Unless you live in a cave, you're probably heard about the recall election here in California. And if you do live in a cave I suspect you've heard about it anyway because the media talks about it incessantly. Not just the local California media either. It's all over NPR, CNN, MSNBC… this is one of those sensational dog days of summer stories that the media loves to sink its collective teeth into. You know what I'm talking about here. Every summer there's that one story whose main focus is murder, sex or politics, often in some sort of combination. They're always power stories at heart, which is understandable during the time of the year when we're all slowly melting in the heat. We want a story that matches our lazy soaking-up-the-rays mentality, nothing that makes us think too much but is still juicy, like a romance novel. Summers past have brought us the Iran/Contra scandal, John and Lorena Bobbitt, the Simpson murder and its subsequent surreal chase through L.A., plus countless other sordid tales.
Well we certainly have ourselves a power struggle here in the Golden State. Everybody and their grandmother has thrown their hat into the ring. With 135 confirmed candidates in the running this recall gives new meaning to the term free-for-all.
The whole thing started with Darrell Issa, who clearly really wanted the governor's job. He bankrolled the recall effort and was really the face of the recall effort in a sort of "Gray Davis or me - your choice!" way. But once the recall election was officially on, he suddenly dropped out of the race - in tears, I might add. On the face of it this seems completely surreal, but when you know that the man is a high school dropout whose multimillions came in the form of selling car alarms - ironically after having been brought up on two car theft charges as an adult - you have to wonder just how enthusiastic his party was about him as a gubernatorial candidate. Thanks for your money, but we'll never back you personally, you know? I definitely suspect that the Republicans told Issa to drop out of the race when Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was running. In Schwarzenegger, the Republicans have a candidate with real name recognition. Who's heard of Darrell Issa? Outside his east-of-San-Diego constituency, nobody has, even if you count Issa's two failed congressional campaigns and his failed Senate bid. Adding a failed gubernatorial run to the list would have been the last straw and the Republicans really want this office. They're taking no chances.
Which is why old Arnold is getting so much attention by the party. Schwarzenegger has about as much experience with elective office as I have of competitive weight lifting, but he's known. He's recognized. People already like him even if they're not action movie fanatics. And it's not as if it'd be the first time we Californians elected an actor for governor. Just look what heights Ronald Reagan scaled. First stop California, next stop the White House for the former Mr. Universe? Why not? "President Schwarzenegger" would serve the print media right - it's impossible to spell without a cheat sheet.
I'm quite tempted to vote for him myself, but only because I'm dying to hear him give the state of the state address, a speech that is not without its boredom factor when given by any normal politician. Arnold's monotone deep-voiced accent would bring some pizzazz to the oration. Just imagine hearing the Terminator saying, "The state of the state is good. California is where we grow the beautiful orange. It's not a tuber." That's worth the price of admission right there.
If you're not partial to the square jawed gap-toothed smile of the well-known Austrian, there no deficiency of other celebrities to choose from in the recall (assuming your definition of celebrity is rather all-encompassing). For example, Gallagher, the comic well known for smashing watermelons to a pulp onstage, is going to show up on the ballot. I have absolutely no inkling of what his platform could possibly be, as equal rights for fruit would endanger his post-gubernatorial comeback tour. He'd bring a wacky sensibility to the office to be sure, but I really don't think we can handle any more wacky in a state that already includes both Hollywood and Berkeley.
Gary Coleman's potential platform intrigues me, though I suspect the majority of it will be contained in his shoes (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist). In any case, the former "Diff'rent Strokes" star is making his bid for the governor's office as well. I simply can't wait for the debate between Schwarzenegger and Coleman, can you? The cameraman will really have a job on his hands. It's also entertaining to envision Coleman's first visit to the state's legislative and executive bodies. Since he's never held elective office (this is sort of becoming a theme with these candidate's isn't it?) he'd be constantly overheard saying, "Whatchoo talkin' bout, Senator?"
