Former Berkeley Activist Back in Spotlight As Green Party Candidate for Governor

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A former senator in the UC Berkeley student government and candidate for Berkeley mayor has returned to political life after slinking away following an embarrassing suspension by the university administration in the 1960s.

Peter Camejo, a former socialist turned "socially responsible," is the Green Party candidate for governor, known for his activism on the campus from 1966-1968 during its activism heyday. His name was often uttered alongside that of Mario Savio, and together, they created the progressive reputation that still lingers at UC Berkeley.

The former ASUC senator, kicked out of school 35 years ago, returns to campus this evening to give a speech at Evans Hall.

With publicity about his arrest by Berkeley police in a preemptive move to cull a protest, Camejo was swept into office. But in his current bid for governor, he will need to rely on more than progressive politics to even have an impact on the election. And publicity won't come so easily.

The investment broker, though lacking the name recognition of Green Party leader Ralph Nader, risks having the same kind of impact on the governor's race as Nader did on the 2000 presidential election. But taking votes away from Democratic candidate Gray Davis is not Camejo's goal, nor his concern.

Angered when labeled a spoiler, Camejo says he would rather make it a close race than withdraw and back Gov. Davis.

"We would never back off," Camejo says.

He says he has no plans of dropping out of the race, even if polling numbers show Republican Bill Simon and Davis in a dead heat.

But Davis campaign spokesperson Roger Salazar says he is not worried Camejo will capture large portions of Davis' constituency.

Camejo does not have the widespread name recognition to draw large numbers of voters, Salazar says, adding, "Peter Camejo is not Ralph Nader."

But the Simon camp is more confident Camejo will pose a threat to Davis in the November election.

"Gray Davis does not have votes to spare if he wants to get re-elected," says Simon campaign Spokesperson Jamie Fisfis.

Instead of blaming the "Greens," the Democratic majority in the legislature should institute "instant run-offs" for all statewide elections, Camejo says.

Under that system-one similar to that employed by ASUC-voters rank the candidates. If their top choice doesn't win, their vote passes instantly to the next candidate of their choice.

"In the (current) set-up, the very people we are trying to win over end up becoming hostile to us," Camejo says.

But that system will not change anytime soon, says UC Berkeley Political Science Professor Bruce Cain.

"There's no question that this change would help the Green Party and other minor parties," Cain said. "And for precisely that reason, it doesn't have much of a chance of succeeding."

Camejo never did graduate from UC Berkeley because of his activism, he speculates.

Shortly after Camejo was elected to the ASUC Senate, the university suspended him for "illegal use of a microphone" at an anti-Vietnam War protest on Sproul Plaza. In addition, the moderate majority in the senate refused to seat him.

An ardent opponent to the Vietnam War, Camejo led a 6,000-person protest to the war and the draft on the steps of Sproul Plaza in 1967.

"Peter was a very charismatic speaker (and) steady as an organizer," said fellow 1960s activist Steve Hamilton.

After an unsuccessful fight with the university over his suspension, Camejo was kicked out of school. In the months before his expulsion, Camejo made a bid for mayor, but that campaign proved unsuccessful.

Looking back, Camejo says the radical groups of the 1960s were too "sectarian," and unable to build consensus.

"But I still believe the leftists of the sixties did a great thing for the country," Camejo says.

Now, his politics remain radical, though slightly realigned.

As an investment manager who only invests in companies that meet the progressive agenda's standards, Camejo says he has re-evaluated his position on capitalism.

He now argues the principles of the Green Party in the words of Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx. Still, he says his core values haven't changed.

"I don't think there's a difference in content. There's a difference in style," he says.

When discussing renewable energy, he says the advantages of large-scale production would make solar power competitive with fossil fuels such as oil.

He further points out that fossil fuels generate economic costs, which detract from their efficiency.

Like other progressives, Camejo says California should transform its minimum wage into a "living wage," which he estimates to be $10.50.

Below this level, he says a person needs food stamps and other government subsidies to survive. In effect, the government is subsidizing these low-wage paying companies, he says.

Despite divergence from far-left politics, not everyone is impressed with the candidate.

"Green Party candidates are just so far out of touch with mainstream California voters," says Robb McFadden, president of the Berkeley College Republicans.

UC Berkeley's Campus Greens, sponsoring the 7 p.m. speech tonight, say they plan to participate in Camejo's campaign by tabling on Sproul Plaza, registering voters and having "a rally or two."

Campus Greens leader Jim Fung says he will vote for Camejo because Camejo is "someone I can believe in and not just some politician who says the same thing as everyone else."


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