NEW YORK – Peter Camejo has accepted the Green Party's request to put him on state ballots as their 2004 presidential candidate despite his misgivings about running for the position.
Camejo, one of many who lost the 135-way race for governor of California last October, sat down for a phone interview with Foxnews. com to discuss his plans, former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, the future of the third party vote, and whether he can be relevant even if he is not viable. Below is a transcript of the interview.
Foxnews.com: About your candidacy, why were you reluctant at first to run for president?
PETER CAMEJO: Well, I'm not running for president. I'm only a favorite son in California and have allowed my name to be put on the ballot in several states. The Green Party (search) has a very complex situation in 2004.
Many favor Ralph Nader (search), others want David Cobb (search) and are considering other alternatives. I wanted to have a way for Greens at each state to be able to vote for delegates that go uncommitted to the national convention so that we can figure out what is best for the party in June. I lean towards endorsement and support of Ralph Nader.
Foxnews.com: Will you accept the nomination if it is offered to you?
CAMEJO: No, I have made it really clear for a lot of reasons, both political and personal. I am not going to be a candidate for the Green Party in the presidential race. However, I am playing a role in helping to get the options up and to participate in the discussion. I feel that it is imperative that we have a strong voice in this campaign and I feel the attacks against us, especially coming from liberal Democrats — and we can understand what motivates them — but I think they have it exactly backwards.
The Greens have every right to run, that's what democracy is, and they should argue their point by saying how they think people should vote, not by telling us to be silent. And I'm very strong on this because there's even some Greens who think it would be best that we don't run. But I think that would be a huge mistake. We are trying to build an alternative party with a different vision and to do that you need to have your voice be heard. And I don't think anybody could represent us better, in this campaign, than Ralph Nader.
Foxnews.com: Ralph Nader is not running Green, are you making an effort to recruit him?
CAMEJO: I think what Ralph Nader has said has been partially misunderstood. What Ralph, very correctly, said was you can't hold a convention in June under the framework in which it was established. Where he wanted to run, he wants to consider running, he feels he has to make his decision much earlier. He's trying to reach out to people beyond the Greens, on many crucial issues, such as civil rights and civil liberties against the Patriot Act (search).
And the Green Party was sort of constricting him. He chose to declare as an independent, but I personally talk to Ralph Nader and I am sure if you call him, he would verify this, but Ralph would be very happy to have the Green party endorse him. He has a great supportive feeling towards the Green Party; he has been one of the greatest helpers in building and recruiting to the Green Party. So, I think that's misunderstood. Like he had turned his back on the Green Party.
That's not what Ralph Nader did. What Ralph said was, "I can't agree with the way you're handling it, I need to get out there and tell people and I want to be sure," in case he should lose among the delegation, which I don't think could happen, but you can't rule it out of course. Given that situation, he felt it was necessary to declare that he was going to run as an independent.
Foxnews.com: What about David Cobb, Are you not supporting him if he's the nominee for the Green Party?
CAMEJO: I think extremely highly of David Cobb. He's energetic, extremely articulate and a strong supporter of the Green Party. And he's campaigning throughout the nation right no -- defending the Green Party, speaking to generally small meetings, but nevertheless, he's out there doing what he can to help build the Green Party.
I look forward to David Cobb being a candidate for the Greens but maybe not for president. I do believe -- with what I think is the majority point of view in the Greens -- that it would be better to work closely with Ralph for one last time, rather than have David Cobb represent us. But I have a lot of respect for David, and if for some reason we end up running David Cobb, I will be there to help him in whatever way I can.
Foxnews.com: Is there a situation in which you can imagine yourself being the candidate for the presidency?
CAMEJO: Well there is a "draft Camejo" Web site and I've come under enormous pressure from inside the Green Party. Everyone liked me in the nationally-televised debates, but that went for everybody — Republicans, Democrats, Greens, everybody.
I think a little mythology has developed around me that somehow if I run, you know, it will be wonderful. Um ... no, I will not run, and I do believe that if Nader should choose not to, that the highest probability at this point would be that David Cobb would become the candidate of the Green Party. There are other people running and everyone has to be considered carefully.
Foxnews.com: The question that remains is why? Why is it that you won't run?
CAMEJO: OK, I won't run for a combination of reasons, some of them are personal. I mean you know, I've been out campaigning without stop for two years. And I'm not one of these multi-millionaires, as some people think, and I have to work for a living. I have obligations; I also have a lot of family obligations. A lot of personal things, which have to do with my mother and other issues that I have to deal with. So I don't feel in a position to just take off again and run for another year. As well as some political considerations.
