Hey, Wheres the Stoners, Druids and Ferret-Lovers?

U.s. senate candidate Judge Jim Gray strives to make the Libertarian party matter

So excited are party leaders such as Cohen that he and Libertarian founder David Nolan—like Gray, a Newport Beach resident—helped him prepare days before a debate with Gail Lightfoot, his Libertarian primary opponent. It is only the second time that there has been a contested Libertarian primary in a statewide race, and it tells you something that when party leaders ask one of the candidates to drop out, it's Lightfoot, a member since 1972 and three-time candidate to boot.

Lightfoot says she was "very hurt" when asked to pull out of the race. People like Cohen say it's nothing personal, but actually, it is. While they compliment her for being a good soldier and acknowledge there is no significant policy or philosophic differences between Gray and Lightfoot, they point out that Gray is simply a more attractive candidate, able to attract more media, money and interest. Gray, they'll tell you, is a cut above.

"Look at him," Cohen says, gazing admiringly at Gray. "He's so likeable, so squeaky-clean. He can talk to the Ladies Knitting Club about legalizing drugs and get a standing ovation. And I'm not kidding—I've seen him do it."

Gray sees the drug war as the biggest drag on the nation, the biggest threat to its security; everything, even Iraq, pales to its scope and devastation. He came to the conclusion while on the bench, and hauling before him every day were people who needed treatment, not jail time. Add to that the wasted man hours, the possibility for the corrupt use of drug hysteria to limit rights and perform illegal searches, and Gray finally came to the conclusion that the War on Drugs was a disaster and that marijuana should be decriminalized, allowed to be sold and taxed just as alcohol is sold and taxed. (He always uses the term "decriminalize" because "when you say legalize marijuana, people stop thinking; they tend to equate legalization of marijuana to having vending machines full of marijuana across from the local junior high.")

When he first went public with his thoughts a decade ago, it was to less than an enthusiastic response. Then-Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates was incredulous, asking reporters, "What was this guy smoking? It's crazy. What kind of role model is he?"

Since then, with budgetary slaughter and waste, Gray's claim that taxing marijuana and discontinuing the waste of money and manpower chasing small-time offenders would net the state an additional $3 billion seems a very nice model to many.

"So much money is wasted in the drug war. I've had two congressman, Orange County congressman, tell me that there are lots of people in Washington who now believe that the drug war is not winnable but that it is imminently fundable," Gray says. "Where President Eisenhower once talked about the Military-Industrial Complex, we now have the Prison-Industrial Complex. It's the same thing, the same disease."

Gray likes to say he's probably the only man to get standing ovations after giving the same speech to the ACLU and the Young Republicans. Of course, young Republicans don't run the GOP, his former party. Ask him why he left the party that seemed to be grooming him for great things, he snaps, "Republicans give lip service to change, but if you're going to wait for any real change to come from the Democrats or Republicans in the next 20 years, you're dreaming."

It was six years ago that Gray entered a Republican congressional primary to unseat Democrat Loretta Sanchez. One night in the winter of 1998, he got together with his Republican opponents, Lisa Hughes and Bob Dornan, in front of the Orange County Central Committee, the people who do run the party. Hughes and Dornan were very comfortable in attack mode, but Gray stammered and seemed out of place, at one point even denying that he had supported decriminalizing drugs. It was an awful performance, and he was never a factor in the race. It was an indication to him that he probably could never go far in the Republican party, that while he may be an attractive candidate in a general election where moderates tend to rule, a primary tends to be controlled by a very conservative base that was not ready to listen to him.

Tom Campbell, who ran as the Republican nominee for Senate in 2000 against Diane Feinstien, disagrees. He and Gray got together during that campaign, and Gray helped Campbell form a drug policy that echoed many of his ideas.

"I found the response [to ending the war on drugs] to be tremendously positive," Campbell said, who is now the dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Virtually everyone agreed, and these were Republicans. Jim is going to find a very responsive electorate and not just Libertarians."

And so, Campbell says he's "saddened," that Gray felt he had to leave the party and that "most definitely" he was someone who could have had electoral success in the GOP.

"That's very nice of Tom, but it's so easy to demagogue what I'm saying on the war on drugs," Gray says. "Dornan did it. You just say, 'Let's put all the drug offenders in prison and save our children.' To be on the other side, to explain the real costs and the real benefits, takes time and thought. As I've said, change is not possible in the Republican Party. I appreciate Tom's sentiments, but for the next 20 years, someone who speaks like I do could never win the primary."

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