Moving right along, we have Larry Flynt, of Hustler magazine fame. Now before we take into account the smut peddler aspect of the candidate (which is more than the media around here will do - it's always "smut-peddler Larry Flynt" like that's his Christian name), let's please take into consideration the fact that... well, let's go ahead and think about the smut aspect. That's just too weird for me. Given the fact that we as a nation went apeshit over the Clinton-Lewinsky thing, I don't understand why Larry Flynt thinks anyone would just roll over (pardon the pun) and let him take office. Even in hedonistic California we have some standards.
And speaking of pornography, just in case you didn't think we were taking this exercise of our democratic process seriously enough, a recent Reuters news report informed us that, "Porn actress Mary Carey (real name Mary Cook) also made the ballot, pledging to wire every room of the governor's mansion with live Web cams if she wins." Now that's the way to win an election, people - appeal to the young male demographic, who perhaps only recently ascended to voting age. What do they care about budget deficits and energy crises? Turn the governor's mansion into the Playboy mansion, dude!
Given this huge field of hopefuls, I flirted with the idea of running for governor myself. It's clear that my sole qualification - I'm breathing - is sufficient. The last public office I held was as the president of my high school drama club but I believe that's one more office than Larry Flynt has held (and I don't want to discuss anything else that Larry Flynt has held because… yuck). In fact, on Saturday I heard 25-year-old candidate Brooke Adams on the radio. Her claim to fame is that she was the vice-president of her junior class and was elected homecoming queen at Huntington High School. Given that she will actually appear on the ballot despite the fact that she has very little chance of garnering votes outside her immediate family and former cheerleading squad pals, I don't think it's that much of a leap to think that I could be an acceptable candidate.
I mean, think about it. I've never been brought up on any criminal charges, which is more than we can say for some politicians. I'm certainly not a womanizer and I don't take bribes (possibly because no-one has ever offered me one, but I suspect I would decline in any case). I'm all for keeping car and property taxes low. I think the education standards in this state are disgraceful and that a hell of a lot more focus needs to be put on improving education. Public transportation in most of the state is laughable. Our job situation sucks. The power crisis is abominable and I fully support all the inquiries in the world to get to the bottom of what I believe was a manufactured crisis that lined the pockets of already wealthy corporate executives.
Not a bad start on a list of things to be righteously angry about, is it? Most folks in the state are upset about these and quite a few other things, so I'm not alone in my indignation. If you're wondering what I would do about these issues if I were governor, let me stop you right there and explain that coming up with the solutions is exactly why I'm not running for governor. I have no idea how to fix these problems. I'm not privy to the budget, the inner workings of the state, the people who have the background. But may I point out that at this time I'm about as in-the-know as Gary Coleman? As Arnold Schwarzenegger and Larry Flynt and Brooke Adams? None of us is really remotely qualified for the office of governor and as such should probably stay the hell away from this recall.
Now I'm not saying that our government is some sort of sacred entity that we should leave only to the professionals. This isn't brain surgery, or piloting fighter jets - to be held at arm's length and viewed with hushed awe. Government for and by the people is crucial stuff, I'm not taking issue with the fundamentals. But turning this recall into a free for all wherein any crackpot with some signatures and a checkbook can put his name on the ballot is probably not our smartest move, given our current debt load.
I don't oppose the recall. The people in this state are pissed off and right or wrong we blame our governor. We have the option of a recall election and we're exercising it. I think that's essential to the working of our government. Now it's critical to wade through the circus and act responsibly. Electing Gallagher is a funny idea but he's certainly not going to be any sort of improvement on Davis. All I can say to my fellow Californians is think hard. Do your homework. Don't throw away your vote.
And to the rest of you not in California? Quit laughing at us.
- KNP August 17, 2003
Thanks to my husband Dave for the "it's not a tuber" line which, at the time he said it, almost made me wet my pants.