We're doing very well in California, the Green Party is growing here. I want to stay focused on that. We came within an inch of winning the San Francisco mayorship in a coalition with progressive Democrats, and we had the Republican and Democratic Party both against us. We were outfinanced 10 to one, which is enormously advantageous for us, because normally we are outfinanced 100 to one. I do think that Gavin Newsom (search) was running under a handicap only having 10 times the money we had. Because under those ratios, Greens will win.
And we came within an inch of it, and I see the whole development in the Bay area as an enormous opportunity for the Green Party. I want to stay focused on that. And I have an important role to play here in California to take that victory that we are developing here and to continue it. So that's sort of my thinking and that's where my head is right now and I feel bad about not being able to assure people that if they wanted me that I would do it, but I have made it real clear to every Green that has asked me, that I am not really available to be a candidate this year.
Foxnews.com What do you think the top three issues of your candidate should be?
CAMEJO: First, I want to thank you for making the question three issues, because there's two that will make me sound like that's all I'm thinking about. But one of them, of course is the war in Iraq, the other one is the Patriot Act. I really think the Patriot Act violates our Constitution.
It was, it is, an illegal act. The Congress, the Senate and the president cannot change the Constitution. And no one in their right mind can say to me with a straight face that the Patriot Act has not aggregated the Fourth Amendment (search). It obviously has changed, everybody knows it, every Democrat or Republican, and it was almost all of them -- who voted for it, knew they were carrying out an illegal act in violation of the law.
The issue of Iraq, here's the crucial thing that only a Green will represent: the United States and the CIA supported Saddam Hussein (search), right from the day he came to power, when the Ba'athists first came to power, they even gave lists of the names of people for the Ba'athists to murder, which they did.
The CIA worked very closely with them and United States supported Saddam Hussein at every level -- gave him arms, gave him money, gave him political backing, the military helped him; none of this is really fully understood by the American people. And then the decision when he wouldn't follow orders from Washington, to go to war against Iraq, is an additional crime against the Iraqi people.
Because first we put Saddam Hussein against them, a murderer and torturer, as George Bush says, without ever explaining, of course, that politically we supported Saddam Hussein. His father in 1990 even sent a message to Iraq, saying what a good job Saddam Hussein was doing. This is after he used poison gas on his people.
So after doing that horrible thing we commit another horrible thing. We've bombed that country for 10 years, then we invade it and we have a military dictatorship with the mass of the people in Iraq demonstrating asking for free elections, which the United States won't let them have.
I think these are crucial issues to understand. The United States is not for democracy in Iraq, it's for setting up a puppet government and I will tell you the proof, which is so obvious and simple. It doesn't call for democracy in Kuwait (search) or in Qatar (search) or in the UAE (search) or in Saudi Arabia (search). If the United States were for democracy in those states, where it totally influences and it has the leadership doing whatever it wants, it would be pushing hard for democracy. So, this to me is the second most. The third issue is the whole issue of the economy.
Today we are having record GDP (search) in America but the average person's not gaining from this. Taxes are going up, but on the poor and the middle classes. They're not going up for the rich they're going down for the rich.
In fact, in California, when I ran for governor, I made the point that the wealthiest one percent, which has the same income as 75 percent of the people, has a 57 percent lower tax rate for state and local taxes, than the poorest 20 percent.
We must have a fair tax in the United States. We have to re-adjust it, we must be fiscally responsible. These massive deficits that Bush is running are terrible and of course the byproduct of the military expenditures. So without me getting too long, there's obviously a whole series of other issues that Greens will have a very different position.
We're absolutely in defense of the Eighth Amendment (search); therefore we're against three strikes. You know, I don't know if you know, but in California a man was just given 25 years to life, for cheating on a DMV (search) test. That to me, a society that will send a person to jail for life for cheating on a DMV test because he wanted a driver's license for his cousin. He faked he was his cousin to try to get him a driver's license. It's a sick society; its values have been totally… well this is a violation of the Constitution, no question of that in my mind.
So on many issues, whether it be universal health care, a whole series of issues about human rights in the United States. America's the only industrialized country with a death penalty on all of these issues. A Green Party candidate would be very different from a Democrat or Republican and should be heard.
Foxnews.com: What would you want your candidate to do with the troops currently stationed in Iraq?
CAMEJO: I would bring the troops home immediately and I would be supportive of having a generally free election in Iraq. Which probably will lead to a government that a lot of Americans won't like. So what? That's the right of the Iraqi people. Think of what we would think in America if a foreign nation had come to occupy us and was telling us what to do and what sort of elections we should have, which had supported a dictator for years?
