Photo by Jeanne RiceThere are some who say there's no such thing as bad press . . . unless it's in OC Weekly. Gary Copeland isn't one of them, but it would be difficult to blame him if he were. Copeland, the California Libertarian Party's gubernatorial candidate and a Druid, found himself at the center of a Libertarian bitch-fight for talking to the Weekly about his Druidic philosophy and religious beliefs, as well as for posing in his Druidic robes.
"The unanticipated consequences," says Copeland, "were that a right-wing Christian paper picked up the article and said, 'If this guy gets elected, every time a decision is just beyond his grasp, instead of asking political consultants, he'll kill a white bullock on the capitol steps and study the entrails.'"
Which may well be how Gray Davis dealt with the energy crisis, but while it's difficult to say if the Worldnet Daily News, which published the article, is indeed "a right-wing Christian paper," Copeland feels it had nothing to do with him or his campaign but rather "was an obvious appeal to Libertarians to vote Republican."
What the Worldnet Daily News story definitely did, however, was bring the original Weekly article to the attention of state Libertarian Party chairman Aaron Starr.
Starr's reaction was curious—and contradictory. One minute, he was writing the Weekly after the Copeland piece ran, saying, "The Libertarian Party is for all who don't want to push other people around and don't want to be pushed around themselves. . . . Tolerance for the peaceful beliefs of others—even those that are unusual—is one of our party's trademarks. We're so tolerant that we might even select a Druid as governor."
However, at about the same time, Starr was writing the party's executive committee and suggesting they consider withdrawing Copeland's nomination from the ballot.
Copeland didn't wait for the Starr chamber to decide his fate. Instead, he threatened to withdraw from the race on his own.
Starr responded to questions—both from the Weekly and party members—by saying the whole thing may be Copeland's idea of an April Fool's joke. Noting that the gubernatorial candidate cannot be removed from the ballot unless he dies, he added, "In the event of such a terrible tragedy, rest assured we would find a replacement capable of representing our views, though it's doubtful we would find someone nearly as colorful as Gary."
Soon after this set of mixed messages, Starr announced the formation of a "Gubernatorial Advisory Committee"—consisting of old-guard Libertarians such as party founder and Newport Beach resident David Nolan—that would effectively run and direct Copeland's campaign. Starr claimed that Copeland agreed to this. Copeland says otherwise.
"I agreed to accept their help, not to turn my campaign over to them," Copeland said. "Some have come to refer to this as 'the Libertarian Spanking Committee.'"
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But Copeland says he no longer cares whether Starr accepts him and his Druidry, and he intends to continue running his campaign with or without the party boss's blessing, talking instead about reaching out to voters in the Green Party and other independents.
Others are more vocal in their annoyance at Starr and what they see as his un-Libertarian—indeed, some would say authoritarian—tactics.
"Aaron Starr has broken ranks, and he is the chair," says Joe Michael Cobb, the Libertarian Party's 48th District congressional candidate against incumbent Representative Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach). "I have called for his resignation, as well as an apology to Copeland.
"Consider the possibilities: if Copeland were peeved at Starr, he could do a lot of damage to the Libertarian Party. I don't think he will do it, but what if he decided to give you—or any journalist—a quote sympathetic to the Green Party candidate? Great journalism, no? And very damaging to the Libertarian Party, all thanks to Aaron Starr's overreaction to a photo published in OC Weekly."