December 31, 1939–September 13, 2008
By Sal Russo
[Sal Russo is a well-known Republican political strategist and
founder of Move America Forward.]
Peter Camejo fervently fought for his ideas. A self-described
"watermelongreen on the outside, red on the inside," he had
passionate views on social and political issues. Yet he understood
the value in making friends and conducting the debate to make his
points and to build bridges at the same time.
We first met on the picket lines at UC Berkeley during the Free
Speech Movement in the mid-1960s. In those early days, he had
comfortably positioned himself at the extreme, ultimately getting
expelled from school for illegally using a microphone during a campus
While we shared a common purpose during the demonstrations, sit-ins
and picket lines, we were drifting apart on means and goals. While he
was an avowed Socialist, I was evolving from a Kennedy Democrat into
a Goldwater Republican. So I lost touch with Peter after those days.
The next time I saw him was in 2002, when he was the Green Party
candidate for governor. I was the principal political consultant to
the Republican candidate, Bill Simon. We didn't recognize each other
at first, as it had been almost 40 years since we had seen each
other. We had definitely been traveling on different paths.
His radicalism had taken him to the Socialist Workers Party, a
Trotskyite communist party, and he ran as its candidate for president
in 1976getting the most votes for president for his party ever,
before or since. After a leadership dispute, he was expelled.
This expulsion had brought an end to his candidacies for a while, and
he focused on socially responsible investing. He built the first
major environmental fund on Wall Street called the Eco-Logical Trust.
He became an adviser to public pension plans and was involved in
dozens of projects to bring financing to environmental and
So when we crossed paths at a candidate forum, it took us a while
talking before we realized that we were the same kids on the picket
lines from many decades before. We found a shared belief that Gray
Davis was a disastrous governor, just like we still believed the
students at UC Berkeley were right in protesting the ban on their
political activities on campus.
While our political views were widely divergent, we found our goals
were amazingly similar. We found there were common ideas we could
agree on, and it is possible for people with vastly different
ideologies to find common ground. We both looked forward to our
frequent meetings on the campaign trail and occasional phone calls in
between and since. I am sure he got the funny looks from his staff
whenever I called, just as I did.
We agreed that political consensus is not a worthy goal in
politicswatering every idea down to the lowest common denominator.
It defies leadership. It is far better to let the battle of ideas
occur until the best one prevails. As passionate as he was for his
ideas, we would rather have someone else with strong ideas win an
election than someone with no ideas.
He ran for governor again in 2003 and 2006, even running for vice
president with Ralph Nader in 2004 on the Reform Party ticket. His
passion for politics never ceased. He was a forceful voice for his
ideas until cancer silenced him this month.