Deep down, the Iraqi people want the United States out. And their self-determination (search) should be respected. And how this works out would require some diplomatic issues, which of course would have to be worked out. But the essence is this: U.S. troops out of Iraq and some sense of responsibility to help overcome the enormous destruction that we have done in that nation through the bombings and destruction of their infrastructure.
Now, what we're doing is taxing the American people to give huge finances to American corporations and so repair is being done in Iraq but at the expense of the American people. When the Iraqis… we should of course help them but not by giving huge finances to Halliburton (search), Bechtel (search) and other corporations. We should be giving those contracts to companies from the Arab world. To show that we really want to help that community not rip it off.
And the concept of privatizing their oil is beyond belief. That is something the Iraqi people will have to decide, if they want to do that or not. That is not something an occupying army can decide.
And obviously the United States is trying to set up a puppet government. The problem they are having is there are very few puppets around in Iraq. And everyone knows, from what the British experienced, remember they used poison gas in Iraq; they were the first to do it. And Winston Churchill (search) publicly said that it was good that they did that. There's enormous leftover hate of the Europeans and indirectly of the United States for what the Europeans and European-Americans have done to them
Foxnews.com: What do you expect your candidate to do about homeland security?
CAMEJO: I think there couldn't be anything that would protect the American people more than a Green being elected president, which reflects the majority point of view in the world... [that] the Democrats and Republicans voted to authorize George Bush to invade Iraq illegally because Article 1 section 2 doesn't permit that, and everything else they've done, the majority opinion of the world went completely against what the United States was doing.
The Green Party represents that majority point of view within the U.S. Our election could almost guarantee, immediately, that there would be no terrorist attack because our policy would be not be exploitive, abusive and we would show respect, not only to Muslims but toward all the countries of the Middle East. We would really fight to give justice to the Palestinians, and of course, protecting the rights of the people of Israel.
But the point is this, you change that political framework, and the relationship and the way the United States has armed every dictatorship in the Middle East, stop doing that and start supporting democracy, and the forces that fight for democracy -- especially politically -- and show respect, and say we will not try to make profit off the oil that comes from the Middle East but have that oil go to develop and to solve the poverty that so many tens of millions of people suffer in that part of the world.
With that kind of politics, the danger of terrorism would decline sharply. And we should take all kinds of measures to avoid the deranged person that will do a vicious thing like spread anthrax (search) or poison gas or want to bring bombs into the United States.
Of course an effort has to be made that combines a diplomatic and political offensive... for instance, the Democrats and Republicans supported Usama bin Laden, they spent $4 [billion] to $6 billion of our tax money to build other extremist pro-terrorist Muslim groups, in partnership with Usama bin Laden (search).
George Bush's family, for gosh sakes, has been in business deals with this specific family for like, forever. This has left a totally different mood there, which we need to overcome. I believe the effort to stop terrorism and to protect our homeland is primary political, economic, and diplomatic, not just military as [Attorney General John] Ashcroft and Bush represent it.
Foxnews.com: What are the Greens doing to get into national debates?
CAMEJO: Well, a very interesting new organization is being set up for presidential debates. That is establishing the correct criteria. Their criteria is what the people want. That is, let's say there's five or six candidates running for president, you do a poll of the people and you ask them, who do you want in the debates? And anybody who gets over 50 percent should be included in the debates. That's a much better criteria. The criteria that everybody knows for the moment, makes it only Democrats and Republicans. The people who've been deciding who gets in the debates has been a private corporation made up of Democrats and Republicans. And there's a wonderful effort being done by Ralph Nader, and people allied with him to broaden this into a new committee that will be non-partisan, broad and will be democratic.
This will be a very important campaign. As everybody knows I got into the … I was the candidate … first time a Green or any progressive third party has ever been in a national televised debate. And I was in five of them. And the response from the public was overwhelming. The one poll that was taken showed 69 percent of the people, and this was before the debates, wanted me in the debate.
I can assure you that after these debates it's probably 90 percent of the people, at least in California and probably nationally, that will want the Green Party candidate in the debates. And perhaps it would completely change the nature of those debates to have someone who would be saying the kinds of things that I'm saying in this interview in those debates. And force George Bush not just to answer how they were so wrong about whether there's weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but how can he can justify the CIA and himself and his political party, and the U.S. government, supporting a torturer and murderer for decades in Iraq.
This has to be answered to the American … There's 3,000 people who lost their lives because of these kinds of policies. And they cannot just walk away with it because news organizations refuse to bring this out and let the people know about it.
