The officer and the mushroom

Sometimes you take your eyes off the political scene for a moment, look up at the sky, take a breath of fresh air and look down again, seeing with refreshed eyes how sordid it all is. This year there are essential political issues from the city councils to Washington – 11 years of war and the dire effects of deregulated chronic economic recession. Yet it is the genius of the political rule of the super-rich that people are forced into a moral wasteland between idiocy and cynicism.
We went out to UC Merced two weeks ago for the debate between Democrat Adam Gray and Republican Jack Mobley, candidates for the 21th Assembly District seat. The weather was pleasant. At dusk the Boondoggle Mistral was blowing softly, some boys were kicking lazy goal shots on the soccer field, people strolled down the main street of the campus, dorm residents were playing pool and  ping pong and studying in their common rooms. All was well before one found one’s way to the knot of people waiting for the political debate outside the unmarked hall where it would be held.
The members of the public waiting outside the unmarked hall had been warned by the newspaper that seating for them would be limited to accommodate UC Merced students. Most of the adults seemed to be Mobley supporters – committed Republicans and some disaffected Democrats. When the hall opened they filed in and found seats behind the front row. Mobley arrived and wandered comfortably around the room greeting his supporters. Sometimes he even stood alone, surrounded neither by staff or well wishers.
He was dressed in a dark suit and tie. He is a neat man with curly hair turning white, medium height, trim with a gentle Border State accent, one of a number of retired US Air Force pilots at one time stationed at the former Castle Air Force Base. He has the courtly, modest manner of a career military officer. He had served for 22 years on several continents, he said.
Gray’s family arrived and took possession of one section of front row seats. They numbered six: Mark Medefind, the stepfather; Candice Adam Medefind, the mother, holding a discreet sign with her son’s name on it to shake at appropriate moments; Cadee Condit Gray, daughter of former Rep. Gary Condit, wife of the candidate for a couple of weeks; her son, a baby in arms; Marit Medefind, daughter of Mark and Candice; and Chance Condit, campaign worker for Gray, son of Kady’s brother, Chad, grandson of former Rep. Gary Condit.
The person most mentioned in Gray’s interminable mailers, his father, presented in the flak as the man who taught Gray how to work and instilled in him genuine Valley values, was not present and presumably now lives in St. Louis.
Gray arrived about 20 minutes later. He was met on a ramp to the door of the hall by a claque of students shaking “Adam Gray” signs. As he entered the hall he was surrounded by his family, exuding political command. He is a large man in his late 30’s, carrying about 30-40 pounds of extra “armor” weight common among middling political staff along with the insincere smile, the eyes constantly working the room, and the patter that raps on does not listen. He wears jeans and buttondown dress shirts without tie -- agro-chic. Everything he does is scripted in Sacramento, not in a studio with hired advisors but by years of working in the Capitol where the personality of a callow youth driving a car for then-Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza was molded into a mature Capitol thug. He greeted supporters able to force their way through the family but kept escaping out an exit as often as consultants hit the restrooms during happy hour at Simon’s, a popular Capitol watering hole.
Eventually, the moderator, an adult official with a shaved head in a pinstripe suit and a flashy pink tie took a seat between the two rostra for the candidates. The panel of three – a UCM faculty member and representatives from both campaigns – that filtered the questions was introduced. A student member of the political club that sponsored the debate told the audience that this was the first student sponsored debate in UC Merced history. Another student official warned the audience that he would shut down the debate if they became “too boisterous.”
Nobody in the audience uttered a sound for the entire debate.
Gray opened with praise for the UC Merced political club – “Young people involved in politics and policy.”
He introduced his wife and seemed to claim that the child was theirs. As people say, “It sort of looks that way.”
Gray believes his mission is to “create compromise and consensus,” and points to his campaign as an example because he has the endorsement of both the state Chamber of Commerce and the California Federation of Labor. In fact, this evidence only of extra-party lobbyist support, from people who don’t care what you say but how you vote.
He described UC Merced as a “shining beacon of hope” and an example of how people worked together for the campus so that new businesses would grow out of it.
Mobley, who gets support from the national super PAC FreedomWorks as well as local contributors, introduced himself as a fan of California from the days of his youth in Tennessee when California set national standards, for example academically with achievement tests. He got to California with the US Air Force flying refueling tankers out of Castle. After retiring from the Air Force, he began a successful janitorial company in part to employ members of his church. Now, he says, over-taxation and over-regulation are causing an exodus from California, more people are leaving than are arriving. In his dark – some would say “adult” – vision, he predicted that this over-taxation and over-regulation would drag down California and California would drag down the nation; or, with proper conservative policies, California could lift up the nation, itself, and the center of the battle is in the San Joaquin Valley.
The moderator in the pink cravat asked both candidates what their short-term goals were.
Gray said he wanted to be appointed to the Assembly Audit Committee to protect UC Merced budgets.
Mobley said he wished to “return opportunity to California. We must stop the job hemorrhage,” This will be accomplished by “sane” regulation and taxation. “California has become so expensive people can’t afford it,” he said.
The moderator asked about what to do about chronic high unemployment.
Mobley replied that spending public funds on education was a good investment but that Prop. 30 raises taxes. “We need a bigger pie,” he said. “We have to have a vibrant private economy because that’s where wealth is produced.”
Gray said high unemployment is an “old problem here.” Agriculture is not the complete answer. We need the “high-tech/bio-tech jobs” that UC Merced will create.
Government, he said, creates jobs through funding infrastructure – from public works to education to health. Government investment is essential for people to climb out of poverty.
Proposition 30, he insisted, was necessary to avoid  a $3,000 tuition hike.
