Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Yelling at the Chicanos in Buena Park

This was a fun, but strange weekend (Sept. 13 - 14). I don't think I garnered a single vote from all the activity, but I did participate in some interesting events.

Saturday morning, I flew from Sacramento down to John Wayne Airport, Orange County. Fellow candidate Cheryl Bly-Chester was also riding the same flight, so we talked all the way down. Discovered she has travelled the world (e.g., South Africa) on various kayak adventures. Interesting!

At the airport, we rented separate cars, and made the long journey on the freeways into downtown LA. We parked the cars and entered the Standard Hotel, a jewel of Standard Oil's real estate empire. We went to a roof terrace where photo-taking is prohibited because of the upscale clientele (didn't see anyone famous, though). We gathered with the other Candidate Forum candidates (James Vandeventer, Jr., Jon Zellhoefer, D.E. Kessenger, Jonathan Miller, Lawrence Strauss, Sara Ann Hanlon, plus a smattering of friends and two of the documentary crews that have been following us around this campaign). Sadly, our organizing host, the colorful Thunder Trek Kelley, had another committment and couldn't attend.

We discussed various Forum activities, such as approaching the major candidates to join with us in a unified appeal to the electorate. But we soon had to break for the afternoon activities. Cheryl and one documentary crew headed off to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where a pro-recall rally was going to be held. Afterwards, they were going to go over to the Republican Endorsement convention. Jonathan left a bit early to go to the Democratic Endorsement convention, in the LA Convention Center adjacent to Staples Center, and I followed a short time later.

The Democratic Endorsement convention was in full swing when I arrived. I was pleased I got the last candidate ID badge, which was supposed to go Cruz Bustamante, but he hadn't appeared yet. Art Torres (state Democratic chairman, retired) regaled the audience, and he had things well in hand. Candidate Jonathan Miller was there, as was Dick Lane. I saw Kirsten Zadekia Xanthippe (who did 'Evita' with us at DMTC in 2000) hard at work, doing press operations.

Governor Gray Davis arrived with great fanfare, and made a speech. Then suddenly, as if by magic, Cruz Bustamante appeared at his side. Davis said, "People wanted to see when we were going to stand together. Well, here we are."

Gray Davis takes the podium at the Democratic Party Special Endorsement Convention, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA, September 13, 2003. Photo taken by candidate Jonathan Miller (with Marc Valdez's camera).

The endorsement election featured 11 candidates, of which I was one (although I recommended 'No Endorsement' in my written statement presented for the delegate's consideration). Cruz Bustamante won, of course, but 14.2% of the delegates voted for No Endorsement. For a few minutes, I thought I might have had something to do with that, but then I saw a flyer on which the African-American caucus also (for different reasons) recommended No Endorsement (as did a few labor leaders, according to the Sacramento Bee), so I had less influence than I thought (basically zero, really).

As candidates, we had the privilege of watching the counting of the ballots, which was fun. They would bring over spoiled ballots every now and then, and we would ponder the voter's intent. I met three other candidates: Eric Korevaar from San Diego, and Ed Kennedy and Georgy Russell (looking waifish) from the Bay Area. I introduced myself to Bob Mulholland, California's Dark Prince of smashmouth politics. Afterwards, Bustamante spoke, but his address was from a prepared text, and thus lacked sparkle.

After the convention, I went to the pro-recall rally at the Queen Mary, but arrived about an hour after the rally ended. Candidate Diane Templin was still there, however, meticulously interviewing everyone remaining behind with her camera crew. The seaside views were gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, and the ship looked stunning, of course. Afterwards, I ate at a friendly Long Beach cafe (I think it was called the Long Beach Cafe), drove to Buena Park for the next day's activities, got a motel room across the street from the Union Hall across the street where the convention was being held, and tried to catch up on paperwork and sleep.

Long Beach

Sept. 14th
The next day, I prepared for the Special Endorsement Convention of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). As I left the motel, Cheryl Bly-Chester drove up, and we approached the Union Hall together. We encountered candidates Gino Martorana and Leonard Padilla, who were both annoyed that MAPA wanted a $100 entrance fee - no one had been informed in advance about the fee, although a few of us had heard such rumors. In addition, campaigning was forbidden, as was leafletting, and we weren't being allowed to speak (apparently our invitation was merely to make MAPA look powerful, and wasn't a real invitation at all - we were fooled by MAPA's lies). Gino suggested that we enter free as members of the press instead, so most of us entered disguised as the press.

By now, I was feeling pretty mad. Here I was, one of the few Latino Gubernatorial Candidates, having to sneak into MAPA's convention like a mojado (wetback), in order to avoid the $100 fee and thus not bust over the $1000 legal spending limit many of us candidates had promised to uphold (I had a $100 bill in my pocket, so money per se wasn't the problem). Plus, I was also worried about my coyote ethnic status (half Hispanic, half Anglo, can't speak Spanish, quite anglified) and also whether we had all stumbled into a Cruz Bustamante rally of some sort. So, when MAPA's head, Nativo Lopez, said 'today the only female candidate in the race is going to be here, but she hasn't arrived yet', and yet here I was seated right next to Cheryl Bly-Chester, who was very much present, I spoke up: 'She's here! Right here!' A few people looked over, and Lopez repeated his statement, and I repeated myself, only louder. It seemed as if Lopez was not only treating Bly-Chester poorly, but going so far as to deny her existence as a human being at all!

