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To Nader or Not to Nader?: A Green Party Debate

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The Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer will be little more than coronation ceremonies. But the Green Party convention, which kicks off today in Milwaukee, promises drama as delegates debate whether to support independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We host a debate between Nader’s running mate Peter Camejo and the leading Green Party candidate David Cobb.

Today in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Green Party national convention kicks off in what will likely prove the most dramatic of this year’s political conventions. That is largely due to an announcement earlier this week by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader that he had selected Peter Camejo as his running mate. Camejo was the Green Party’s candidate for governor of California in the 2003 total recall election and up until now had been seeking the party’s nomination himself. Camejo was running second in delegates to Texas lawyer David Cobb, who has spent months campaigning across the country.

In the 2000 election, Ralph Nader ran as the official Green Party candidate and received more than 2.8 million votes. This time around, Nader has said he will not accept the Green Party nomination, asking instead for their endorsement. Nader already has the official support of the Reform Party.

An official nod from the Greens could give Nader a spot on the presidential ballot representing the Green Party in at least 23 and possibly as many as 35 states.

While the Democrats and Republicans prepare for what are essentially coronation ceremonies at their national conventions this Summer, the next several days in Milwaukee promise to bring some of the most vibrant debate in recent Green Party history.

  • Peter Camejo, has just been selected as Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 2004 presidential race. He was the Green Party candidate for governor of California in 2003.
  • David Cobb, seeking the Green Party nomination for president this week in Milwaukee. He was the General Counsel for the Green Party of the United States until declaring his candidacy and was the Green Party of Texas candidate for Attorney General in 2002.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined today by David Cobb, seeking the Green Party nomination for president, and was the Green Party of Texas candidate for Attorney General in 2002. We’re also joined by Peter Camejo, he’s just been selected as Ralph Nader’s running mate in this presidential race. He was the Green Party candidate for Governor in California last year. Well, let’s begin with David Cobb. Why are you running and what’s your reaction to Ralph Nader’s choice of Peter Camejo?

DAVID COBB: Well, Amy, I’m running because I believe the Green Party must participate in this presidential election. The Green Party is getting larger, stronger, and better organized with every election cycle. We are the political party that represents the growing movements for peace, racial and social justice, ecology, and economic democracy in this country. And we’re not going away. And it is an exciting year to be a Green, for sure. And my reaction to the announcement that Peter Camejo is Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential nomination is congratulations to Peter. Peter is a fine man. He has done great work for the Green Party. But he and I have a disagreement about how to best grow and build the Green Party in this election cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Camejo, what are you hoping to accomplish as vice-presidential candidate and a surprise to many people this week.

PETER CAMEJO: The Nader-Camejo ticket will clearly be the anti-war ticket in this campaign. The polls already show eight million people supporting us. We have a full-time staff of 20 people working on this campaign. And what we’re trying to do is get the word out about the truth about George Bush’s policies, unlike John Kerry we don’t call for more troops to Iraq. We oppose the invasion. We oppose the policies that the United States has carried out. And this will be the campaign that people will relate to and work with and I think the Green Party absolutely needs to become part of this campaign. In fact, it already is. Not only because I’m the Vice-Presidential candidate, but because of the thousands upon thousands of people who are volunteering to work for the Nader campaign, probably half of them are Greens. The fact is there’s no question the majority of Greens in the United States who favor having an Independent third-party force out there fighting against this war are working with the Nader campaign. I respect David Cobb. I think that he has done a good job. He has run a campaign really alone. It is a mistake to say that I was campaigning because I’ve never campaigned for a presidential nomination. I would never run against Ralph Nader. My name was in the election only for those who wanted to send delegates uncommitted. I made that clear all along. But David Cobb has a weakness in his campaign. He calls for “safe states”. That is he calls for voting for Kerry in certain areas and many of his leading supporters make this absolutely clear. They’re what we call the lesser evil Greens. The Greens are very divided between those who agree with the Avocado Declaration that we must tell people not to vote against what they believe in, although many of them will. We understand that. They’re victims. But we disagree with David on that and the other thing we disagree is his call for continued U.S. Occupation in Iraq. He has a statement. You can go to his website and read it. He says he wants the U.S. out, he is against the war, except for one exception . This interim government calls for U.S. troops to remain, he’s for it. Obviously this is a puppet government. It is going to call for the U.S. to stay. So, his campaign is calling for continued U.S. Occupation in Iraq. I am calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cobb?

