Friday, April 27, 2012
Politicians Without a Prayer
There’s an election coming up in June for county supervisor in my district, and one of the candidates has been decorating the area with signs bearing the slogan “He Really Needs a Day Job.”
I’d give that a ten for creativity and a zero for effectiveness. But then I’m guessing this guy doesn’t really expect to win anyway.
It called to mind, though, fond memories of other candidates for local office who valiantly put themselves out before the voting public when they had no prayer of winning. Some of them made a point or two and managed to influence the political discussion, while others were simply in over their head. All of them made local politics more interesting.
There was one retired fellow, for instance, who ran for several local offices back in the 1980s. His idea of a campaign was to put up a sign in front of his house and hope for the best. Come election night, he always invited the press to a victory party with cigars and champagne. There was never any victory, and no one showed up for the party.
In the early 80s, when politics were getting more interesting in Watsonville, where I worked for the newspaper, a woman ran for the City Council on a program of promoting a sense of community. The specifics were to be filled in later, but there was no mistaking the commitment to community, a word that appeared at least once in every sentence she spoke.
I was city editor at the time, and the paper had just made the conversion from typewriters to computers. Our city hall reporter, Ken McLaughlin, used the new technology to turn in a campaign profile on her that consisted solely of the word “community,” repeated a thousand times. He turned in the real story after I yelled at him, but it wasn’t as interesting. Community lady finished last at the polls.
Meeting with more electoral success was the hippie candidate for sheriff back in 1974. The University of California campus here was less than ten years old at the time, but already its political influence was being felt, and the county was in the midst of transitioning from a bastion of conservative Republicanism to the exemplar of liberalism it is today.
Joe was a long-haired, bearded fellow with no law enforcement experience at all. The race for sheriff was expected to be a tough fight between the incumbent and one of his top deputies, but Joe made it a lot more interesting. He ran on a platform of drastically cutting back enforcement of the drug laws, strictly enforcing environmental and anti-pollution laws, and aggressively investigating crimes of violence against women.
No one took Joe seriously at first, but he stood enough apart that his candidacy gathered momentum. He finished third, with about 20 percent of the vote, and the sheriff and his deputy began courting his support for the runoff election. I even voted for Joe, figuring I could choose between the other two later.
Two weeks after his impressive showing in the June primary, Joe’s political career came to an abrupt end. Making the law-enforcement rounds as the Saturday reporter, I showed up at the sheriff’s office to find the deputies all abuzz. In the wee hours of that morning they had arrested Joe as he purposefully walked down a state highway, naked as the day he was born. Pharmaceuticals were believed to have triggered the stroll, but having no pockets to put them in, Joe never faced a possession charge.
At least no intern was involved, and I never heard what his next day job was.