Californians may recall the governor they elected eight months ago, but democrats don't want to weaken his position by running against him. That leaves the field open for Republicans and the newly-announced Green Party candidate.
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CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. California often has lively politics, and with a recall election in the offing, the Green Party may well play a key role in this year’s emerging drama. An unprecedented budget deficit has critics of Democrat Governor Gray Davis blaming him for the Golden State's financial woes. And though the signatures will need to be verified, a movement to recall the governor seems to have enough of them on a petition to trigger a recall vote. A Green Party candidate, Peter Camejo, has declared he will run on any recall ballot. And that has some Democrats worried that the Greens could siphon support away from Governor Davis, the way some claim Ralph Nader spoiled Al Gore’s last presidential bid. With me to explain all this is political scientist Henry Brady of the University of California at Berkeley. Professor, welcome.
CURWOOD: Now, what happens if this recall petition gets enough signatures? I understand the voters are going to be looking at a, shall we say, unusual ballot.
BRADY: It’s going to be very unusual. It’s going to include two questions. The first question is going to ask: do you think Gray Davis, our governor, should be recalled. Yes, no? And no matter how you answer that question, or even if your don’t vote on that, you can go on and actually respond to the second question, which is—which of the following people should be our next governor? Gray Davis cannot appear on that second list, but almost anybody else can, because it’s very easy to get on the list. You don’t need many signatures, you don’t need much money.
CURWOOD: So if enough people vote yes on that first question, and remove the elected governor…
BRADY: That would have to be a majority of the people voting.
CURWOOD: Then the state tallies the answers for the second question – who would take his place. And I would think most certainly there would be Republican choices, we don’t know whom yet. But it doesn’t look like the voters will have much in the way of Democrats to choose from, I would think.
BRADY: Well, that’s part of the strategy that people are trying to get at right now. The Democrats, so far, have gotten together and said, look, let’s agree that none of us are going to put up our name for that second question, and therefore we’ll force Democratic and independent voters to decide that they’re going to be against the recall, keep Gray Davis, and go from there.
CURWOOD: But now, of course, there is Peter Camejo of the Green Party. Tell us a little about him and what he’s decided.
BRADY: Well, Peter Camejo is an old Berkeley activist who was active during the sixties. He’s gotten, now, involved with the Green Party. And he’s decided that what he should do is put his name up for this ballot. He ran for governor in the past, and he’s run, I think, for some other offices as well, but he’s basically not anybody who’s ever gotten elected to anything.
CURWOOD: When he’s run for governor, what’s he done in terms of votes?
BRADY: He did get a fair number of votes when he ran for governor, somewhere in the five percent range, if my memory serves.
CURWOOD: Now the Green Party really took it on the chin from the Democrats for, some would say, making it possible for President Bush to be elected. So, how do they feel about Peter Camejo running? Is the Green Party endorsing him, what’s the thinking here?
BRADY: Well, at the moment they’re not. It’s a complicated situation for the Green Party. They certainly remember 2000, where a lot of people thought that the 95,000 votes or so in Florida that went to Ralph Nader were taken away from Al Gore. And they’re not real excited about doing that kind of thing again. So what they’ve decided for the moment is that the situation is very fluid, very complicated, and so they’re not going to take any position on whether or not they endorse Peter Camejo. However, I’ve been in contact with some of the folks in the Green Party, and they’ve told me that the situation is fluid, and they might change their mind. At the same time, of course, they’re worried that, in this situation it’s not clear but that there might not be a backlash. And so there’s another constituency within the Green Party that says, gee, if we’re not careful here we’re going to have a terrible backlash against the Greens, because we’re going to be the people that lead to a situation where maybe, perhaps, a far-right Republican candidate becomes governor.
CURWOOD: I want you to step inside of Peter Camejo’s mind for a moment. I know it’s impossible to really know what anyone else is thinking, but what do you think he’s thinking, getting into this race?
BRADY: I think he’s thinking that he wants the Green Party to get a lot of attention. He wants to push forward the ideas of the Green Party. Parties, third parties always live in hopes that tomorrow will be the day when suddenly their support will increase. I think they also see—the Green Party right now, in general—a very weak Democratic party that can’t seem to get its act together, and so they have great hopes that maybe the Greens could, in fact, ultimately do what some parties in the past in American history have done, some third parties have done, which is to become the new second party.
CURWOOD: So, today, how conceivable do you think it is that the Green Party could provide the margin of victory for the Republicans?
BRADY: It revolves around the question of how many Democrats, in the end, are going to be so mad at Gray Davis that they’re going to decide that they’ll vote for the recall. And, is it possible that the small number of Greens out there who will also decide to vote for the recall because they want to vote for Peter Camejo, could then put it over the top—that is to say, create the recall situation in which we have to decide who our governor was by the second question.
CURWOOD: Henry Brady is a political scientist and public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
BRADY: Thank you.
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