SCHWARZENEGGER, BU.S.TAMANTE SHAPE FATEFUL GOVERNOR'S RACE
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and California's Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante - the lone statewide official to back Hollywood's secession last year - announced Wednesday that they both will join the race for the seat at the head of the Golden State's table now held by Gov. Gray Davis, the first statewide elected official to be the object of a recall in this century. Of course, the century's just begun - and so has this race.
Also joining the race on Wednesday was diminutive former child star Gary Coleman, who announced that he'll vote for Schwarzenegger, and Ariana Huffington, the distaff end of a failed marriage whose husband, Michael, now a gay man and former Congressman, may also decide to enter the race after spending a huge chunk - some $16 million - of his family fortune running in 1997.
With that stunning series of announcements, reality tv suddenly became synonymous with CNN Headline News. There was little else to talk or think about, even with the beginning of a new American military intervention in Liberia, the horrific bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, an appearance by Kobe Bryant in court on rape charges, and another bad day on the stock market. Schwarzenegger's announcement also came U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, said to be the state's most popular politician. strongly condemned the recall and rejected thousands of pleas asking her to joing the race.
Did we mention Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler? Or Peter Camejo, who ran a distant third as a Green last time around and says he will run this time and yet may still endorse Ariana late in his own race?
And what if the Big One hits? California Democrats, who have become accustomed to controlling the tate's purse strings and legislature by shutting out the Republicans in every statewide race and gaining control of both the State Assembly and State Senate, could lose it all in one short, two-month campaign.
That's presuming, of course, that the California Supreme Court permits the election to go forward; they've promised to rule on all five challenges to the contest at the same time Thursday afternoon, leading some to suggest they've been struck with the same sweating, feverish, frenzied syndrome the rest of the state's politicians caught this afternoon.
Is it contagious? The American Reporter received an email petition last night asking for signatures to recall Gov. Jeb Bush, so it may be.
California is dead broke, and its debt is rated as junk. It has an $8 billion deficit and failure-ridden schools. Yes, it is beautiful; its mountains soar and slope in graceful arcs to Big Sur and the sea, and its movie stars and Malibu Beach surfers and whitewashed San Diego shoreline are the envy of the entire world that doesn't have to live there, paying $192,000 for a 450 sq. ft. hovel in a Hollywood slum. Reality smashes it's face against the mirror in California. It's all real even if none of it is. Even the smog is making a comeback.
It is unclear if popular culture - that's the series of images we see on television and the jokes from Leno we repeat at work - has a breaking point. One assumes a certain sanity in national affairs, but no one assumes that in California's case.
If a single mind can go insane, it certainly seems possible that an entire culture can also go mad; give it enough reality smashes - wildfires, earthquakes, landslides and mudslides, insurrections, serial murders, Angelyne billboards and box-office bombs - and then stir it all up in a big way with a wild and crazy two-month show called "Who Really Wants to Be Governor?" and you really, really don't know. Think of "Hummer and Dumber," or Bruiser and Cruzer, or Flynt and Clint (why's he not running?) Maybe Gary Coleman and Angelyne can get married at the top of Los Angeles City Hall and then do that base-jumping thing - without a parachute. The State of California is.
The strangest thing about California is how many really good people there are there. All of the politicians we met - and that's most of them - are good, sensible, hard-working people who really seem to like and appreciate other people (except at election time). You can imagine what it would be like if they all joined the People's Party as we did in high school and worked everything out.
They're capable of it, but political money coming from so many sides has paralyzed them, and those that are still wiggling set stunned by their respective party organizations when they m,omentarily veer away from party lines. They are great people, and it is the greatest American tragedy of all that they are going down this very real and rocky path to political and social chaos.
Someone wrote a novel a few decades back about this kind of time in what was then a distant-future California; it made almost no sense in the '80s, but was a lot of fun to read. As the rest of the country watches - especially here in Florida, which received some 54,000 fleeing Californians with open arms last year - the state may be a lot of fun to read about, but the deadly serious science of political administration is a slab of bedrock in democracy, and when it cracks, we all fall though. Be careful, California; we love you.