Thursday, September 22, 2005

Breaking down the Camejo-Feinstein debate

One of the highlights of the gathering that took place over the weekend in Oakland was a debate between Green Party candidate for governor Peter Camejo and former Santa Monica Mayor Mike Feinstein on strategy for the 2006 elections in California. Former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez had the thankless task of moderating the discussion, and he did a good job of allowing audience participation.

Mike Feinstein promises to provide video of the event on his website, so I'll point you there when it is available, but let me lay out the arguments as I understood them. Update: the video is here:

Feinstein is calling for the Green Party of California to develop a unified campaign platform that statewide candidates (including Camejo) and up to 20 Assembly and state Senate candidates can run on. The platform would include reform of Prop. 13, which has seriously screwed up the state's finances by making it very difficult to raise property taxes. The idea behind running 20 legislative candidates is to pick up votes down ticket in a possibly close race for Governor between Schwarzenegger and a Democrat. Feinstein also proposed allowing select progressive Democratic nominees to run simultaneously on the Green Party line if they win a Green Party primary as a write-in candidate (a procedure called fusion). This would let voters express their support for the Green Party in races where there is no Green Party candidate. (Camejo doesn't like this idea at all.) The idea behind a unified platform centered on tax reform is that Greens would show we have a plan for governing California and are not just an opposition or protest party.

Peter Camejo, on the other hand, doesn't want Greens to abandon our role as an opposition party. He seems to see us as the loyal opposition's disloyal opposition. He has already laid out his proposal to run a slate of candidates statewide with himself at the top of the ticket. His strategy is to appeal to opponents of the war in Iraq as well as minorities, by appearing at campaign events with local organizers who are not necessarily Green, but represent a green constituency. To this end, he highlighted the case of Santos Reyes, a man who is serving 26 years to life for a minor crime because of California's three-strikes law.

Camejo is also very involved in debates over the direction of the Green Party, to the extent of getting involved in County Council elections, and I think he placed too much emphasis on this issue, especially in a debate about campaign strategy. Certainly some of this is applicable to the debate at hand, given Feinstein's support for fusion, but it seems to take precedence in Camejo's mind even over his own statewide campaign. Camejo believes that there is a sizable minority in the party that wants to use the party to help Democrats, and that they need to be stopped. He has believed this ever since the party nationally nominated longtime Green David Cobb as its presidential candidate in 2004. Cobb ran using a strategy he termed the "safe-states strategy". It meant he campaigned mostly in states that were not seriously at play between the President and his Democratic challenger. This strategy has a couple of obvious merits (for instance, more people are liable to vote for a Green in "safe states"), but Camejo, who ran for Vice President on a ticket with Ralph Nader, saw this as capitulation to the Democrats--what Camejo terms lesser-evilism.

This is a fair debate to have within the Green Party, but Camejo misses two points: Lesser-evilism is not a strong current in the Green Party, and very few of the 150,000 or so registered Greens in the state care about it either way. Feinstein himself said he would be willing to drop his support for fusion given the overwhelmingly negative response it has received among Green Party activists across the state. Camejo invited Feinstein to run against him so they could have this debate up and down the state in the Green Party primary. What a horrible idea! We are not going to grow the party by airing our internal divisions as campaign platforms. Feinstein made a good point in basically endorsing Camejo, and suggesting he spend more time on his own campaign. It is Camejo's campaign skills, after all, that have made him the party star that he is today.


Post a Comment

<< Home