DAVID COBB: Well, first of all, this campaign has never called to vote for John Kerry and with respect, remember it is Ralph Nader who has called John Kerry, quote, “very presidential”. It’s the Nader campaign that’s met with John Kerry and it’s the Nader campaign that says that his first priority is to help un-elect Bush. My first priority is to grow and build the Green Party and I would ask Peter not to speak for my campaign anymore than I try to speak for him. And secondly, I call for the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq. I think that Peter knows this. I have been consistently opposed to this war from the beginning, as have all Greens. There is — there is no doubt that this is a puppet government that’s being established. We want U.S. troops out as quickly and as safely as possible, not just for U.S. Troops, but also for the safety of the Iraqi people.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of whether this government calls for U.S. Troops to stay?

DAVID COBB: Well, the question is whether — and on the website, I would encourage folks to go to the website, The question is whether or not how quickly the U.S. Troops withdraw and how safely that can be done and how quickly U.N. Troops can come in and U.N. Troops from Arabic-speaking worlds that can act as a transitional peacekeeping force. There is a responsibility. U.S. Bombs destroyed that country. There is a responsibility. We can’t just cut and run and leave the mess for the Iraqi people to deal with. We have a responsibility in figuring out how to work with the Iraqi people is the first priority.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about this “safe state strategy”, not running in states where Kerry is very close to Bush?

DAVID COBB: Well, Amy, what the Cobb campaign says is our first goal is to grow and build the Green Party. That means that we should be on every ballot that we can be and it means that we should run a smart, aggressive campaign. John Kerry is a corporatist and a mill tryst. He voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for no child left behind, for the Patriot Act, opposes Universal Health Care, opposes raising the minimum wage to a living wage. I will campaign vigorously opposing the Kerry position and what Kerry stands for. I will, however, in swing states, tell voters “vote your conscience”. If your conscience says you cannot vote for the corporatists and mill trysts like John Kerry, invest your vote in the Green Party, which is the growing, vibrant party for the long-term future of the progressive movement independent this country. If a progressive voter in a swing state you are genuinely terrified of four more years of George Bush, then I understand why you may hold your nose and vote against bush, not for Kerry, but against Bush and if you do that and if you feel like you are having to do that, then clearly you should be in the Green Party, such a voter should vote Green, down ticket and work with the Greens to institute instant run-off voting so we don’t have to vote against what we hate instead of for what we want.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll talk about instant run-off voting and other issues when we come back. We’re speaking with David Cobb, who is a Green Party presidential candidate and Peter Camejo, who’s just been tapped by Ralph Nader to be his vice-presidential running mate. They are both at the Green Convention in Milwaukee and we’ll be back in a minute with them.

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk with David Cobb who is running for the presidential nominee for the Green Party. David Cobb is in Milwaukee at the convention, starting today. Peter Camejo, can you respond to David Cobb’s strategy of who to vote for in the states where Kerry is very close with Bush in the race against Bush?

PETER CAMEJO: Well, I liked a lot of what David said. I especially like his point that there are people who are going to vote for Kerry, even though they agree with David and I on many issues. And, you know, I feel sorry for them in the sense that they are victims of an undemocratic situation. But the fact is that many of his supporters openly call for a vote for Kerry. That’s different. They call for lesser evil voting and every time David’s interviewed, the headline sometimes in the papers are he’s against Bush and Nader, but not Kerry. And I think we have to be real clear that what Nader is doing is fighting for the rights of Americans on all issues from labor issues to Civil Rights Issues, to Human Rights Issues. I really urge you to go to and check it out and check out David Cobb’s website. You heard him here say we can’t cut and run. That is the expressions that Kerry uses to justify continued U.S. occupation. What I’m trying to do at this convention is see if David and I can come together and unify in this sense. I’m suggesting that the convention vote equal endorsement for Nader and Cobb. That we both run because the Greens are very deeply divided about this and the discussion has become very heated. I don’t want to see a cold split in the Green Party. I think David Cobb deserves respect for the efforts he’s made and for the point of view he represent. Many greens believe in “lesser evil voting” and I respect their right to believe in that, though I disagree with it. And I think if the Green Party can come together and say, look, David Cobb will run as a Green and Camejo will run with Ralph Nader as an Independent campaign and I as a Green bring the Green Party to be part of this coalition, and we all work together to fight against this war because this is one step toward the development of understanding for the need for democracy in America and I ask David to join with me in this Unity Proposal, which I think could win over and reach a consensus, instead of us coming out divided, we come out uniformed and we all work together, understanding that some states — free state concept, each state will decide to put on the ballot, Nader, Camejo, or David Cobb and his running mate. I would help David Cobb. I think David is very articulate, very committed, even though we have some differences on issues.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cobb, can you respond to this? Again, Peter Camejo recommending that the Green Party decline to nominate any single candidate and instead endorse you and Ralph Nader.

