A presentation of our sister organization, Between the Lines (BTL)
Nader Vice Presidential Running Mate,
Matt Gonzalez, Advocates Electoral Reform
Interview with Matt Gonzalez,
Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Listen in RealAudio:
Last month, long-time public interest advocate Ralph Nader announced his fourth campaign for president, running on a platform of people power against the corporations and the politicians whom he accuses of doing their bidding. Among the 12 key issues he’s running on are single-payer health insurance; repeal of the Taft-Hartley anti-union law; reversing U.S. policy in the Middle East; instituting a carbon tax, and impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Shortly after Nader announced his candidacy, he chose Matt Gonzalez as his vice-presidential running mate.
Gonzalez, a member of the Green Party, was elected in 2000 to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in a non-partisan election. He served two terms, including one as board president. In 2003, Gonzalez ran for mayor of San Francisco against Democrat Gavin Newsom and came close to beating him. Nader said he valued Gonzalez’s experience in the electoral arena as a minority party candidate. He currently is a partner in a San Francisco law firm specializing in civil rights litigation.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Gonzalez about his decision to run with Nader, and the issues of electoral reform to the 2008 presidential campaign.
MATT GONZALEZ: It’s one of the reasons I certainly said I was interested in running. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of working on election reform and I think that’s something that an independent ticket for the White House needs, particularly if it’s Ralph Nader and there’s criticism of him because of what happened in 2000.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I read that you switched party affiliation from Democrat to Green when you observed the Democratic Party in California trying to keep peace activist Medea Benjamin out of a debate. She was running for the Senate as a Green. Is that right?
MATT GONZALEZ: Yeah, pretty much. I’d gone to a debate that she was trying to get into, and she wasn’t allowed into it. And I just thought, you know, I don’t want to be a member of party that works this hard to try to silence other voices. I’d been voting Green whenever I had the option, so it wasn’t that big of a step. Of course, when I did that I didn’t know that there’d never been a Green elected to any office in San Francisco. And so it wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm by my Democratic allies.
BETWEEN THE LINES: You helped bring about instant runoff voting for San Francisco’s municipal elections a few years ago. Is that working out as you hoped?
MATT GONZALEZ: Things have gone well. I was the chief sponsor of it. And given the fact that I was being elected at the same time that the Democrats were complaining about the national election, I felt, let’s prove that a municipality can change how elections are done so you can get a majority outcome regardless of how many candidates are running with a single trip to the ballot box, and of course that’s because we let voters rank their choices first, second, third, so we already know what their runoff choice is without necessitating another election. I think our position is, we want majority outcomes. If people want to have runoff elections a month later, that’s fine, but let’s not pretend the technology doesn’t exist to do away with the “spoiler” problem. And of course the more you look at this, the more you see the parties not implementing real solutions, you realize, you know, they want to keep it this way. As much as they complain about it, if they fix this problem, then we’d know how many people want Ralph Nader to be the president, and I suspect it’s a lot higher than 3 percent of the electorate. And I think they don’t want to confront that, because it would expand what is currently a very narrow political spectrum.
BETWEEN THE LINES: You’ve been doing a lot of media interviews in the past few weeks. Does everyone ask about election reform, or if not, do you bring it up?
MATT GONZALEZ: You know, it comes up in every interview. I’m just surprised sometimes when I read the article that it doesn’t mention election reform, but brings up the problem of spoiling. And I think it’s irresponsible journalism not to say, “Hey, these guys have solutions; they’ve offered solutions, but they’re in a quandary. If they don’t run, there’s no problem that needs to be fixed. If they run, they get blamed for everything.”
BETWEEN THE LINES: What does that say to you? Anything?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I don’t know. I think some writers and some folks out there ar
e so wrapped up with this idea that Nader spoiled an election that they’d rather talk about that and it’s a fear tactic. It’s almost akin to red-baiting or something. They’re just trying to scare people away from what it is that we believe in. I tried to remind people, Perot spoiled the election for George Bush Sr. and got Bill Clinton elected, but you never hear about that spoiling. And, you know, I try to point out to people historically, in the last 24 presidential contests, eight of them were decided where the winner did not have a majority of the vote. Rather than treating this as an anomaly, we have to come to terms with the fact that it’s an American tradition, and you know, our democracy is built on a non-majority outcome.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I know your campaign is heavily focused on fighting corporate control in America. How much of an issue are you and Ralph Nader making electoral reform?
MATT GONZALEZ: You know, it’s an important part of the campaign. We’re not just talking about instant runoff voting; we’re also talking about proportional representation and changing the Electoral College. There are a lot of different things that can be done, but the important point on this one is because the spoiler question comes up so much. We’re just saying, come on, let’s mandate majority outcomes. How can the Democrats still be talking about Ralph Nader eight years after their candidate won half a million more votes than the other candidate and lost the election? You’d think this would be a war cry for them, “Remember the Alamo” type thing. Instead, it’s all about Ralph Nader, and I think this is not OK in a democracy, where the only solution to an obvious problem is an anti-democratic one, which is to say that candidates with different viewpoints are not allowed to run for public office because of some outcome that is built into the rules. Change the rules, then.
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 28, 2008. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.
Between The Lines Radio Newsmagazine
Squeaky Wheel Productions
P.O. Box 110176
Trumbull, CT 06611
Phone: (203) 268-8446
Fax: (203) 268-3180