Lunching With Losers
Photo by Mary StamponeRead much about Bill Simon after the election? Had any warm thoughts about Dukakis lately? Me neither. The camera follows the winners off the field, leaving the vanquished in the dusk to gather their teeth on their shields and slouch off into obscurity.
But that's often where the true nobility is, with the defeated who fought with valor against impossible odds and remain unbowed, if a little toothless, by their defeats to fight the good fight yet another day. And many of those who lost in this past election cycle deserve our thanks and our apologies, given the heinous fuckpigs we've just allowed to be elected to office.
I'm talking about the national picture here, as there's no one within throwing range of me whom I'd care to single out for heinousness at this juncture. Let the bullies have their bully pulpit while we go talk with some real losers.
Take Huntington Beach City Council candidate Joey Racano, who ran 14th in a field of 18, garnering a mere 2.5 percent of the vote, or Bill Orton, who ran for State Assembly in the 67th District, spanning Huntington and Seal beaches as well as the dog ends of several other county burgs. Orton's Republican opponent squished him by a 2-1 margin.
So why are these guys more upbeat than I am? Granted, "upbeat" is a relative term in these darkling days. Racano, for example, opined to me, "If you can stand in one spot and count over 100 flags within 10 feet of you, you're living in a fascist state. I just did. Over by Albertson's, there were American flags everywhere: cars, windows, boxes of drinking water. It's like being in China." He's even more suspicious of the Bush administration than I am, yet he's more upbeat, in that he's still tirelessly out there working for change.
This was Racano's second unsuccessful run for city council. Between the first one and now, he was at the forefront of the successful movements to stave off development of the Little Shell wetlands and to kill the federal waiver that allowed the county sanitation district to under-treat our sewage before flushing it into the ocean. And for all that trouble, he got a couple of thousand fewer votes this time. He does not like losing.
Over a bowl of Sugar Shack oatmeal, he said, "It was like getting your heart broken in your late 30s. You thought you'd seen it all, and then here comes what's-her-name with a new hurt. But I'm not discouraged by the low turnout of the election because it was designed that way by the bad guys, and they've got it down to a science."
Racano claims a candidate with a similar name ran just to siphon votes away from him and cites the HB police association involvement in local politics as a sullying influence. What bugs him more is that the increasingly mainstreamed Sierra Club—which jumped late into environmental issues he's spearheaded—didn't endorse him.
Racano claims, "I am a statesman. I am as articulate and intelligent as anybody they've got. And if you want to talk about my methods and tactics, there's only one word for them: effective."
Others might add another word: irritating. Racano rightly likens our econo/environmental condition to a deep-sea diver selling off his only remaining oxygen for profit. He compares the U.S. to Monopoly, where, when the game works as intended, one person ends up with all the money. And he acts as a sane man might in such situations: he tries to shake others awake to what's looming before us. He agitates, with signs on corners, at the city council podium.
Hence, when talking in the Sugar Shack courtyard about the organo-chlorines produced by bleaching sewage or Bush's police-state inclinations, he raises his voice so the retired folks sitting nearby get an earful. I've heard of him cursing in libraries about the Internet-filtering program on the computers. An opposing candidate could have had a field day with that: "Would you elect a man who yells in libraries?"
Despite the tally, Racano thinks his candidacy was successful because it educated HB voters on environmental issues. He won't rule out another council run—if others back him—but he's changing tactics for a while. No more being the voice of the ocean at council meetings; no more, he hopes, run-ins with the HB cops, who he claims recently broke his RV window. He also happens to be a damn fine musician, and with a new CD out, Bluejay (available at Bionic Records and Virgin Megastore), Racano's planning to head up the coast, playing environmental events, singing on college radio and getting the word out in a more receptive environment. And you can always get his latest thoughts, banged out on a public library computer, by going to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo by Jim Washburn
While Racano had thoughts of winning, Democrat Bill Orton says he always regarded himself as a foot soldier sent out to be slaughtered in his race against Tom Harman in the heavily Republican 67th.
Over a Greek salad at Mother's in Costa Mesa, Orton said, "It was like the lottery, where you do go into it kind of thinking you're going to win, though you know, of course, those aspirations are ridiculous. I ran because the party couldn't find anybody to run and asked me to, repeatedly. I agreed, knowing it would be a slaughter."
"It was important to carry the message of the party, to hold my opponent accountable, and to run a hard campaign. He spent about $180,000, and about $100,000 of that was spent taking a flyswatter to me. That's fine: his job was to crush me, and my job was to make him spend a lot of money to do it. If that money had been freed up, he would have been an ATM machine, shifting money to other Republican candidates. So if I played a part in helping my party elsewhere, I feel like I did something good."
Orton spent less than $25,000 on his campaign. If elections were graded on a cost-per-vote basis, Orton and Racano would be winners. Compared to the $2.60 per vote Harman spent, Orton spent under 75 cents per chad. I don't know what Racano's campaign cost—because I forgot to ask—but I'd bet it's less than he spent on dog food during the race. Joey loves his dogs.
Orton ran a grassroots campaign, with no headquarters. His biggest event was held in a trailer park, featuring an Elvis impersonator. Orton sent out several press e-mails per week, wherein he was always announcing or proclaiming something, and I pictured him making these announcements from his Seal Beach porch to an audience of disinterested ducks.
"It was something like that," he admitted. "It was literally 365 days of me alone in this race. I'm honored to have had the opportunity, but it would have to be a far better set of circumstances before I would do it again."
In his day job, Orton works for the Democratic caucus of the State Assembly, assigned to Lou Correa, whom he regards as one of the best politicians he has ever seen. "He busts his chops for his constituency, which is what people in government should do. If they don't listen to you and they don't work hard, what good are they?"
Despite the trouncing Democrats just took nationally, Orton remains convinced of the viability of a New Deal-style activist government helping to make lives better for average folks. (Check out his groovy website, billy orton.com.) He sees a gradual shift locally, where people are waking up to the legacy of environmental woe and crumbling infrastructure created by the county's old "caveman" politicians.
Nationally, he agrees his party blew the election by not giving voters a clear choice.
"The Democrats have to do exactly what Al Gore is doing now, having the guts to present strong views on pertinent subjects. Gore just said we are conceding our way of life by handing power to Big Brother, that we should not be surrendering our civil liberties to bureaucrats just because the President says we must to defeat terrorism.
"If we're going to die for our freedoms, we should at least have them and be able to speak freely and not have to wonder if our library records are going to be examined by some bureaucrat. Democrats need to confront the egregious wrongs being done by this administration and to put forward a vision of where we should be as a nation, as a leading player in the world, and as individuals. When Americans are losing their life's savings in their 401Ks and the ruling party doesn't even want to discuss it, there is something fundamentally wrong in America."
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