Six of California’s 34 US Senate candidates. Composite image by author
The primary elections in California on June 7 will, mercifully, be the final showdown of a torrid, endless presidential nominating season. But with Donald Trump already triumphant and Hillary Clinton virtually guaranteed to lock up the race on the Democratic side, the results appear to be a forgone conclusion.
Down the ballot, however, the battle for California’s soon-to-be vacant US Senate seat is just heating up. California Democrat Barbara Boxer is not seeking reelection after a 30-year reign in the upper chamber, and a whopping 34 candidates are vying for two spots in the general election runoff this November. And with only a week to go before ballots are cast, a full one-third of likely California primary voters—and nearly half of Republicans—remain undecided, according to a recent poll.
At this point, California’s Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris continues to lead the race, although she faces an inter-party challenge from Muslim-fearing Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and former banker Ron Unz on the Republican side. The remaining candidates run the gamut from single-issue cheerleaders to long-shots, lifers, political neophytes, straight white males, and more than the occasional quack.
For example, there’s Cristina Grappo, who refers to herself as “President Cristina Grappo,” and whose ballot bio boasts that she is “mainstream Facebook!” whatever that might mean. There’s also Herb Peters, a 77-year-old fundamentalist Christian who identifies himself as an “Andrew Jackson Democrat,” and Greg Conlon, a Republican octogenarian, who, during a secondary candidates’ debate this month, declared in some kind of nativist Freudian slip that, “All illegals should be turned over to ISIS—I mean the INS.”
And of course, there’s our personal favorite, Ling Ling Shi, a mysterious candidate whose internet presence is limited to a YouTube video of her absolutely crushing the high notes in an operatic performance of the self-penned canticle “Amazing Love, Amazing Grace,” and who, according to her ballot bio, is running to “challenge 10 giant chaos in economy and economy-related sectors.”
For all their quirks, though, these also-rans intent on challenging the Democratic Machine offer a colorful glimpse into the often-overlooked underbelly of the American democratic process. Without PACs, speechwriters, or press secretaries, the lower echelons of the state’s senatorial race race have the grassiest of roots, and we think they should be celebrated for their efforts.
So VICE called up some of these quixotic political hopefuls to find out what they would say if they knew someone was finally listening.
US Senate candidate Tim Gildersleeve (middle) accompanied by two supporters. Photo via campaign website
Tim Gildersleeve, No Party Preference
A paratransit operator by profession, Gildersleeve, 55, is a devout Christian from San Jose who identifies politically as something called a “Christocrat.” His website identifies him as pro-life and anti-gay marriage— but he also claims that he’ll ignore those beliefs and vote with California’s liberal majority if he finds himself in the US Senate.
VICE: You call yourself a Christocrat—what does that mean exactly?
Tim Gildersleeve: I view that as someone who recognizes Jesus Christ as rightful ruler of Planet Earth. I do believe he’s gonna return and that one day he will rule, in some form, and bring peace to the planet.
If Jesus returns, would he run for president or just, like, assume control?
That’s open to debate. I believe we’ll enter into a time of real chaos, a time of crisis. When we look at our economic system, consumerism is a doomed-to-fail philosophy. We have a $19 trillion [national] debt, seventy percent consumer spending. This is unsustainable.
Plus, with ISIS, which I think we’ve dealt with wrong, we could see more of the San Bernardino situation happening in our country. It’ll be a time of chaos, and then he will return, and what is discussed in Matthew 25, where he separates the sheep from the goats, will happen. There will be a judgment of evil. I’m glad I’m not the one making that decision, because I don’t wanna judge people.
How do you think voters in California will respond to your stances on social issues, particularly against abortion and gay marriage?
In spite of what I want, I will go with what the voters want. Californians seem to like the current abortion laws. I’m not gonna work to change that. I might have my personal views, but I’m representing Californians. When I disagree with my boss, I still do what he says! I can’t force people to be pro-life. I’m not going to try to. I state my view, but I’m there to represent the people.
Who will you be voting for in the presidential race?
In June, I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. He’s very honest. In November, if it’s Clinton and Trump, I will be voting for a third party, of which I don’t know yet.
Photo via gailklightfoot.com
Gail Lightfoot, Libertarian Party
Lightfoot, 78, is a charter member of the Libertarian Party, and she has made a career out of running for office on the party’s ticket. She and her husband also produce a weekly public-access television show in San Louis Obispo County that features various readings and musings on libertarian ideas, including a line-by-line reading of the US Constitution.
VICE: You’ve spent quite a bit of time seeking public office. What drove you to get involved in politics?
Gail Lightfoot: I got involved in politics with the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964. I’ve been active in the Libertarian Party since 1980. I’ve run for Congress on three occasions, and then I ran for secretary of state. The first time I ran was ’96. I was state chair of the Libertarian Party then. In between then, and up until now, I’ve been running for US Senate. But this year, with the open seat, that’s why we have thirty-four candidates. There’s a lot of competition.
What strikes you about the current election cycle? Is 2016 different than past years that you’ve run campaigns?
