year and said, ‘This will be the last new freeway in the history of our state.’ The thought that occurred to me is he’s the one that’s out of step. He’s the one that maybe might be locked into the 13th century. … We need more roads. We need to add, you know, lanes, as Mr. Davis suggested. We need to de-bottleneck. The intersections that he mentioned are a good place to start, but we need to go further. And we must not borrow the transportation funds Mr. Davis did to balance his own problems with the general fund. What we need to do is look at spending real money on our roads. Our roads now rank 50th in the country. We can’t afford that any more. And yes, I’m willing to look at public-private partnerships because our government can’t borrow the $120 billion that has been proposed.”

Camejo: “Traffic congestion cannot be dealt with without slowing population growth or long-term planning on organizing our cities better and establishing mass transportation, getting fuel cell going in cars and reducing the size of cars. There’s a whole series of steps. This is not a simplistic problem as if we just say do B, it’ll all be solved. But Simon and Davis did one good thing, and that’s really laying out how this crisis in transportation is exploding. Those figures they gave on how our freeways have grown 30 percent but our usage has grown 140 percent, that’s a plan for disaster to continue without dealing with this issue.”

Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo

Illustration By Larry Dalton

What would you do to improve access to the health-care system?
Camejo: “Universal health care, single-payer, what was proposed in 1994 [Proposition 186] that both of them opposed but which the Latino community voted 64 percent in support of it and African Americans voted 54 percent in support of it. This is one of those issues where you really have to take a stand against corporate domination. That is why we’re being held back and have millions of people without insurance and why we’re paying so much more for medical services than Canadians or Europeans are paying, but receiving less service.”

Davis: “First of all, it takes years and years to get in this situation—it didn’t happen on my watch—but we are doing something significant about it. We now have over 610,000 children enrolled through the Healthy Families Program, and part of that is because I put my wife at the head of the outreach program. Through MediCal, picked up another 780,000. So, we have over a million children insured, and we’re still growing. UCLA said that because of our insurance program for children, the number of uninsured children has dropped more dramatically in two years than it has in the 20 years they have been performing a study on that. I’d like to continue working on that. I’d like, if it was possible, the next four years … to have every child in this state covered.”

Simon: “You’re absolutely correct that the number of uninsured is a huge problem in our state. … And what that does, in addition to the problems that you mentioned, is create a problem in our emergency rooms and our trauma centers. I do have a couple of ideas on how to reduce the problem. … Mr. Davis referred to Healthy Families, which was a program started under Governor Wilson. Now, what he didn’t tell you was that in the last 12 months, he left $700 million [in unused funding for that program] on the table with the federal government.”

Should undocumented immigrant workers be able to get driver’s licenses, as the recently vetoed AB 60 would have allowed?
Davis: “I will sign a bill that allows people who are here contributing to our economy, paying taxes, that go through a background check and are applying for citizenship, the right to drive. However, the bill that was sent to me was massively flawed because it said if there was a warrant out for your arrest, for treason, murder, espionage, rape or other serious crimes, you could still get a driver’s license. Latinos don’t want that to happen. Anglos don’t want that to happen. Blacks don’t want that to happen. We want to confer this privilege on people who are making our economy stronger and taking jobs that many people otherwise wouldn’t take, but we don’t want to do it in a way that compromises public safety. Public safety is too important in the aftermath of September 11th.”

Camejo: “[Davis] promised for three years he would sign it, then he betrays the Latino community and doesn’t sign it. And first, he watered it down tremendously, so it was not recognizable. I would have signed the original bill. I think people who are living here and paying taxes—and all the powers that be know they’re here and accept that they’re here—cannot be denied to have normal status.”

Simon: Simon also has said he would have vetoed the bill. He responded, “Well, you know, I find it more than a little curious that Mr. Davis says he will sign a law if it had the following things present in it. Because that’s exactly what he told the Hispanic caucus, and that’s exactly why they withdrew their endorsement late last week. That’s exactly why they had trouble: because sometimes Mr. Davis has trouble with the truth. I think there’s no reason to believe that he would sign a bill in the future unless it suited his political interests. I think that’s the problem that we have right now in Sacramento. It’s politics as usual. What I want to bring is a breath of fresh air.”

How would you address education performance disparities between white students and those of color?
Simon: “It’s the bottom one-third of our schools that need the most attention. And, if you look at those two million children, you’ll find that 95 percent of them are members of ethnic minorities. And, if you look at test results in other states … for example, take a look at Texas: The ethnic minorities in those states are actually scoring higher than the white children are in this state. So, it’s something to do with our system, and I believe where we need to start is accountability. Mr. Davis referred to accountability in his opening comments. But we don’t have accountability in our state because our accountability right now is optional, it’s not mandatory. We need to make that accountability absolutely mandatory, so that there’s real consequences when there’s failure. And, right now, in the bottom third of our schools, there’s failure. Another thing I’d do is empower teachers and parents. Bring teachers and parents back into the lives of their children and do it by means of more charter schools, more magnet schools, and reduce the rules and regulations coming out of Sacramento.”

