California might not be offering voters the most exciting election for governor ever, but at least it does offer the possibility of trading one cartoon character for another.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course, is an action figure come to life and dressed in a suit. He is also the greatest gubernatorial gift to cartoonists since Jesse Ventura in Minnesota.
In the polarized and dysfunctional political environment that is California, "Ahnuld" is a relative rarity, a moderate: a Republican with liberal social and environmental views. Both parties skew toward their extremes "” helped by gerrrymandered districts that strongly favor one party or the other, allowing candidates to appeal to their bases and away from the midline voters. Which is partly why he hasn't been terribly effective; to the Democrats, who control most offices, Ahnuld is a likable Republican, but a Republican nonetheless, while to the GOP, he is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), if not an outright traitor to the party.
Hoping to replace Schwarzenegger is a Democratic once-and-perhaps-future king: Jerry Brown. Elected governor in 1974, Brown was, pre-Ahnuld, the most colorful politician to hold the office. Derided by some as "Governor Moonbeam," Brown was a former Jesuit seminary student who refused to live in a "Taj Mahal" of a new Governor's Mansion, rented an apartment with a mattress on the floor, dated hot singer Linda Ronstadt and urged Californians to lower their expectations.
Jerry Brown went on to run, unsuccessfully for U.S. president and senator, then switched gears and won office as the Mayor of Oakland, then used that as a springboard to be the state's Attorney General. He is always colorful and quotable, given to tossing out ideas all over the place, regardless of whether they have any real-world possibilities.
Brown was governor when I began my editorial cartooning career, and I was very thankful for that; whenever I hit a wall in my early days, conceptually or in getting a sketch approved by the editors, I could always squeeze out a Jerry Brown cartoon, and if it was outlandish, well, all the better.
But because of California's strong Democratic voter plurality, and because his various potential primary opponents withdrew or saw their campaigns collapse, he was able to waltz into the nomination without breaking a sweat. Or for that matter, without having to utter anything meaningful on the campaign trail.
Call it the Supreme Court nominee tactic: if you don't really say anything, it's hard for others to mount a strong opposition, and you'll probably get voted through.
Thus, state Democrats were left somewhat voteless. Brown was going to win the nomination, whether they showed up to vote or not.
On the Republican side, multi-millionaire Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay, outspent and outlasted another multi-millionaire, Steve Poizner, in a sooty campaign where each tried to paint the other as too liberal (a curse word in the primary, although an asset in the general election).
But there was a voteless aspect to Whitman too. As in, she rarely bothered to vote in her adult life. She voted in a couple of presidential elections in 1984 and 1988, but failed to vote in most elections between 1972 and 2000. She claimed she was too busy with life/work/family/etc. to have bothered to vote, but has called her voting record "atrocious" and has apologized for it; she had to, since Poizner hammered her repeatedly about it.
Some people have said one's voting record doesn't matter, and perhaps it doesn't, for them.
But to me, someone who wants to use the core tool of a democracy "” the vote "” to be elected to run the biggest state in the nation should have appreciated the value of that very tool quite a bit more in life before asking others to use that power on her behalf.
Whitman isn't the only major candidate with a spotty voting history. Fellow Republican and fellow (sister?) female candidate Carly Fiorina nailed down the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, where she'll take on incumbent Barbara Boxer in the fall. Fiorina, former head of Hewlett Packard and known for her mania for mergers and for laying off employees, has a voting record not unlike Whitman's, and likewise had to apologize repeatedly for it while being slammed over it by her primary opponents (I believe she used the term "unacceptable," as opposed to Whitman's term "atrocious").
So there you have it, a shape-shifting former governor running again without having required anyone to vote, and two powerhouse female business executives running without having bothered much to vote in their lives.
But it's not really a sad situation.
Either way, cartoonists win.
Be sure to see the huge archive of my work (organized by topic area) on my web site at http://www.greenberg-art.com