By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Photo by Jeanne RiceAside from the little frizzy-haired dude in the T-shirt—people of a certain age will recognize him as a demi-Jerry from Room 222—there is a conspicuous paucity of stoners at Judge Jim Gray's Senate campaign headquarters opening celebration. There are lots of adults in suits and ties—this is key—lots of people who look like they could be attending a Republican or Democratic function—also key—a lot of people whose closest brush with the phrase "try before you buy" no doubt involved vacation-time-share property.
This is disappointing, of course, for anyone who expected Gray's headquarters to be a kind of Gomorrah Gone Wild, having built his campaign so conspicuously around the idea that the drug war has been a disaster and that his first order of business as a U.S. senator would be to decriminalize marijuana.
"Every vote for me will be a vote against the drug war."
He would have it regulated and sold "in some kind of package store," the way one gets beer or wine in a liquor store, which is what this building was before it became Gray headquarters. It's a pale, starkly lit room with cinderblock walls, exposed ceilings, and a few desks and banners strewn about; a Costco veggie plate here, a vague, very pale portrait of Gray there. Still, at the height of the party, celebrating not only the kickoff of Gray's senatorial campaign but also his 59th birthday, there are more than 200 people here, laughing and smiling and feeling very good about things, mostly feeling very good about Judge Jim Gray, who, they believe, is a quantum step up in the kind of candidate the party has offered the public.
In the past, the very near past, Libertarian candidates have ranged from serious, girl- and guy-next-door ideologues to entrepreneurs to jokesters to New Agers, all attracted by the party's rigorously independent streak, an independence that has at times worked against it. In 2002, the Libertarian candidate for governor was Trabuco Canyon resident Gary Copeland, who talked as much about his Druid faith as any policy stand and enjoyed being photographed in his Druid hood and robe. He talked about the peace the religion had brought him and that the basis of it was very Libertarian: that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Then, one day, angered about being treated as a loon, he "hocked the biggest loogie I could" at KABC radio talk-show host Brian Whitman, hitting him "dead square in the face." He was dropped from the ticket.
There is nary a robe amongst the gathered. There are lots of suits and ties, which, of course, is key, suits and ties having become a mantra for party leaders who seem more comfortable with the idea of actually winning a race and see Gray as kind of the template for a new kind of Libertarian candidate.
"We're professionalizing this; we're offering candidates now in suits and ties, the kind who don't have a stigma attached to them," said Bruce Cohen, a real-estate broker and Libertarian candidate for Congress in Christopher Cox's 48th District. "Suit-and-tie Libertarians. These are serious people. No Grateful Dead pot-smoking Libertarians —and I like the Grateful Dead."
And at the top of the list of straight, serious candidates is the aptly named Gray, tall and sturdy, with shades of Wesley Clark and that guy on TV who tells you that if you can draw a picture of a turtle, you, too, may be ready to enter the exciting world of art. A Navy lieutenant and Peace Corps volunteer, a federal prosecutor and Superior Court judge, he has the look and pedigree one normally associates with a major party candidate, which he was in 1998 before one of the most wincingly awful flameouts this side of a Howard Dean performance piece. The Orange County Libertarian, the monthly party newsletter, called Gray the "candidate that can lead us to a breakthrough victory" and "the most important and compelling candidate in the country this election."
With the likes of Gray, Libertarian leaders such as Cohen, a member of the state party's board of directors, see an opportunity to capitalize on growing interest. While official party enrollment has remained steady at about 80,000 in California, the term libertarian is used as an identity for people ranging from Dana Rohrabacher to Bill Maher, and any viewing of South Park these days is a veritable lesson in libertarian philosophy, that is the idea that government should interfere as little in people's lives as possible, that the ultimate right of an American is the liberty to do what one wants as long as it does not impinge on someone else's safety or liberty, and that each individual must take ultimate responsibility for their actions.
That, as they say in the big parties, has traction these days. But, to borrow a page from Gray's day planner, if you're going to tell the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative on March 10 that along with the freedom to smoke pot comes the freedom to tote guns or, at the San Francisco Bankers Club the following day, say that laissez faire goes hand and hand with a woman's right to choose, you better not be wearing a Druid hood and robe when you're saying it. You'd better be a tall, good-looking guy—wouldn't hurt to be a vet and Superior Court judge—who looks like he could have won in one of the big parties; you better be Judge Jim Gray.