At this point it was clear that Mobley was talking to the adults and Gray to the students. The only problem with Gray’s concern about rising UC tuitions is that few if any UC Merced students actually pay their tuition.
The only other idea Mobley advanced that evening was an analysis of a flat 15-percent consumption tax, by which we assumed a sales tax, to replace all other state taxes. Gray countered immediately that “we did run the numbers and it doesn’t work out here.” Mobley replied that his main aim in the idea was to go after untaxed income, citing the opinion that half of the income in Los Angeles was untaxed.
The moderator said that everything broken in California is attributed to the Legislature and Congress. He asked what political skills the candidates brought to the situation.
Mobley said he was “a heck of a nice guy.” He advocated talking things out and said his 22 years in the military had taught him how to respect people and work well with foreign military officers. These days, in his janitorial business he has 100 employees, where he says his managers make the decisions, in other words, he delegates authority and isn’t a “dictator.”
Gray said he’d spent “a great deal of time with the Legislature” and explained that what is wrong with it is a “culture of blame…The Tea Party element has thrown out the moderates like Cogdill and Maldonado,” he said.
Again he pointed to the broad support his campaign has gotten as proof that he can work with a broad number of interests in the Legislature.
The state Legislature has never been less than a decade behind the trends and political currents in California at its most contemporary. In this inane excuse for political economic “debate,” what is entirely missing is the herd of elephants that have been rampaging in the Capitol since term limits – lobbyists representing special interests who have no term limits or limits on their legal bribery. They are present in the flood of glossy mailers emanating from the Gray campaign is an example.
The moderator asked the candidates what they thought of term limits, suggesting that the way things are, “either one of you could become Speaker,” rhetorical frippery as the Democrats push hard for a two-thirds majority of both houses. At $750,000 with the final, most expensive period not to be made public until after the election, industry, public employees and labor special interests have made a concerted effort to buy and elect Gray.
There was nothing in his words or demeanor to suggest he was resisting it. Everything about his campaign suggests he is reveling in it. This is perhaps the only kind of election Gray could win.
The moderator asked them if they were ready to be speaker.
Gray said he was because of his relationships in the Legislature he was ready to serve the people of the community.
Mobley thought he’d like to serve on a committee dealing with veteran issues but beyond that did not know the Legislature well. But, he said, through the military and business he has learned a great deal about employees, capital, conflict, and leadership. He concluded by saying he would be comfortable with being Speaker tomorrow because he had fulfilled similar roles.
The monitor asked what the candidates would do to maintain UC Merced.
Mobley said that as a Merced County Planning commissioner he strongly favored  the UC Community concept. He called it
UC Village.” He called UC Merced “a crown jewel” and that he is committed to funding it sufficiently to make it a world class institution.
But the key, he reiterated, is to “reactivate the private sector economy here.” (Curiously, UC Merced propaganda before the campus was built was that “proximity to the campus led to prosperous destiny).
But, Mobley was adamant; the state budget must be attacked. “It is criminal to be wasting private taxes, for example the State Parks scandal.”
Gray said the present level of funding of UC Merced must be maintained and that if Prop.30 fails, the campus “will take a $250-million hit.”
Mobley replied that if we raise taxes now, we will shrink the revenue coming to UC Merced.
Gray said Mobley’s tax plan increases taxes.
The moderator asked about the candidates’ educations.
Mobley graduated from the University of Tennessee in accounting and did some graduate work toward an MBA. During his military career he took many training courses. He said that running a business in California and adapting to changing regulations and taxes has been an education. He also mentioned his geographical experience: in the South, California, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Latin America and the Far East.
“A college degree was just a start,” he said.
Gray said he didn’t complete a college degree at UC Santa Barbara but said he’s “close to attaining a degree” now.
Since UC requires its lecturers to have at least a master’s degree, Gray was lying on his campaign propaganda when he said he was one. Now he’s dropped back to “assistant lecturer” after being exposed in local newspapers. Gray showed no signs of being the least bit embarrassed about being exposed, revealing himself not to be a serious candidate for political office but just one more amoral Capitol staffer in candidate drag.
The moderator lobbed another brilliant question: what about government waste?
Gray said a negative effect of term limits has been a lack of legislative oversight and review of agencies. He added a factually dubious non sequitor that Gov. Schwarzenegger changed the UC budget from line-item veto for a lump-sum budget for UC and claimed that that is why tuition and administrative salaries have risen.
This is a silly correlation considering the major salary and perk scandals during the Davis administration and before.  Consider the compensation scandals surrounding President David Garner (1983-1992), the beginning of the full-scale attack by the Hearst and other state newspapers against UC administration.
Mobley’s position was that “government shouldn’t be in competition with private enterprise … we need people in government with private sector experience and people who know the private economy…” Government people don’t know where the taxes come from. Taxes come from the private sector.
Blah, blah, blah. But at least he gave an honest rendition of conservative dogma and the cliff notes from Smuelson’s Economics. The questions were so filtered they could elicit little more.
The moderator asked if there was a place for privatization in government.
Mobley, who has government contracts, answered affirmatively, but not all: prisons shouldn’t be run by the private sector.
The charade went on: the moderator lobbing in questions the size and weight of beach balls, Mobley replying in stark, simplistic dogmas from the right; Gray answering with vapid Democratic Party platitudes.
The Badlands Journal editorial board concerned with economic, social and environmental justice found neither candidate’s positions serious. Moving on to the character issue, we found Mobley to be a mature, sober adult who gave the debate more dignity than it deserved, a man of military experience, discipline and leadership skills. We saw no signs of character in Gray. We saw a mediocre political confection, beneath the paraphernalia of a campaign--as sad and pathetic a sight as we’ve ever seen in politics.