Matt Gonzalez, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Ralph Nader's running mate for the 2008 presidential election, spoke to University of California-Davis students about the election on campus Saturday.
Gonzalez, who returned to private life after narrowly losing the San Francisco mayoral election of 2003 to Democrat Gavin Newsom, is a lawyer and activist known for his anti-corporate and progressive ideas.
While he admitted Senator Barack Obama would most likely win the upcoming election, Gonzalez argued that neither Obama nor the Democratic Party has fought or will fight for extensive government reform.
Gonzalez briefly mentioned his support for a single-payer national health care service, but the two most ardent topics of debate were election reform and the current financial crisis and subsequent bailouts.
"The idea that the current financial crisis was created by Republicans is total fiction," he said. "This is a bipartisan problem."
In 1999 Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed prohibitions on banking, brokerage and insurance companies from merging together.
President Clinton in 2000 then signed the Commodity and Futures Modernization Act, which allowed financial institutions to sell credit derivatives without oversight or regulation.
Both bills received unanimous support in Congress and ultimately permitted financial institutions to over-leverage their capital and sell credit derivatives to investors as a form of insurance for risky investments, which led to the current financial crisis, Gonzalez said.
"Obama and McCain voted for the $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout despite the plea of 200 economists (including Nobel Prize winners) urging them not to do so," Gonzalez said in a written statement on the Nader-Gonzalez campaign website.
Nader has characterized the bank rescue plan as a monstrous bailout that only helps large speculative corporations without allowing for public hearings.
"There are no bailouts for the working people of this country," Nader said in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange last month, according to a United Press International article. "Taxation without representation, no public hearings. This is the worst yet, procedurally and substantively."
Gonzalez also spoke about the pitfalls of the indirect election system.
It is possible for the candidate with the most votes to lose the race because of how the Electoral College works, and it allows a candidate to win without obtaining a majority vote, Gonzalez said.
"It begs the question: Why hasn't there been election reform?" he said.
While the most recent example of this unjust system was the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote yet lost the election, six of eight other instances resulted in Democratic presidents, Gonzalez said.
"Political parties don't want to change the political spectrum," he said. "It seems illogical not to try to build alternatives."
Alternatives to the current system include bypassing the Electoral College and using a choice voting system such as the one San Francisco now uses, which ranks candidates and allows for an instant run-off if no candidate receives a majority vote, he added.
Gonzaez also refuted the idea that as a presidential candidate Nader is irrelevant, as he said the media and other parties continually paint him and other third-party candidates to be.
Currently, the Commission on Presidential Debates requires a 15 percent poll rating to participate in the debates, a Catch-22 for third-party candidates for whom it is nearly impossible to acquire 15 percent without television coverage, Gonzalez said.
"Even if [Nader] gets 1 million votes, and it's likely that will happen, that sends a message that there is a significant portion of the population who will stand up for their beliefs," he said.
Nader is at 1.6 percent nationwide as of Nov. 1, according to a Zogby poll.
Gonzalez emphasized the idea that in a democracy, voters should be encouraged to vote according to their beliefs rather than give in to the autocratic two-party system.
"We won't capitulate our ideas by not having a candidate run," he said. "And we won't create change without standing up for what we want."
Davis Students for Nader president Ryan Snow said he was originally drawn to Nader by his general philosophy, that we all should be active in our local government.
"Active participation and lobbying aren't something Democrats and Republicans actually promote," he said. "One of the effects is that corporations end up lobbying, while the people end up being hurt."
Even under Democratic control, Congress has refused to implement election reform and continues to treat third-party candidates with contempt, Snow said.
"They could promote democracy and diversity, but they have chosen to fight that," he said. "Meanwhile, Democrats are taking just as much money from Wall Street, voting for bailouts and continuing to not provide health care for the public it becomes a one party system."
For Snow, supporting Nader is a matter of conscience.
"I understand the concept of voting for the lesser of two evils, but in California Obama has almost a 25 point lead," he said. "If it is clear who the winner will be in your state, you should feel free to vote your values."
UC Davis alumnus Andrew Peake is a long-time supporter of Ralph Nader, and was impressed with Gonzalez's talk, specifically his grasp of choice voting.
"I've been a big fan of choice voting for years," he said. "Even [ASUCD] uses choice voting."
As a recent graduate in search of a job, Peake is also concerned about the bailout situation and has applied to over 60 jobs since graduating in June with no success.
"There just aren't any jobs out there," he said. "The Republicans and the Democrats aren't doing anything about it and are just bailing out the people at the top. [Nader] is the only one that will tell the truth and talk about issues that have any value."