Davis: (His response came after Simon’s past support for school vouchers was brought up as a follow-up question.) “Well, this is interesting because, in the primary, Mr. Simon was proudly for what he called ‘opportunity scholarships,’ or vouchers. He believes in giving opportunities to his rich friends to make money for for-profit schools and take money away from public schools. I have opposed vouchers. We need every dime we can get to help kids in public schools. And, as for my accountability program, Mr. Simon, the Forbes Foundation ranked it one of the five best in America. We have held schools accountable. We have a long ways to go, but we are making progress. It does not do any good if you run down the hard work of teachers and students.”

Camejo: “We really have to be sensitive to cultural differences and language differences, and, very often, tests don’t reflect that. There is a mania right now around tests. I would listen carefully to the CTA’s [California Teachers Association] position on this, which is to question the whole testing mania. I don’t have perfect answers for every question, and we have a terrible difficulty here, but we need to get parents and teachers and listen to them carefully. We need to make a real effort, and I agree very much with Davis saying we want to defend public education and not go toward privatization. On that, I agree with Davis, not Bill Simon.”

Because the debate tailored questions to the two other candidates, here are a few targeted specifically at Camejo:

Are you concerned about playing the role of spoiler and perhaps costing Davis this election?
Camejo: “All I’m doing is presenting my candidacy and urging people to vote for me. The fact that we do not have runoffs [in which voters could rank their choices on the ballot], so that the Democrats may end up losing the election because people choose to vote for me, well, if he can’t get those votes and they go to me, that’s his problem, not my problem. He has the power to create runoff elections, and he chooses not to, so he has nothing to complain about. He spent $10 million to get Simon nominated, then he’s going to try to blame me if Simon wins?”

But who do you think would be a better governor: Davis or Simon?
Camejo: “I don’t choose between them. I think that’s a dead end. When you begin trying to weigh evil or incorrect decisions to see which one is the worst, that’s a dead end in politics. That’s why the Green Party exists, and that’s why we say we have to have runoff elections, so the will of the electorate is respected. We are against spoiling, and yet we are the only people asked about spoiling. I keep telling the media to ask Davis and ask Simon why they’re for spoiling, because they’re the ones who won’t come out for runoff elections in the statewide election.

Given how easily markets seem to get spooked by rhetoric from the left, how would you keep the economy strong as you pursued your economic and social-justice agenda?
Camejo: “That’s a very good point. It looks like the progressives have just won in Brazil, and it looks like the market in Brazil has dropped dramatically because of it, and I can understand business being concerned because we would require companies to be law-abiding. We would require that corporations that want the title of being a corporation would have to, as originally intended, have a social purpose. After the first shocking reaction, there’s enormous business to be done in California, and if a corporation violates the law, I can assure you somebody else will step in. We are for small business and for developing entrepreneurship, but we also believe in democracy, and we have to change the way the corporate world, so criminally inclined, is being run. You know, the study was made 30 years ago, a long time ago, of the largest 538 companies. In just a two-year period, 61 percent of them violated the law. This is not just a temporary phenomenon, what we’re witnessing here. There has been a massive abuse of the law because the corporations control the two major parties, so there’s no oversight. We really think there is reform needed in this area, and it’s true that we may pay a short-term price, the day we’re elected. But I think, long-term, it would be much better for the economy and for the people.”

Hopefully, you found that Camejo offered some telling alternatives to the positions staked out by Simon and Davis. Had we included interviews with Natural Law candidate Iris Adams, American Independent candidate Reinhold Gulke and Libertarian Gary David Copeland, you would have seen an even broader political spectrum.

But, as Knox noted in the beginning of this article, “The difficulty in the issue is where you draw the line.” Indeed. Simply for space reasons, we couldn’t give you more than we did, however worthy and illuminating those other perspectives might have been.

In a democracy, we deserve the leaders we vote for. So, if you don’t like Davis, Simon or Camejo, read up on the others. Adams is a business leader focused on alternative energy sources and preventive medicine. If you agree that “the issues important to Californians are God, family and country,” and you believe he can double the amount of public open spaces while lowering taxes, then consider voting for Gulke. And, even though the Libertarian Party stepped away from Copeland after he spat on a radio interviewer, maybe you’re intrigued by his minimalist government views or campaign statements like, “Do we ignore Milton Friedman, Herbert Spencer, Gene Roddenberry—some of my favorite philosophers—at our peril?”

The point is, if you don’t think the narrow discussion points of the Democrats and the Republicans represent your views, seek out those who are more to your liking and vote for them. You could write in your mom’s or your professor’s name if you have to. Where the votes go, the politicians will follow. You shouldn’t complain about a choice between the “lesser of two evils” if you vote for one of them.

Besides, if the Democrats get their elections spoiled for the second time in as many election years (remember 2000, when George W. Bush snuck past Al Gore into the presidency by a margin well smaller than Ralph Nader’s Green Party take), maybe they’ll start pushing the instant-runoff voting or other democracy reforms.

It’s either that, or politics as usual. You choose.