DAVID COBB: Well, this is an area where Peter and I have a disagreement on tactics, which is totally understandable and totally fine. But I believe the Green Party needs to nominate a presidential candidate. It was Peter Camejo and Ralph Nader who declined to seek the Green Party’s presidential nomination. I believe the Green Party needs to run a presidential candidate as a Green. You know, Amy, candidates will come and go. Even candidates as profound and important as Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo and David Cob. But the Green Party is here to stay. We’re getting larger, stronger, and better organized with every election cycle and we’re electing more people to office and when elected, greens are demonstrating they can governor effectively. There are real world solutions to all the problems that face us and Greens are articulating those solutions and implementing them when they get elected. We are not going away. This election sibling, frankly no matter what happens in Milwaukee or November, they need to build a genuine progressive political party that is not dependent upon corporate money is going to remain and we as Greens will continue to do that work.

AMY GOODMAN: How practically would this work, Peter Camejo, if both are endorsed by the Green Party? Then in every state, the state Green Party would decide who to put on the ballot?

PETER CAMEJO: Yes. Well, I think in most states we would want to put David Cobb because Nader will be on the ballot anyway by petitioning to be on as an independent. For instance in California where people vote 75% for me and less than 12% for David Cobb, obviously that state where the Cobb forces represent a very tiny part of the Green party and that is where the Green party is the strongest, making the most head way, electing the most officials and, you know, what that state would obviously go for Nader-Camejo. It would be shocking to the Greens in California, but I would not be on the ballot as on Green party label in California, which I think deepens our strength, especially in the Latino community. Already in the one day of campaigning, I’ve been on national television in Spanish and on all the radio stations and programs are now being set up all over where I can come out and speak against this war and speak for run-off elections, for instant run-off voting and for all the issues the Green Party — and let me extend my heart-felt support for David Cobb, the statements he just made. We must builds an alternative party and the green party is the party that we’re building. I continue to help to build the green party. I think this is an effective way to help it by working with Ralph Nader, who I really admire and I think has just been a great champion. This man has done more for the green party, more to help builds our pear. The personal sacrifice he has made, the 40 fundraisers he has done for us after his campaign. I think that the tensions that exist among Greens, we must try to look at the positives of both what David Cobb is doing, what Nader is doing and stand together and come out with a platform and unity where we will be the most effective before the American people and as David Cobb very clearly said, we understand if people don’t vote for us, either Nader or David Cobb because they fear Bush, they are victims of a lack of a democratic society. I want close ranks with David in defense of the Green Party and for us to all work together.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cobb, you mentioned instant run-off voting. Explain what it is.

DAVID COBB: Well, Amy, in our current voting system, it’s extraordinarily undemocratic because it forces voters to pick one as amongst five or six folks. Preventing them from actually expressing their actual opinion as amongst to all candidates. Imagine the excitement that a voter would feel of going in and presented with five or six potential choices get a chance to fully express their opinion as to all of them by saying my first preference is, my second preference is, my third preference. All a voter has to see do is rank orders their preferences among candidates. It is as easy as one, two, three, because voters rank orders their preferences. Counting the ballots is equally as easy because you count first preference votes. If anybody got a majority of the first preference votes, that candidate is elected. It is a majority rule system. However, if nobody gets the majority, you eliminate the lowest vote getter because that candidate has the least amount of support. She or he can’t win. But the people who voted for that candidate didn’t, quote, “waste their votes” because they’ve already indicated their run-off preference by indicating that their second preference is some other candidate. You transfer those second preference votes and ask now did anybody get a majority? It is a super easy voting system. It is used all over the world. And in this country, it is used in local elections n Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been used in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It will be used in San Francisco and get, this Amy, it is used by college football for Heisman trophy, major league baseball for M.V.P. Academy Awards uses it and the political science association uses it and lastly, the Utah republican party uses it to elect officers and nominate candidates. It is not a Lefty solution. It is not a Right-Wing solution. It is a good government, good democracy solution that will work and I urge anybody who is fearful in this voting system you feel like you are having to vote against what you hate rather than for what you want, join with us and support instant run-off voting. The folks at The Center for Voting and Democracy at www are the nonpartisan leaders of this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: That is David Cobb. Peter Camejo, now let’s go to this issue that makes many Democrats see red instead of Green and that is that while you may share many of the views of democrats that you could wipe out John Kerry in this next election. Can you respond to this?

