UNITED STATES: Greens candidate challenges two-party system

Issue 

BY BARRY SHEPPARD

SAN FRANCISCO — The recall election of Governor Gray Davis in California continues to generate more interest than recent elections. People throughout the state are registering to vote in record numbers.

There is a sense of crisis in the state. California is facing a budget debacle. Unemployment is up. Everyone remembers the rigged 2000-2001 energy "crisis", in which billions of dollars were shovelled into the coffers of Enron and other energy corporations. The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not going well for the US. The Democrats and Republicans in the state capital, Sacramento, have proposed huge cutbacks to social services, hitting working people hard.

Of course, what the people of California are experiencing is also hitting the rest of the country, and has its origin in policies adopted by the Democrats and Republicans nationally. Under the rubric of neoliberalism, the George Bush's Republican administration in Washington has slashed taxes for the rich, creating a big deficit, which is being exacerbated by the huge, and rising, cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This comes on top of the recession.

The federal deficit is being used by the Bush administration as the excuse to cut back on aid to the states, while at the same time pushing the responsibility for social spending onto states and cities. The Democrats go along with this program with hardly a squeak of opposition — and even those squeaks are for show.

One thing needed is a crash program of public works to create jobs. Such a program could rebuild dilapidated infrastructure. Another is to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dismantle US military bases around the world and divert US military spending into increased spending on education, health care, protection of the environment and other social needs.

Peter Camejo

While such a national effort is urgently needed, a lot could be done on the state level in California. Peter Miguel Camejo, the Green Party candidate for governor, points out that the state deficit could be eliminated by raising taxes on the rich by a small amount. He calls for reversing the trend toward ever more regressive taxes which hit those with the lowest incomes the hardest.

Camejo's calls for a fight against Sacramento's cutting back of social programs. He is for universal health care, investment in renewable energy, raising the California's minimum wage to a living wage, spending the money needed to revamp the state's declining education system and launching a public works program.

Camejo also argues that drug addiction should be treated as a public health problem rather than a criminal one, thereby reducing spending on the state's bloated prison system. He calls for bringing the troops home now from Iraq and Afghanistan.

A key part of Camejo's message is to break with the Democrats and Republicans. Some in the Green Party don't agree with all of Camejo's positions. A tug of war is occurring behind the scenes, which is reflected in Green Party campaign literature that tones down Camejo's positions.

'Anyone but Bush'

The most important division in the party is over whether Camejo should run against the Democrats and Republicans at all. Many do not agree with breaking with from both capitalist parties. There is even a Greens' anti-Camejo web site.

Underneath all this is the rising pressure from sections of the trade union bureaucracy, as well as some socialists, Greens and progressives, who argue for "anyone but Bush" in the 2004 presidential elections. This position is reflected in the Nation magazine.

The unions have been targets of the Davis administration's attacks, but this hasn't stopped the bureaucracy from slavishly defending Davis in the recall election. At first, the union tops took out ads saying they would attack any Democrat who put their name on the ballot to replace Davis if he is recalled. When the polls showed that the vote to recall might win, Democrat Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante entered the race. The bureaucrats, fearful that a Republican might win, then took the position of voting no on the recall, but also for Bustamante on the second part of the ballot — just in case.

Arianna Huffington

Besides Camejo, there is another candidate who calls herself a progressive and an independent, Arianna Huffington. Huffington is a columnist and author who has evolved in recent years from a right-wing Republican to someone who attacks both parties for turning their backs on the poor and catering to the rich. She has taken progressive stands on many issues.

Camejo and Huffington have a non-aggression pact in the race. They have even said that, if the other has a chance of winning, they would withdraw and urge people to vote for the possible winner. But it is very unlikely that such a situation will arise.

Some in the corporate press jumped on this to say that Camejo was withdrawing from the race, which has created some confusion. Camejo has stated forcefully that he is not withdrawing and is running hard.

Huffington, although she attacks both parties and is running as an independent, is not clear about breaking with the Democrats and Republicans.

Camejo ran as the Green Party candidate for governor last year, and received over 5% of the vote statewide, with a higher vote in certain areas. In San Francisco, he came in second to Davis, beating the Republican candidate.

There are three socialists on the ballot: CT Weber of the Peace and Freedom Party; Joel Britton of the Socialist Workers Party; and John Burton for the Socialist Equality Party.

In recent decades the Socialist Workers Party has retreated into self-isolation and obscurity. The Peace and Freedom Party is a reformist socialist party, and has been on the ballot in California for a long time, and so is better known. Weber calls for a "no" vote on the recall poll, which is a mistake because it could be taken to mean a vote for Democrat Davis.

Camejo is not running against any of these socialist candidates, but against the Democrats and Republicans. He is much more widely known than the three socialists, and his campaign is having a much bigger impact. In this election, it is more important to vote for a break with the capitalist parties, through a vote for Camejo, that it is to vote for "socialism".

On September 3, there will be a televised debate among the six top candidates. The candidates who have been invited are Bustamante, Camejo, Huffington, Tom McClintock (Republicans), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republicans) and Peter Ueberroth (Republicans).

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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