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8.08.2003

A Ventura County Star columnist named Colleen Cason rises up in today's edition with this gem.

The headline is your first clue:

Candidates should have total recall

Does anything say "Here Be Mediocrity" better than an already-hackneyed headline? I know, I know, Ms. Cason did in all likelihood not write the headline. But her byline does head the column, so presumably she's responsible for the content of the piece, which leaves something to be desired. Let's start at the beginning!

Many youngsters -- especially our California kids -- grow up dreaming of someday being action-movie heroes or sitcom stars.

But was there ever a child so wonky he or she declared, "I want to be governor of the state of California when I grow up"?


We already have a clue as to Ms. Cason's bias: her first question is, essentially, "Is it good for the childruuuuuun?" Which leads me to formulate O'Connor's Law of Political Writing: One invoking interests of "The Children" automatically loses, rather than gains, credibility. Do these children happen to include the ones forced into failing California public schools, or not? Ms. Cason -- a budding Mareen Dowd, perhaps -- leaves this question unanswered.

But now I feel as if I am trapped in a reality TV show with an absurd premise.

Middle-aged action heroes and sitcom stars want to be governor.


Clearly such people are not entitled to participate in politics . . . we should leave politics to the experts! (More on this later.)

With his exquisitely timed entrance, action flickster Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned the Oct. 7 recall into a race we won't soon forget.

Gary Coleman, the diminutive "Diff'rent Strokes" star, also claims to be in the running. Has anyone checked California law? There might be a height minimum.


Rampant heightism!

And this just in: Pat Morita -- declaring happy days are here again -- announced he is considering the seat. Morita played Arnold on the "Happy Days" TV show. He also had the role of mentor to "The Karate Kid" in the martial-arts movies by the same name.

So we have a pretend terminator taking on a make-believe karate guru.


No, what we have is a columnist either so bewildered or angry that she doesn't get the essence of what's going on here: a recall vote, proceeding as prescribed by the state's constitution, and allowed to continue by its sitting supreme court. . "Facts are stubborn things," John Adams is reputed to have said . . . not for Ms. Cason! Ignoring them makes them go away, you see? Just like the $38 billion state deficeit!

I have to tell you I'm concerned an actor could turn Sacramento into the original amateur hour. These guys have been on the stage but do they even have a platform?

This is a standard part of the anti-recall repertoire: criticise undesirables by dwelling on their lack of experience. So much better than dwelling on the incredibly poor job done by . . . the experts!

And how much do they know about piloting the fifth-largest economy in the world?

Do they know unfunded mandates from foundering manatees?

Do they know California's primary water source is not Perrier.

Do they know where Sacramento is?


Why these are important goes begging. I could hazard a guess . . . but why bother, since the columnist herself appears to hold these to be self-evident!

In this state, we are terribly fond of testing our schoolchildren. After all, we must make sure they can sign their names to every petition shoved in their hands at the local Target.

Ah, testing them yes! But educating them, no! That's why school choice must be so popular with the teacher's unions here . . . and across the nation. Also . . . nice bit of snobbery regarding the local Target. I guess we won't be seeing Ms. Cason there anytime soon. Seriously, though, Ms. Cason's jab at Target signifies one big reason for a lot of the chattering classes' antipathy towards this recall: the demotic nature of this process frankly scares the Colleen Casons of the world witless.

So, perhaps it's only fair we test our newly minted politicians to make sure no candidate is left behind.

Since time is of the essence -- the filing deadline for the recall race is Saturday -- let's make this a simple true or false test.


Apparently time was of the essence in writing this howler. What else besides deadline pressure can explain its lack of thought and quality?

True or false. The secretary of state is the prim woman in sensible shoes who takes notes at the Legislature.
False. The secretary of state actually is the poor soul who must preside over this crazy election.


Hey! A joke! get it? Recall bad. RECALL BAD!

The California recall process was invented by Hiram Walker. If a candidate answered true, ask him what has he been drinking. Hiram Walker distilled booze. Hiram Johnson was the state's 23rd governor, who had state law amended to allow initiatives and recalls.

Did he do it all by himself? Or did the voters help? I must have missed that provision in the California constitution allowing its governor to amend the constitution all by hisself.

In California, two of the three branches of government are headed by the governor. If a candidate answered true, don't vote for him. He is power grabbing. The governor oversees only one branch of government -- unless someone decides to change that with a ballot initiative.

Translation: let's hope this junk never happens again!

There are 158 counties in California. Anyone who answered true is California dreaming. The state's big but not that big. There are 58 counties.

Translation: This is filler. I am writing on deadline and have nothing substantive to say and will therefore resort to meaningless quizzes peppered with attempts at humor.

The governor's official residence is in Sacramento. Any candidate who bought this is going to have a hard time getting back and forth from work. Currently, there is no governor's mansion. The Reagans built one in Carmichael, which sits empty. The original mansion in downtown Sacramento is a museum. And there is talk of constructing one in West Sacramento.

Translation: See above translation.

The SWP stands for special weapons police who keep order in the Legislature. That would be false. It's the State Water Project, which delivers H2O to 20 million Californians.

Hey, a substantive point, allowed to see the light of day! Riparian rights and access are crucial to California. Is any ink wasted in discussing it once it has been raised? (Wait for the next point to find out.)

The state Board of Equalization handles discrimination complaints. Wrongo.

. . . guess not.

Since California has had a state controller, there have been fewer airplane crashes. That would be false as well.

Yawn. The joke format was stale three column inches ago.

The Franchise Tax Board recently imposed a tax on every supersized meal at fast-food franchises to bolster the state's anemic budget.
False again.

If you answered all these questions correctly, you may not be a movie or TV idol, but you've got what it takes to be a player in the ultimate reality show -- "Who Wants to be a Governor?"


And that's it. Ms. Cason concludes her Maureen Dowd-like exercise in liteness with a TV reference . . . fitting, I suppose.

What's unfortunate about the piece is not its reflexive elitism, not its bland cynicism in denying political reality, not even the low quality of its writing (hey, I'll make a LIST of things about Cali politics, and pose them as questions! That's called "mailing it in," folks.). . . but the fact that Ms. Cason offers no substantive alternatives to a reality she finds objectionable. Her main wish is to escape reality, not deal with it. That's a California trait! Not dealing with reality is what got the state where it is today. If the current state of affairs here has an apologist, she's right here at the Ventura Star.

I suppose you could argue that the piece is a humorous attempt at making light of the issue. But if so, Ms. Cason's antipathy to the recall is so strong one wonders why she tried.

Plus, there's this: she's not funny.

Were I in Ms. Cason's shoes I'd at least try to write something a little more constructive. How about a discussion of the responsibility of the legislature -- not just the governor -- in the current political scene? Are there particular groups -- besides the vast right-wing conspiracy -- which have contributed to the budget mess that is at least in part driving the recall? Who are they? How should spending change? These are valid points raised in part by Ms. Cason's column but which she essentially ignores. Her column seems to me to be symptomatic of the California political process . . . wishing away reality rather than meeting it, head-on. Is that what a columnist is supposed to do? (Hint: if you don't know the answer, stop reading and go back to Googling yourself now!)


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