What is a ‘real’ politician anyway?

Helena Rodriguez

The California governor’s race has literally become a circus of the stars. From the “Terminator” — a.k.a. “Governator” — to a “hustler” to a 1980s sitcom star who doesn’t even plan to vote for himself.
By now, we’ve all heard just about every Arnold Schwarzenegger line being pitched like campaign slogans and I can only imagine what will become Coleman’s (Arnold from “Diff’rent Strokes”) slogan. I can picture him during the debates, “What chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”
Or what about possible campaign slogans for “Hustler” magazine publisher Larry Flynt, another candidate in the running for a job likely to be open soon?
There are some other colorful characters in the running, and, oh yes, there are a few “real” politicians, if that’s what you want to call them. But what exactly is a “real politician?” These days, it seems to have become an exclusive club of celebrities and multi-millionaires, hardly people I would feel are in touch with the working class. Arguably, there have been some great celebrity politicians, but this whole California thing makes me edgy about where this is headed and how it will affect us on a national basis.
Will parents be able to continue to tell our children, with confidence, that they can grow up to be president of the United States someday, or will we have to tell them it is a fading dream even more limited now to the privileged few?
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to have the man or woman next door working for me, deciding how my tax dollars are spent.
Victor Morales is a great example of a true grassroots politician. In 1996, this Texas school teacher shocked the political world when he defeated two Congressmen and a career politician, and became a U.S. Senate nominee without the help of a staff or large campaign fund.
Morales was featured on “Dateline NBC” when he impressionably logged more than 80,000 miles in his little white pickup truck as he campaigned throughout the big state of Texas. Unfortunately, Morales failed to beat Texas political machine Phil Gramm, but only by a slim margin, and only after Gramm spent an estimated $8 to $14 million dollars to defeat Morales who garnered two million votes and whose campaign raised only $900,000, with 80 percent of the contributions being under $100. This past March, Morales lost his second bid for Congress against former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk.
Ironically, Morales’ election bids began after he set out to show his government class how far an ordinary citizen could go in the world of politics.
I was fortunate to hear Morales speak last year while living in Abilene, Texas. To the critics who had told him he couldn’t win the ticket to U.S. Congress without a lot of dough, Morales said, “this is about doing the right thing the right way!”
Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono are big-name entertainers who had successful political careers while others, such as Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts, have used their celebrityhood to try to persuade Congress on political issues.
I suspect fame and finances will become increasingly key factors in elections, and that’s unfortunate for America.
Gender may become a factor in the next presidential election. Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun recently called for a woman president to solve the nation’s problems and there’s a whole cluster of Web sites aimed at getting a woman elected president. According to Braun’s thinking, “women tend to be oriented to practical solutions and problem solving.”
Regardless of which direction this California election and next year’s presidential election takes us, it’s evident that this and subsequent elections will be anything but “politics as usual.” My hope is that people will focus more on issues rather than characters. Being a champion of underdogs, I would also love to see a man or woman next door become a top contender. Morales’ 1999 campaign slogan summed it all up when he said, “Y porque no?”
“And why not?”

Helena Rodriguez is lifestyles coordinator for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: