UNITED STATES: Camejo popularises break with two-party system



SAN FRANCISCO — On September 3, five of the candidates hoping to replace the Democrats' Gray Davis as governor of California, should he be recalled on October 7, took part in a nationally televised debate. The five were selected because they have the highest ratings in the polls; 135 or so candidates have qualified for the ballot. The front-running Republican, actor Arnold Schwartzenegger, refused to join the debate.

One of the candidates who participated was Peter Miguel Camejo of the Green Party. Camejo was a prominent anti-war activist in the 1960s and was a member of the Socialist Workers Party for many years. A recent poll indicated that 71% of likely voters did not know who Camejo was, so this debate afforded him the opportunity to present a large chunk of the Greens' platform to large numbers of potential voters.

The San Francisco Chronicle tried to sabotage the debate by pretending it wasn't taking place — it did not list it in the paper's TV weekly and daily programs. The Chronicle has been the most vociferous in attacking the whole recall election process, ostensibly because it claims it is "undemocratic" and makes a joke of California. In reality, it is because the two major capitalist parties — the Republicans and the Democrats — are finding it hard to control the outcome of the recall election process.

Something of the flavour of the recall election was captured by another candidate, Arriana Huffington, an independent, when she said the people do not primarily want a recall but a "revolution". She wasn't talking about a socialist revolution, of course, but the popular revulsion of "politics as usual" dished up by the Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have moved further to the right in recent years and offer barely distinguishable pro-capitalist, anti-worker policies.

Break the two-party system

The TV debate was unusual for US politics in that it centred mainly on issues, not personalities.

Camejo's main message was to call for a break with the two-party system. He denounced both the Democrats and Republicans, and argued for a system of proportional representation so that third parties could be win legislative seats relative to their electoral strength.

Peter Camejo proposed increasing the state income tax on the wealthy from 9.3% to 14%. "The raise I'm proposing for [the rich] would just make them even with what the poorest people pay", Camejo said. "What absolutely amazes me is that people are perfectly willing to see the poorest people in California, who make $15,000 a year, pay 11.3% a year of their income in taxes, but say that the rich shouldn't have to pay it."

In addition to Huffington and Camejo, the other candidates who participated were California's Democrat Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Republican Peter Ueberroth and state senator Tom McClintock, a spokesperson for the right-wing of the Republican Party.

In the debate, both Ueberroth and McClintock championed neoliberal economic policies, opposed any government regulation of corporations or the modest defence of workers' rights. Both were opposed to the Californian law that stipulates that workers must be paid time-and-a-half for overtime after eight hours' work in a day. Both are opposed to reregulating the electrical industry, ignoring the fact that deregulation resulted in the robbery of tens of billions of dollars from the state treasury and consumers by the energy cartel in the rigged energy crisis of 2000-2001.

Camejo pointed out that the deregulation of the electricity industry was passed by the unanimous vote of both Democrats and Republicans.

There were differences between Ueberroth and McClintock, however. Ueberroth's campaign centres on making California "friendly" to corporations, claiming it to be the way to revitalise the economy, create jobs and balance the state budget. McClintock agreed, but is also a vociferous opponent of gay rights, a woman's right to choose abortion and supports the Christian right of the Republican Party. Ueberroth took his distance from McClintock on many of those questions.

Proposition 54

Another referendum will be on the ballot at the same time as the recall poll. If passed, the measure, championed by anti-affirmative action activist Ward Connerly, would prevent the state from collecting any data regarding race or ethnicity. This would set back any attempt to measure differences in unemployment rates, wages, housing conditions, health, education, imprisonment and so on between whites and oppressed groups like African Americans and Latinos. Its purpose is to hide the racist oppression that still characterises US society. McClintock was the only candidate in the debate to support the measure.

Davis and Bustamante, with their backs to the wall, have moved to the left and repudiated some of their past positions. One of these concerned undocumented workers' rights to obtain driver's licenses. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers live in California, because agribusiness and other low-wage employers demand them. They need drivers' licenses to get to work and function generally in California, which is highly automobile-oriented. Last year, Davis vetoed a bill to grant undocumented workers access to driver's licenses. He has reversed himself, and so has Bustamante, and now supports that right. When he ran against Davis as the Green Party candidate last year, Camejo was the only candidate to help organise a march of undocumented workers to demand drivers' licenses and other rights.

Schwartzenegger ducked the debate because he doesn't want to debate the issues. He wants to appear as a moderate Republican, while at the same time keeping hold of the right-wing of the party. The Christian conservatives don't like his views on social questions. The Republican party machine wants all Republican candidates except the actor to withdraw, to raise the chances of a Republican victory in the election. One former candidate, Bill Simon, who Davis' Republican opponent in last year's gubernatorial election, has backed out.

Schwartzenegger last week said he would be an "independent" if elected. One of his spokespeople immediately clarified that he would still be a Republican, but be independent of "special interests".

The Greens will have to fight to be included in the remaining debates before the October 7 election. The more exposure they get, the more the idea of breaking with the Democrats and Republicans will be popularised, whatever Camejo's vote in this election.

Visit Peter Camejo's web site at <http://www.votecamejo.org>.

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.

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