California Greens Advance: The Camejo and Chretien Campaigns

— Mike Rubin

IN CALIFORNIA THE Green Party is changing both in its social composition and in its political diversity. The party's support for immigrants' rights, especially around the issue of state driver's licenses, has won the party growing support among Latinos. Leading activists such as Nativo Lopez, Chair of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), and Miguel Araujo, from Centro Azteca, have come into the Green Party.

In addition, more African Americans, fed up with being ignored and taken for granted by the Democrats, are joining. On July 18 death penalty foe Barbara Becnel, the first Black woman to run for California governor, appeared with Peter Miguel Camejo, Green Party candidate for Governor, at her side and signed a voter registration form switching to the Green Party. In a letter to Democratic Party Chair Art Torres, she said the Democratic Party "has transformed itself from Dixiecrats to Richiecrats -- money counts, equality of treatment does not. This is shameful."

Muslims who are feeling alienated in post 9-11 America and angered by the bipartisan Patriot Act and similar acts of ethnic profiling are also more present. More socialists have entered the party. As a result, the party is taking on more of an economic and social justice focus and more of an oppositional character.

The Greens are also more able to put forward plans that make sense to the electorate. Camejo has a concrete, five-point program to increase the state revenues by $32.6 billion a year:

  • The richest 5% should pay the same tax rate the poorest 20% pay. Currently the bottom 20% pay taxes at a 57% rate higher than the top 1% (adds $10 billion).
  • Establish single payer universal health care (adds $7.6 billion).
  • Stop all loopholes and tax fraud (adds $7 billion).
  • Return corporate taxes to what they were 20 years ago. Fifty-two percent of all profitable corporations in California are currently paying no taxes (adds $5 billion).
  • Raise the minimum wage in real terms to what it was in 1968, which was equivalent to $9.40 an hour, and is presently $6.75 (adds $3 billion).

As part of the campaign, Camejo, the Greens' Lieutenant Governor candidate Donna Warren, and others have put together a small book, California: Under Corporate Rule, available for $10. The book outlines the facts, statistics and issues facing the state, and puts forth solutions (to order, go to www.votecamejo.com).

The Green Party's central campaign message has been "A Million Votes for Peace." I believe that this is an intelligent political strategy. One of the major political disconnects in American politics today is the phenomenon of people voting for candidates who believe the opposite of what voters say they believe.

Polls in California indicate that up to 60% (depending on exactly what is asked) are opposed to the war. Hundreds of thousands of Californians have demonstrated against the war. If only all the people who have been to an antiwar demonstration were to vote for Green candidates, it would mark a major shift in the political landscape both in California and in the country as a whole.

To everyone's surprise, in the June 6 open California primary the Greens' candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sarah Knopp, a member of the California Teachers Association, finished second, polling 570,000 votes. With 17.3% of the total vote, Knopp defeated the Republican-endorsed candidate as well as several others.

Chretien v. Feinstein

Now that the primary is over the party is building its statewide slate. Todd Chretien, a leading member of the International Socialist Organization, has emerged as the Greens' candidate for U.S. Senate. His victory in the primary against two other candidates gave him the right to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a leading Democratic Party supporter of the Bush war policy and Israeli invasion of Lebanon. On two occasions she helped Bush pass the USA Patriot Act.

A recent statewide poll puts Chretien in third place with 5% of the vote, with 21% undecided (Feinstein received 42% and her Republican challenger, Dick Mountjoy came in with 21%.) Chretien is concentrating on reaching the undecided voters, whom he sees as looking for an antiwar, pro-environment, pro-immigrant rights, anti-death penalty candidate. He points out that Feinstein "occupies the center of California politics," noting that it is difficult to distinguish her from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is considering endorsing her.

When I asked what the effect of the upsurge of the war in the Middle East has been on his campaign, Todd Chretien replied, "It has had a polarizing effect. I have had a good response from the Arab community and from the anti-Zionist part of the antiwar movement. However, my criticism of Israel has been controversial in the Green Party."

Not everyone is happy with the changes inside the Green Party, and there are tensions. New people mean revisiting previous collective understandings. Some are concerned with what they perceive as less of a focus on environmentalism. Others feel threatened with a more independent and hostile view of the Democrats. Some people just wanted to ignore the Democrats, while others wanted to act as a pressure group on them.

In some places, where the Green Party is a small circle of "leaders," new people are seen as threatening. But despite these growing pains, the Green Party has enormous potential as Democrats continue to be "Republicans lite." An electoral alternative is essential to rebuilding a left in America.

ATC 124, September-October 2006