The carnival rolls into California

When I worked in Washington, D.C., staffers called Capitol Hill “Hollywood for ugly people.” With C-Span, CNN, and all the Sunday talk shows trained on them, politicians certainly have the opportunity to attain celebrity status, especially if there is anything at all interesting about their sex lives.

Some politicians have even become Hollywood celebrities in their own right. U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson has starred in numerous movies, and most recently he played the part of New York City’s district attorney in the last television season of “Law and Order.””

No one seems to object when a politician becomes an actor because it’s obvious they have to have acting talents in order to get the job. But when actors try to become politicians it’s questionable whether they can pull it off, or whether they should pull it off.

Some of you may think Ronald Reagan was the best thing that ever happened to this country. Personally, I think Reagan’s greatest achievement was that he proved it is possible to run a country without a memory. No, I’m talking about Jerry Springer running for Senate in Ohio, or Sean Penn taking it upon himself to investigate for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or Arnold Scharzenegger running for governor of California.

In fact, California’s gubernatorial recall election has been hard to ignore. Not only is it major news, but it’s like the movie “Titanic” – even though we know the boat is going to go down in the end and everyone is going to drown, we want to watch it happen. With nearly 200 candidates on the ballot, and a governor who is becoming more of a tragic figure each day, the drama is worthy of Shakespeare. Many commentators have likened the race to the popular reality-TV show, “American Idol.”

But though I see their point, I prefer the circus/carnival comparison. Just look at the candidates. You have a strong man (Arnold), a bearded lady (Arianna Huffington), a midget (Gary Coleman), a clown (comedian Gallagher), and of course, the man inviting you in for a peep show (Larry Flynt). Only California could attract so many freaks to one election.

However, what bothers me most about celebrity candidates is that few have ever held office or performed an act one might consider a public service. I’m not supporting the idea that only career politicians are suited to the job, rather, I’m disappointed that the majority of political candidates in this race considered running for governor before running for school board.

Unless significant campaign-finance reform is passed, I have no doubt there will always be a ready supply of rich, inexperienced, ego-driven candidates for top offices.

Unfortunately, it’s not just California that is having this problem, I’m ashamed to say. Montana’s current governor, Judy Martz, has an approval rating in the 20th percentile and has wisely decided to “spend more time with her family” instead of running for reelection. However, the top Democratic candidate’s only qualifications for the job are 1.) He ran for U.S. Senate in Montana three years ago and lost 2.) He is a farmer 3.) He bused senior citizens to Canada to get cheap prescription drugs to make a political point.

Personally, he could promise me the moon and more and I wouldn’t vote for him. Why? Because he has never held an office in his local community – not even dog-catcher. Those citizens who agree to sit through tediously long meetings for little or no pay are true public servants, not someone who suddenly decides, out of the blue, that he might make a good governor.

This is why I would like to see states reconsider their election laws for recall elections and add a requirement that candidates must have participated in a community-service project or been elected locally before they can run for governor.

Yes, the founders of our country would probably roll over in their graves at the idea, but in a recall election like California’s, an added requirement could have saved the state an expensive circus. Truly, it would have been a public service to us all.

Janelle Holden is a former resident of Montezuma County.

From janelle holden, September 2003.