Voters are Idiots

Rethinking the Coleman candidacy; Don't ask Jeeves how to run a campaign; Locals may capitalize on Wilson connections; And never, never give a voter a pencil.

Voters are idiots. Witness how many of them cast their ballots last week for an aging actor with no government experience.

Bottom Feeder is referring, of course, to Gary Coleman, who got more than 12,600 votes statewide — and in Alameda County, twice as many votes as former Oakland Assemblywoman Audie Bock.

Now, Feeders will recall — oops, sorry ’bout that — that this newspaper put up Coleman as a candidate and paid his $3,500 entry fee. Gary got plenty out of the deal judging from the hundreds of media appearances and free mentions he’s had since August. As for the political point the Express had intended to make, well, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

There were troubling signs from the start: A day after getting on the ballot, Coleman told CNN he’d vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger and expressed support for the recall. A week later, the Express stopped scheduling interviews for Coleman after his own longtime Hollywood publicist and our editorial coordinator Nora Sohnen double-booked the actor on several occasions. As reporters from Baltimore to Bogota besieged the campaign with interview requests, both Sohnen and Coleman were immediately overwhelmed. “After today, today being Wednesday, NO MORE EARLY EAST COAST AM SHOWS!” Coleman e-mailed Sohnen at the height of the frenzy. “The people on the East Coast are not going to consider me for any acting job, they’re not interested in California politics and they’re not voting here.”

Coleman’s campaign Svengali, Express editorissimo Stephen Buel, seemed a little bummed the morning after the election. Reflecting on the past two months, he described the Coleman campaign as a “grandly successful failure.” Besides being Bottom Feeder’s wise and benevolent boss, Buel is a serious and sincere newsman who had hoped the media would see through the joke and grasp the paper’s editorial criticism of the recall process itself. Instead, he says, most reporters simply took Coleman at face value and asked him his views on the issues. “Rather than being a wry comment on how dumb the process was,” he says, “it just became part of the dumb process.”

Buel faults his fellow journalists, not Coleman. “He played his part fine and had fun with it,” Buel says. Still, the editor just couldn’t bring himself to do his candidate the ultimate honor on Election Day. That’s right, he voted for someone else.

The mysterious S. Issa? Trek Thunder Kelly? Buel will never tell.


Well, that was a waste of a million bucks.

Those Internet millionaires. They sure know how to piss away their unearned money. Garrett Gruener, recall candidate and co-founder of Emeryville-based Ask Jeeves, wound up spending an astounding $460 per vote in his experimental Web-centric campaign. By contrast, Gary Coleman ran perhaps the leanest, meanest campaign ever, dropping about 35 cents a vote (just enough to cover the filing fee and a few incidental expenses). In fairness, Gruener dropped out of the race one week before the election and threw his weightlessness behind Bustamante, though it’s hard to say how many voters actually heard about this pivotal campaign moment. One person who did posted this message to Gruener’s Web site: “So, I saw that you didn’t win, Gruenie! How did you spend last night? Did you have a rally with both of your supporters at the Motel 6 in Oxnard? … I’m sure that Davis and Bustamante were glad to see you throw your considerable support behind them. Why, if only 137,000 more candidates like you had supported them, Davis might still be in office or Cruz would be taking his place.”

Friends of Pete Wilson

Finding a Republican in the East Bay is harder than finding an Audie Bock campaign donor. The liberal capital of the Left Coast, of course, voted overwhelmingly against the recall and for Snooze Bustamante. But two names from Contra Costa County have surfaced as likely prospects for a role in the new action-adventure administration — both of them old appointees of former Governor Pete Wilson, the Terminator-elect’s campaign manager.

The first is EBMUD director John Coleman, Ahnuld-backer and former deputy director of external affairs for the California Conservation Corps — and no relation to Gary Coleman, by the way. John C. acknowledges he’s keen on the idea of returning to state government, perhaps a nice appointment to the state resources agency. “I’d be interested, depending on what the position might be,” he says.

The other possibility is Orinda’s Jim Conran, Wilson’s director of consumer affairs and current head of Consumers First, which calls itself a consumer advocacy organization, but has been assailed by other consumer watchdogs as a front for insurance interests. His group took $37,500 from the industry to fight state insurance-reform Propositions 30 and 31, according to a March 2000 press release from national nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Conran also ran for insurance commissioner in 1994, losing to Chuck Quackenbush in the Republican primary. Quackenbush resigned in disgrace four years later amid civil and criminal allegations involving his cozy ties to the industry he was elected to regulate. We can only hope Conran would do better by the peeps of California than his former GOP rival.

Score One for Castro

Voters are idiots. Take the thousands who cast ballots for George Schwartzman thinking they were voting for the Terminator. Still, at least some of the idiots have a sense of humor. Then again, maybe they’re just deranged.

Alameda County Registrar Brad Clark has come across a few examples since Election Day, such as the absentee voter who cast votes for every other person on the 135-candidate ballot.

And while you’d think 135 candidates would be enough, 897 people in Contra Costa County voted for write-ins, which as a collective group were the seventh-highest vote-getters in the county. CoCo County elections chief Steve Weir hasn’t had time to scour his write-ins yet, but he confidently predicts someone will have written in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name, quite unaware that he’s on the ballot. When the county held its special one-issue election last month for Measure C, there were 114 people who bothered to show up at the polls and sign in, but then never cast a vote, Weir says. On the other hand, he adds, about twenty people voted both Yes and No.

Back in Alameda County, according to Clark, a few people wrote in names such as Dianne Feinstein and Gray Davis. There was also at least one vote for Fidel Castro. Since Castro wasn’t a certified write-in candidate, his vote won’t be counted. However, for those of you who wrote in “The Wang” or “Wangster,” your votes will count for candidate Donald P. Wang of Oakland. No joke. “The most dangerous thing in the world to do,” Clark says, “is give a voter a pencil, because they’ll do the strangest things you could ever imagine.”

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