Saturday's one-and-only gubernatorial debate offered candidates this challenge: each could ask his opponent one question. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger went first, posing to state Treasurer Phil Angelides: "What is the funniest moment during your campaign?"
Give him points for trying to get the wonkish Angelides to lighten up, but in choosing humor over substance, Schwarzenegger revealed, perhaps, just how comfortable he is with his sizable lead over Angelides, estimated at 15 points.
No better time for good, liberal Democrats to vote Green, says Peter Camejo, the Green Party's candidate for governor.
"No one has ever recovered 15 points in the last four weeks [of a campaign]," Camejo noted the day before the debate. "The point is, why vote Democrat? That's a wasted vote."
Camejo is taking the Dems' main gripe against the Greens, flipping it, and using it to his party's advantage. Whereas Greens are seen as potential spoilers in tight races- especially in California, where they have the largest base-in this election for governor, the race is already won.
"The Democrats always say, "Don't vote Green, you're wasting your vote, they can't win,'" Camejo said. "What I'm saying is that since a Democrat can't win, what people really should do is vote for what they believe in."
Camejo's perhaps best known for his 2003 run in the election to recall Gov. Gray Davis. In that race, Camejo became the first Green candidate invited to participate in a nationally televised debate, and he got props from the San Francisco Chronicle for "coming across as the most issue-oriented" of the five debate participants. He garnered 2.8 percent of the vote, putting him fourth behind major-party candidates Schwarzenegger, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and state Sen. Tom McClintock.
Camejo wasn't invited to participate in the debate this past Saturday because the Green Party lacks the requisite 10-percent voter registration (roughly 1 percent of Californians are registered Green). Instead, he's participating in smaller forums with other minor-party candidates. An investment banker by day-his firm, the Camejo Group, specializes in socially responsible investing-Camejo's a numbers guy whose platform focuses on the state's lopsided tax system, under which, he says, the wealthy and large corporations pay proportionately less in taxes than the poor and the middle class. Illegal immigrants, he says, have become the scapegoats for California's problems when it's really tax-skirting corporations that are to blame.
"People don't realize how simple it would be for us to pour money into education, alternative energy and the infrastructure without any problems and to lower taxes for the majority of the people," he said. "The fact is that corporations have stopped paying taxes." Fifty-two percent of profit-generating corporations pay no taxes, Camejo says, "and [corporate] taxes are 40 percent less than they were 20 years ago.
"The rich are getting richer, dramatically, and the average person's standing still."
It's the less wealthy who'd benefit from a more inclusive political system, Camejo points out. Indeed, a study released last month by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California found that stalwart voters tend to be white, older and richer. The same poll found that slightly more than half of likely voters think Schwarzenegger and Angelides are ignoring important issues and 40 percent of voters felt "less enthusiastic" about casting a ballot.
"In America we have the most undemocratic electoral system in the world among all nations that hold elections," Camejo said. "It's very difficult for an opposition to grow. The Greens can't go from 5 percent to 10 to 20 [percent voter registration] because as the Greens begin to go up, the very people they're attracting turn against them because it's resulting in Republicans winning."
As a solution, Camejo advocates what's known as instant-runoff voting, a system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. It's an instantaneous process of elimination. If your top pick gets eliminated, then your second-favorite candidate gets your vote. Camejo used the recent Mexican election as an example of how instant-runoff voting could make a difference-Mexico doesn't use IRV.
"They had a three-way race and they had no run-off. The [candidate] who came in second by a tiny bit is claiming he really won. What about the 17 percent of voters who didn't vote for either one? Shouldn't they have a say in this? If you had IRV, that issue could be settled...."
IRV's used for major elections in Australia, Ireland and Great Britain. Here, liberal bastions Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco use IRV; so, too, does the Utah Republican Party.
"This is the most accurate way to register what the people want and therefore there's freedom for people to run," Camejo said. "And sometimes there's a big surprise how people will actually vote."