For a third time, Lopez stated 'the only female candidate hasn't arrived yet', and then I blew up. I started shouting at the top of my lungs, to 400 or so of the most organized (and hence prominent) Mexican-Americans in the United States, that she was indeed here, as were several of us California gubernatorial candidates, and that we were being treated poorly by MAPA. Lopez shouted 'order! order!' and stated that if I didn't quiet down immediately, they would throw me out. I then shouted "then I will be the ONLY Latino candidate today thrown out of MAPA's convention!" Big beefy guys converged on me, waited for the order to evict, and then I abruptly threw my hands up in the air, quieted myself, and sat down.

My outburst provided enough time for the only MAJOR female candidate, Arianna Huffington, to arrive at the Union hall. When I realized that was what Lopez was up to, trying to spring Huffington on the audience as a surprise, I began to feel a bit embarrassed. Well, that's what happens when people lie to their guests - friction! About a half-hour later MAPA's Mr. Romero sat down with us and apologized for the hastily-organized nature of the convention (everything is hasty in this campaign). By this time I was in a pretty amiable mood. Mr. Romero chided me not to yell - after all, most of the folks in the hall had skipped church to attend, and indeed, they looked pretty doleful, and maybe a bit frightened of us. I'm sure they had heard there were some real maniacs running for governor, and from what they had just witnessed, what they heard was apparently correct (maybe I should be less quick to yell). Mr. Romero worked out an arrangement with us, by which Mr. Lopez would read a statement, prepared by Cheryl Bly-Chester on our behalf, promoting the gathering of the Candidate's Forum on Monday, Sept. 22nd, in Johnny Carson Park in Burbank across from the NBC studios (when we go for Jay Leno's Tonight Show appearance).

I sat in a distracted mood and listened to Arianna Huffington. She seemed a bit spacy, or maybe that was her accent combined with my distraction. Later that day, I chased her down in the parking lot outside, shook her hand, and praised her anti-Proposition 13 stance. "It's a terrible thing, isn't it?" she said vaguely as she struggled to figure out who the hell I was.

After Arianna, Peter Camejo spoke. What a guy! I remember my misery last year, when I voted for him for governor over Davis. I knew nothing about Camejo at all in November, 2002. Now I realize I made the correct decision. Camejo looks and sounds very similar to my Uncle Ramon, now deceased, who was a schoolteacher by trade, except that Camejo has a very impassioned manner. He spoke almost entirely in Spanish, and easily won over the audience. I don't speak Spanish well, but Camejo's intelligent manner shone through. If the universe was fair, Camejo would be governor. Maybe he can still make it!

Near noon, youth awards were presented. Mingling in the lobby, I realized the bans on campaigning and leafletting were mere formalities, and so we began talking to various people. Most people remained quite distant, but nevertheless a few teenagers approached to collect campaign leaflet souvenirs. I was impressed talking with candidate Thunder Trek Kelley and friend - they both seemed like pretty engaged people, and even candidate Georgy Russell finally deigned to engage in conversation.

In the bathroom, one Hispanic gentleman approached and said how happy he was that there were a few extra Latino candidates for governor on the ballot - he hadn't expected that, and it helped serve as an example for youth. One prominent woman wished me well (Margarita Calderon of the Congress of U.S. Mexican Women Voters), but I sensed pity from her (come on, it's not so bad!) The most interesting conversation was with Carlos Pelayo from La Raza Unida party in San Diego County.

Mr. Pelayo said that I was just one in a long line of people who have found one reason or another to get mad at MAPA (indeed, even last year, MAPA had problems). He suspected that most MAPA veterans found my outburst earlier that morning to be rather amusing. He said that I was going about politics all wrong, that I should be starting at the grass roots rather than just trying to jump to governor (he himself spends his time trying to elect school board candidates in San Diego County). I asked him what he thought of illegal immigration, and his answer was interesting. He said that Mexico and the U.S. have had an understanding for years, by which the U.S. permits illegal immigration in order for Mexico to remain politically stable. The people who would otherwise be available for making much-needed changes in Mexico instead run off to the United States. Thus, Mexico pays a huge price for the supposed virtue of 'stability'.

Candidate Lingel Winters from San Francisco arrived after lunch, and we talked about how pointless the day was turning out from our campaigning perspectives. Gray Davis arrived with entourage, including State Senator Gil Sedillo and Assemblywoman Solis, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and current U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Many speeches were given and I took numerous pictures. Gray Davis answered the stock set of questions the other candidates had answered that morning, and strangely enough stumbled a lot - you would think he'd be used to that by now. One of the angry folks who nearly tossed me out of the building earlier that morning was gracious enough to approach and thank me for staying.

It was time for several of us to go to the airport. Cruz Bustamante was expected, but he never arrived - plane problems in Denver. Thus MAPA apparently never endorsed him, but who they did endorse, if anyone, I still don't know. In the end, some of us paid the $100 MAPA fee (one candidate paid $250!!!) and some of us (e.g., me) didn't.

I drove off in my rent-a-car, and Cheryl and Lingel followed (lost them near the airport, but they appeared again eventually at the terminal gate). I had a pleasant conversation with a fellow named Keith from Tustin on the flight back to Sacramento. Then off (late) to musical theater rehearsal. One busy weekend! No votes to speak of, but hey, it's an education!

Various notables at MAPA special endorsement convention, including MAPA President Nativo Lopez, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, and State Senator Gil Sedillo. Just off-camera right, Governor Gray Davis.