Circus-like coverage could boost turnout
by Robert Franklin, Green Party of Texas†
GreenPages, Vol 7, No.3
California Greens voted overwhelmingly to endorse Peter Camejo for governor in that state’s recall election, which is set for Oct. 7. How the party will come down on the recall itself is less clear.
A vote of county representatives of the Green Party of California Aug. 14-15 found 90 percent support Camejo. In last November’s election, Camejo ran for governor, polling 5.3 percent of the vote.
Green hopes are running high in the 135-candidate election that is commonly called a circus. Most importantly, Camejo will have appeared in a series of at least three televised debates that other major candidates. That exposure is key to the Camejo campaign, which has to date raised only $20,000 and intends to rely on free media to win.
“Peter is so good in these debates,” Santa Monica Mayor pro tem Kevin McKeown said, “he may just blow them away.”
“Our visibility is great and our credibility is great,” said Camejo campaign manager Tyler Snortum-Phelps. “We are moving beyond the view of the Green Party as a marginal party.”
In a race in which media exposure is vital, Schwarzenegger’s presence could hurt Camejo.
“Media coverage is all Arnold, all the time, so far,” said Peggy Lewis, co-coordinator of the Green Party of California.†
Party strategist Ross Mirkarimi cautioned, “Media attention alone won’t bring voters to the polls. If you don’t have a good field operation, you may lose whatever benefit the media gave you.”
One unknown factor in the race is voter turnout. Because of the circus-like atmosphere, there is a strong sense among Green Party activists that turnout will be high, a big plus for Camejo.
“Everybody is talking about this,” said McKeown. “The level of awareness here is extraordinarily high.”
Lewis concurred. “There’s been a big surge in voter registration,” she said. “A lot of people will vote who don’t usually.”
And that brings up one of the biggest wild cards in the race: the Latino vote. People of Latino heritage account for about one-third of California’s population but only 16 percent of its electorate. Historically, they favor Democrats over Republicans by a 3 to 1 margin. But about 36 percent of Latino voters remain undecided, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.†
Camejo is counting on his exposure in the debates both to encourage those Latinos who seldom vote to make it to the polls and to redirect votes from Bustamante among annual voters.
Another question in the election is whether Latino and labor leaders can deliver the votes of their grassroots constituencies. Bustamante has lined up an impressive array of labor and Latino endorsements. But, McKeown argued, “Peter appeals to grassroots voters. If these organizations [labor and Latino] get out the vote, will the rank and file follow the leaders? It’s a huge unknown.”
Complicating the recall picture still further is the polling, which may be uniquely unreliable because of increased turnout.
“Polling organizations poll likely voters,” explained Snortum-Phelps, “and that’s not an accurate representation of who’s going to vote this time.” He added that Camejo’s polls are “all over the place. Anywhere from 2 to 8 percent, and that’s before the debates.”
Snortum-Phelps summed up what he sees as necessary for a Camejo win in October. Debate exposure is one key, but disenchantment with Schwarzenegger’s lack of experience and unwillingness to address issues are also important. Finally, if Bustamante is seen to be “Gray Davis lite,” the Camejo campaign may reap the reward.
All of this assumes that the election will actually take place this October; it may not. Looming over the entire process is a lawsuit by civil rights groups challenging the recall’s validity under the federal Voting Rights Act. At press time, a three-judge federal appellate panel had yet to rule on the plaintiffs’ application for an injunction delaying the election until March of next year.
And the recall itself? The Green Party of California won’t decide to support or oppose the election until its plenary on September 12-13. Party rules require a vote of 80 percent of delegates for consensus, and no one interviewed thought there would be that much support for or opposition to the recall election itself.
“I don’t see consensus either way on the recall,” said Susan King of the Green Party of San Francisco County Council.
But all made clear that that could change in the remarkably unstable atmosphere of California politics at present.
“This issue has really polarized Greens in this state,” said McKeown. He added that many California Greens oppose the recall as an attempted coup by a narrow sliver of monied interests, while others see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost the party’s image and visibility.