Peter Miguel Camejo, the Green Party's candidate for California governor, blasts Gray Davis harder than Bill Simon. Davis has placed a "for-sale sign on Sacramento," said Camejo at a Tuesday debate with Simon that Davis deliberately avoided. "It's all based on money." Camejo is playing Ralph Nader to Gray Davis's Al Gore. Many in the mainstream media see Camejo as a "wild card" in the race, capable of draining off enough Democrat votes to land Simon in office.
The son of Venezuelan immigrants, Camejo could also take crucial Latino votes away from Davis. Camejo, who spent several years in Venezuela, is bilingual and has been advertising in the Spanish-language media.
The governor's decision to skip Tuesday's debate may help Camejo pick up more ethnic votes. The New California Media, a large group of ethnic media organizations, co-sponsored the debate with the Greenlining Institute, a left-wing network of minority organizations that focuses on urban development.
Paul Turner, senior program manager at the Greenlining Institute, told the press that "Gov. Davis has consistently snubbed minorities." Turner said that he could "think of only two reasons why a candidate would choose not to participate in a debate. Either they consider the exercise inconsequential to the election or they have something to hide."
Instead of engaging Green Party members on the issues, Davis supporters are whining about the party's paucity of political sense. "There's not many of them, but they certainly know how to cause damage to the progressive agenda," Bob Mulholland, a campaign adviser to the state Democratic Party, said to the San Francisco Chronicle. "The Green Party single-handedly deserves the blame for Bush Jr. in the White House."
The Democrats have reason to worry about Camejo. He has polled as high as 5%, which is almost the margin between Davis and Simon in the most recent Field Poll.
But Camejo isn't susceptible to Democratic party bullying. Borrowing a line from Ralph Nader, he says that Davis is "stealing" votes from him. The former radical Berkeley activist enjoys taking shots at Davis. He describes the long-term energy contracts Davis signed in a panic last year "the worst investment ever made, by anybody on our planet."
His attitude appears to be that a Simon administration couldn't be any worse than Davis's. "Both parties are dominated, especially at the top, by corporate America, which is not putting the interests of the people before their interests," he has said. Camejo, who says that he likes Simon personally, views Davis as a graft-ridden pol. "Davis began this campaign with $30 million; those were not contributions. Those are investments," he has said. "People expect a return on their money. That's the definition of corruption -- (getting) money for a candidate, and expecting something in return."
Tuesday's debate was certainly a boon for Simon, yielding news for once that made Davis, not him, the center of criticism. Several major papers reported Davis's absence and Camejo's attacks on the governor.
Camejo and Simon had a convivial time together piling on Davis. "I think Governor Davis' refusal to come today is a disservice," said Camejo, chalking his absence up to an imperial disregard for "minorities." Simon quickly agreed: "Gray Davis ought to be here and, as Peter said, he takes us for granted and he takes you for granted because he thinks all of you have no choice." (Davis aides explained the governor's absence with the laughable excuse that he was too busy with state business. Davis's frenetic fundraising and campaign schedule has never been sidetracked by state business before.)
Davis is in a craven four-corners offense, hoping the clock will run out without any serious scrutiny of his record. So far he has only agreed to one debate with Simon. And he agreed to that one because it is not during prime time -- and Camejo isn't invited.