Foxnews.com: (laughs) Well, I'm trying to.
CAMEJO: (laughs) I know, I know there are a few that try.
Foxnews.com: (laughs) I don't have any control over the debates. So, how are the Greens raising money to support a national candidate?
CAMEJO: Well the Greens are the most amazing political party America has ever seen. We do incredibly well. We have 65 elected officials in California and we do it almost without money. Just with humans. This is the difference. We represent people; the Democrats and Republicans represent money. And money is not the crucial thing for us, at all.
In the campaign that Matt Gonzalez had in San Francisco … and Gavin Newsom … what everybody had to admit, no matter what position somebody held, was the amazing turnout of volunteers for Matt Gonzalez. Youth that poured out, people that had never been involved in elections before. Signs supporting the Greens were three to one against the Democrat who was endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans, by the way.
And GavinNewsom, by the way, the new mayor of San Francisco, gave money to George Bush. He's a Democrat; he gave money to George Bush in 2000. He was actually on the voter's slate of the Republican Party with George Bush in 2000. So the Democrats ... the only way he won, because the majority of Democrats in San Fran voted for the Greens.
We are seeing more and more money come into our campaigns our campaigns now raise more money than ever before. Matt raised almost $400,000, which is the most we've ever raised for a mayorship race. Ralph raised about $8 million for his presidential race four years ago. I think it would be harder to raise money this year, I think it will be harder for us to get a higher vote, but that depends a lot on how the campaign develops.
Already Bush is showing some weakness in the polls but it's much too early to know. If that is the case, having Ralph Nader out there talking about what the real meaning of his tax cut and the real issues before America could lower the support even further for Bush. I don't think Bush will have 7 million Democrats vote for him, like he did last time. And, of course, he lost the vote last time. So I think there's a possibility, in spite of the enormous money that Bush is getting that he will lose this election.
Foxnews.com: What are the Greens doing about ballot access?
CAMEJO: Well, that's up to each state. And everywhere throughout nation, we now have organizations in just about every state, I don't think we quite have all 50 yet, but we are very close. And each state is looking into that and doing the best it can.
We are already on the ballot in about 20. But those are the larger states and we probably have over 75 percent of the people able to vote for us. Unfortunately, the Democrats and Republicans have made it difficult to get on the ballot in many states, it's been part of their anti-democratic process not to allow free elections in America.
You know, this whole issue that many Democrats raised, that we shouldn't run because of the spoiler effect, they call it. That, in Europe, does not exist in a single country. All electoral laws in Europe are more democratic than they are in the United States. Because the obvious solution is the same solution we have in every city in America, you have a runoff. You have a runoff, so people are free to vote for who they want. So we're working on ballot status, but in some states it's very difficult given how reactionary the laws are to try to prevent third parties from existing.
Foxnews.com: What do you say to people who claim that voting third party is throwing away your vote?
CAMEJO: Well, they wouldn't have voted for the abolitionists (search), they would have voted for the two parties that supported slavery. They wouldn't have voted for the populists who fought for the rights of people and won over many states. Of course, usually the Republicans primarily, but also Democrats would go into courts and have the elections thrown out whenever [third parties] won.
Much of what we see in America, what most people feel has been progress and good things, have been brought about by the existence of third parties. And it's been always a battle to try and open up the electoral system.
I think if the Democrats and Republicans saw … think about this, the Democrats voted for the Patriot Act, only one senator voted against it. They voted a resolution of unequivocal support for George Bush in the war with Iraq. When Bush gave his 2003 and his 2004 State of Union address (search) they gave him repeated standing ovations. A little less in 2004 and they still gave him 18 standing ovations.
We don't agree with George Bush and I think millions and millions of Americans don't agree with George Bush, tens of millions. And the fact that we run, many people will say, "Since we don't have free elections here. We don't have a runoff, even though I want to vote for the Greens, I'm going to vote Democrat."
We understand that. We are not angry at them. We understand what leads them to that. But there are hundreds of thousands of young people, especially in America, our vote is heavily weighed towards younger people, who will say "You know what, I'm fed up with all of this. If the Democrats can't even come out for free elections, I'm not going to vote for them ever again."
And those people have the right to cast their ballot, that's the great thing about elections. It's a chance for citizens to tell the world, tell the rest of the nation, tell the other citizens, where they stand. And those who decide to vote for a third party are sending a very powerful message. Therefore it's not a wasted vote at all.
Foxnews.com: Thank you very much, Mr. Camejo.