PETER CAMEJO: Well, certainly. You know, let me respond by what Howard Zinn has said. I’m quoting from Howard. Ralph Nader’s campaign is a vital element in keeping alive the public debate about the Iraq War. The truth has to be heard by the American people. People understand, we control no votes except my own vote and Ralph Nader controls his vote. The people make the decision how they vote. But the concept that we must shut up, that the point of view of anti-war must not exist in this campaign, with just a Democratic party’s position — in fact, they have special committees out to keep us off the ballot. And the Liberal Democrats today are on a massive campaign against free elections and democracy in America. Democratic party for three and a half years did absolutely nothing to change America’s electoral laws to prevent spoilership. What they want is very similar — end free elections. The Greens must not run, David Cobb must be silent and Peter Camejo must just shut up. We completely agree with that. We understand people may not vote for us and want us and that is a sad and tragic event. The truth is, Kerry is not campaigning against Bush. Kerry agrees with Bush on the invasion of Iraq, with the Patriot Act. He agrees with him on point after point. He gave him 18 standing ovations in January. And we say the Democrats are responsible for what is happening in America. They are the party that makes George Bush possible and I just want to second what David Cobb just said on the voting system. I.R.V. is so simple and understandable. Why is it the democratic party opposes it? Why is it the Democratic Party does not want the citizens of America to have the rights to vote for who they want? And especially young people. We’re at 12% in the polls among people under 30. If they say, look, I’m fed up with the Democrats and Republicans, I’m not going to vote for either one, why should they not have an alternative? 25% of our people are registered not democrat or republican. We pay taxes, we have no representation. We are fighting for …

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Camejo, Arizona Democrats today are filing a lawsuit challenging whether Ralph Nader qualifies for a place on the presidential election ballot. The state party wouldn’t talk about it, but a spokesperson confirmed it is going to happen by 5:00 today. And Democrats are scrutinizing the the state party chair said a number of defects were found. One of things they are charging is that it’s Republican operatives who were, in part, involved with getting the names on the petitions.

PETER CAMEJO: That is a lie. They’re liars. They continuously try to charge Ralph Nader and the Green Party of accepting Republican money. We accept money from individuals who support us. There is no Republican money or support coming in to Ralph Nader’s campaign. That’s a lie. Look. They knocked our candidate for Congress in San Francisco. The democrats knocked her off the ballot where we are very strong and fed up with Nancy Pelosi’s support for the war in Iraq. In fact, she just send out a letter saying that they’re nervous that Bush might withdraw from Iraq. They want more soldiers to go to Iraq and our candidate gets knocked off the ballot. We have to close rank. This is what I asked David Cobb. Join with me. Let’s unify and fight for democracy in America against the Democrats who are now —

AMY GOODMAN: David Cobb raised the issue of Ralph Nader meeting with John Kerry. What about that? Was there an agreement made?

PETER CAMEJO: Are you — I’m sorry. Did you ask me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Peter Camejo.

PETER CAMEJO: Look. I think that was wonderful. I did that and I asked for, when I ran for governor, I asked both the Democrat and Republicans to meet with me and, by the way, what David Cobb said about Ralph Nader is not true. That’s what the “New York Times” said to him, “Do you think he is presidential?” Of course, after you meet with a politician who you’re running against and you want to have dialogue, you want to be able to talk, which is good, you don’t go and insult them the minute you come out of the meeting. I have met with all the leaders of the Democratic party in California, exempt for Steve Wesley and I never insult them after a meeting. If they do something horrendous, I’m not going to keep secrets like Dennis Kucinich told me that John Kerry is a fake and a frauds and we had a private meeting. I’m sorry, Dennis, but I’m going public with that because I think it is horrendous that you go around saying he is a terrific guy when you don’t believe it. I think it is wrong to lie to the people. I think it’s wrong to tell people it’s wrong, to be polite as I was in the debates is correct. What Ralph Nader is doing is exactly little what we should be doing the.

AMY GODDMAN: Timely, David Cobb, your response.

DAVID COBB: Listen. Again, the number of agreements that Peter Camejo and David Cobb have in this one small segment demonstrates that progressives in general share principles and values. We certainly agree on issues. There is a difference of opinion about tactically what to do and we’re going to close ranks here in Milwaukee, regardless of what decision is made. I’m going to be a Green. Peter will be a Green whenever this is over. Certainly the need to builds a non-corporate political party is going to remain and we are doing the work. I’m urging anybody listening to this rich debate between Cobb and Camejo join the Green party. Get involved with the growing movement for peace, racial social justice, democracy and ecology. Go to the website, and get involved in your local and state Green Party because that’s where it really matters.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. We’ll certainly follow the convention this week in Milwaukee. And we invite our listeners and viewers to respond to this discussion. Our e-mail address is mail@ And we’ll read some of the responses on the air. That’s

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