HEY, WHERE'S THE STONERS, DRUIDS AND FERRET-LOVERS?
U.S. senate candidate Judge Jim Gray strives to make the Libertarian
Aside 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
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
"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.
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
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
says, extending a hand toward the frizzy-haired dude in the T-shirt.
"Can you help me with something?"