October 23, 2002

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Life during Wartime

L.A. Times muzzles Peter Camejo

By A.C. Thompson

AND THIS WEEK'S big-media censorship prize goes to ... the Los Angeles Times for barring Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo from participating in a debate Oct. 7 with Republican Bill Simon and Democrat incumbent Gray Davis.

A few minutes after the Dem-GOP show (perhaps the only time the two candidates will square off before the November election) concluded, I called Camejo, who was standing on a noisy L.A. street with a contingent of supporters. I wanted to know what he would have told California voters had he been allowed to debate the duopoly leaders.

So here's what you didn't hear, thanks to those stalwart defenders of democracy at the L.A. Times:

"I would've raised the issue of opposition to this war Bush is planning," Camejo said. A "needless and useless" war with Iraq, he griped, will waste the scant federal funds "available to solve social problems."

A socially responsible investment adviser by trade, Camejo had also planned to hit on a string of other issues: support for renewable energy, opposition to the death penalty, solutions to the housing shortage, a plan for living-wage legislation, curbs on racial profiling, saving old-growth forests.

The paper said it gagged Camejo because he captured only 4 percent support in a recent poll. And the paper – apparently at the insistence of Davis – refused even to let him into the building to watch his opponents spar.

But, in defending its decision to snub Camejo, the paper failed to mention the results of one of its own polls: most voters hate both Simon and Davis, and "65% of those likely to turn out next month said they wished there were other candidates."

Of course, debate organizers aren't obliged to make room on the stage for every wing nut. But Camejo, who as president of Concord-based Progressive Asset Management oversees nearly $1 billion in assets, is a legitimate contender. At this point, with almost no press, he's the highest-polling third-party candidate California has seen in years – and one survey shows him with as much as 9 percent support. More important, the guy actually speaks about the nuts and bolts of public policy.

In his absence we were treated to a canned blabfest that consisted almost entirely of potshots. Simon described Davis as a shakedown artist more concerned with fundraising than with running the state (a fairly accurate assessment). Davis portrayed Simon – a multimillionaire tycoon – as a Ken Lay-type CEO scammer (also not too far off the mark, given the amount of legal trouble Simon's businesses are facing). Aside from a quick word on gun control and a hedged comment or two on health care, it was pretty much a bonanza of character sniping.

Not surprisingly, neither Simon nor Davis mentioned the civil liberties rollbacks of the past year or the real challenge of ensuring domestic security.

"On point after point, huge sections of the people of California agree with my positions, yet I'm not allowed to be heard," Camejo said. "In 24 other states both Democrats and Republicans have agreed to debate third-party candidates – what is it with Governor Davis and the Los Angeles Times?" Indeed.

E-mail A.C. Thompson at ac_thompson@sfbg.com.