It's official: California has finally reclaimed its rightful place as the wackiest state in the union. Florida had us beat for a while with Elian Gonzalez and hanging chads, but we came roaring back with this whole recall thing. Think about it: Darrell Issa -- an alleged car thief who later made his fortune selling car alarms -- decides he wants to be governor. So he throws the world's sixth largest economy into utter chaos by paying bunch of losers to collect enough signatures to invalidate an election that's not even a year old -- right in the middle of the worst deficit crisis in state history. You can't make this shit up.
And then, under the rules of the recall election, any jerk can run for governor. All you need is $3,500 and 65 friends who've had a bit too much to drink, and the state is legally obligated to put you on the ballot, right next to "serious" candidates like Bill Simon and Michael Huffington. As of last weekend, hundreds of people had taken out papers to get on the ballot. If even a fraction of them get their paperwork in, the ballot will be an absolute nightmare, as scores of joke candidates and petty egotists overwhelm the voters' capacity to make any rational decision about the state's future. If Gray Davis is recalled, we have to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that as few as 65,000 voters will determine the destiny of 35 million people.
There's only one word for this: art. When Arnold Schwarzenegger is a serious contender to run the biggest state in the Union, you know we've all passed through the looking glass. So why stop there, we figured? Why shouldn't the rest of Hollywood get in on the fun? Like, say, former Diff'rent Strokes star and pop culture icon Gary Coleman?
After all, it's not as if he'd never considered elected office before; in 2000, Coleman declared his intention to challenge Dianne Feinstein for her Senate seat, but lost interest after a few days. So three weeks ago, we called Coleman's agent and asked whether Gary would consider running for governor, and within 48 hours, we heard back from the man himself.
"Hello there, this is Gary Coleman," he said in a voice-mail message. "It is 3:30 on Friday. I'm stuck in Friday traffic in my car, getting ready to pull out my hair. But maybe this is something I can fix as governor. ... I am probably the most unqualified person to run for governor, but I'm willing to do it as a goof if you are. But then I need to know something: Whose ass do I kick if I actually win? Because that means I'm gonna have to move up to Sacramento -- the armpit of California -- and administer this state back to some kind of solvency."
With straight talk such as this, we immediately realized that we had made the right choice. Gary is a natural leader. Here is a man who could finally bring California out of the wilderness, whose innate nobility and common sense would save us all. Compared to Coleman, Gray Davis is just a whore for campaign contributions. Darrell Issa is a pistol-packin' hustler playing at being a congressman. Bill Simon is, well, Bill Simon. And Dick Riordan couldn't even beat Simon in last year's primary. We knew then and there that Gary Coleman stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field.
Assembling our crackerjack campaign staff, we went to work. With Gary's authorization, we took out nomination papers and hit the streets to collect signatures. Express editor Stephen Buel cruised the bleachers during last week's A's-Indians game. Managing editor Michael Mechanic hit up lunchtime crowds at the Emery Bay Public Market food court, a campaign sign in one hand and a stack of petitions in the other. Staff writer Chris Thompson worked the crunchy-granola set outside the Berkeley Bowl. Everywhere we went, we found ordinary folks desperate for a People's Candidate, someone who really connected with the voters. (Well, that and people who haven't ever voted, wouldn't think of voting, or cannot vote because they are currently on parole.)
Still, the people spoke with breathtaking speed: Gary Coleman was their man. We FedExed the documents down to Southern California, and Gary signed his declaration of candidacy before a notary public. On Wednesday, August 6, we walked into the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office and officially put Gary Coleman into the running. Come October 7, you'll see his name on the ballot, right next to seasoned politicians who have dedicated their lives to public service. And thanks to a guaranteed low voter turnout, a shallow, populist resentment of career politicians, and Coleman's name recognition, the former child star has as good a shot as anyone of becoming our next governor.
This is how absurd state politics have become, all thanks to the petulance and greed of Darrell Issa. Maybe you'll get the chance to thank him someday. Till then, our special report explains why Gary is the perfect leader for our times -- such as they are.
Gray vs. Gary
Their names are almost identical, but they couldn't be any more different.
LAW ENFORCEMENT EXPERIENCE
Gray: Junior high hall pass monitor
Gary: Security guard
HIT TV SERIES
Gary: Diff'rent Strokes
Gray: Some of his best friends are ...
Gary: Black and beautiful
Gray: Bungling caused blackouts
Gary: His humor is electrifying
Gray: "I want your money."
Gary: "None of the above."
Gray: Class size matters
Gary: Class matters
Gray: Awaiting his personality transplant
Gary: Survived kidney transplant
Gray: Sold out California to deep-pocketed campaign contributors
Gary: Will govern California on his own terms
Gray: Not a pro
Gary: Not a con