There’s a huge percentage of Americans who realize that this system is broken. It was [US Republican Senator Joseph] McCarthy who said there’s not a dime’s difference between the two parties. Nowadays, there’s not even a penny’s worth. The American people are aware of that. If the voter’s weren’t completely unhappy with the Democrats and Republicans, they wouldn’t be jumping on [the] Trump or Sanders bandwagons.
Who will you be voting for in the presidential race?
I vote Libertarian up and down the ballot.
Photo via Beitiks for US Senate campaign website
Mike Beitiks, No Party Preference
A 32-year-old Bay Area attorney and stay-at-home dad, Beitiks is running a single-issue campaign centered on the dangers of climate change—a problem he approaches with a doomsday-like gravity. As his website states, “ISIS. Immigration reform. The NSA. Gun control… None of them matter because we’re all going to die.”
VICE: Tell us a little about your campaign platform.
Mike Beitiks: The short answer is climate change. The long answer is that I’m running a single-issue campaign as an equal and opposite reaction to federal legislative inaction on climate change. The problem we’re facing is not one of a lack of solutions, but a lack of political will. I just want to make sure that political will is adequately reflected in the candidate space.
Are we really going to die as soon as you say we will?
While the clock is debatable, the important fact is that we need to do something now. As the evidence continues to mount, it sounds like the worst is right around the corner. And if that worst is a possibilIty, why are we addressing it as an inconvenience rather than a true existential threat?
What is it that you’re trying to achieve with your Senate campaign?
Kamala Harris, the heir apparent [in California’s US Senate race], launched her campaign without a climate component. [Editor’s note: She does now]. I thought it was unacceptable that someone who is most likely to assume our senatorial seat not prioritize climate change. I started my campaign to make sure this important issue is being discussed in the candidate space, and I have attempted to do that in the most attention-grabbing way possible.
Who will you vote for in the presidential primaries?
I lean Sanders. I’m of the opinion that he has the most realistic climate approach in the race right now.
Image via www.jasonhanania.com
Jason Hanania, No Party Preference
An engineer and attorney from the Bay Area, Hanania’s only statement in the California voter guide is “01100101.” As he explains on his campaign website, it’s a binary code that stands for the letter “E,” as in e-voting, in this case. Hanania’s platform extends from there, and it is mostly based on a website he founded called eVoteAmerica, which is designed to let citizens vote on the decisions of their elected officials.
VICE: Tell us a little about your background.
Jason Hanania: I’m an attorney and engineer, but from 2004 to 2006, I worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As a result of that experience, I filed two government accountability lawsuits—and ultimately I founded evoteAmerica. We’re looking to replace the One Percent political party system with a hundred percent e-voting techno-democracy.
How does a techno-democracy work?
The e-voting service will reengineer democracy using electronic voting software through which every American votes on how their elected officials should vote. With this system, every American can have a seat at the legislative table.
How do you see this affecting politics?
We’ve grown into this perception that the president is the leader of the free world. However, if we implemented a hundred percent e-voting democracy, the US legislative branch would be far more powerful than the US president. The president is supposed to do what Congress says. With e-voting, Congress does what the people want.
That sounds hard to implement.
It’s got a lot of new, technical issues and political ramifications. But it’s easier than putting a man on the moon! Building this is very doable, and it empowers a hundred percent of the American people. I understand that when you’re bringing in all these opinions, it could seem like chaos. But I do think that between algorithms and integrating software, it’s an endeavor worth pursuing.
Photo via voteforemory.com
Emory Rodgers, Democrat
According to his campaign bio—and as his handful of supporters are eager to share—Rodgers was homeless at age 16. He also once went on a 79-day hunger strike to raise awareness about about biomass fuels. Now a 49-year-old property manager in Los Angeles, he describes himself as a “Berniecrat,” and he has adopted Sanders’s campaign platform in its entirety for his US Senate run.
VICE: Tell us a little bit about your background—sounds like you have an interesting life story.
Emory Rodgers: I’ve lived in every economic existence, from being homeless and on the streets to being a business owner now. It’s given me a perspective on a wide variety of economic lifestyles and variations of civil and human rights. As a homeless person, I saw it from the harshest position, but I also saw opportunities for solutions. Thirty years ago, I was a homeless activist up in San Francisco.
Is it true that you hold a record for the world’s longest hunger strike?
It was a liquid fast! I held it for seventy-nine days. Yeah, it’s a global record, unless you wanna consider some Buddhist monk that had nothing to do with protest. His wasn’t a strike. I will be going on a hunger strike again [before the June 7 primary]—I will be challenging other politicians to do one day of fast, just to show their constituents that they’re willing to make sacrifices for the people, that their intentions for political power are not about having power or self-glorification, but to be a representative, for the good of the people
Are Berniecrats a real thing?
I never had any plans on being a politician ever in my life until I was inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign. My core belief is that we need to leave this a better world than how we found it. Bernie has helped me see that this is possible from within the system. As president, he’s gonna need help. To get anything passed, he’ll need senators and congressmen writing bills, and that’s why I’m running.
There are several hundred Berniecrats running for [elected] positions [in Congress], as well as at the state and local level. There’s an insurgency of Bernie-type, philosophically driven people who support progress.
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