Pubdate: Sat, 10 April 1999
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 1999. The Economist Newspaper Limited.
Note: Last paragraph, second sentence, 'wants marijuana legalised.'

California politics



IN AKIRA KUROSAWA’S film “The Seven Samurai”, residents of a
beleaguered village seek the help of intellectual swordsmen for
protection from well-armed bandits. Last week, in Oakland, voters
unhappy with the city’s old politicians elected to the California
Assembly a new member with similarly peculiar credentials. Audie Bock,
who took office on April 5th, is a Kurosawa scholar and has written
two books on Japanese cinema. She is also a member of the Green Party.
As such, she becomes the first third-party member of the Assembly, the
state’s lower legislative house, since 1917, and the first Green
elected to partisan office in the United States.

The 16th Assembly district, which encompasses Oakland and the
neighbouring towns of Alameda and Piedmont, had long been under the
firm control of Democrats. Ms Bock’s rival for the district’s seat,
Elihu Harris, Oakland’s former mayor, was assumed to be a shoo-in. He
is a well-known black in a largely black district, and, after winning
a special election in February that winnowed the final candidates for
the seat down to himself and Ms Bock, he virtually stopped
campaigning. He refused to debate with Ms Bock (who is white), and
closed his downtown Oakland campaign office. He also made the
political blunder, in the special election, of giving away coupons for
a free chicken meal to voters who presented their voting-ticket stubs.
In the second election, Ms Bock won by just 327 votes in a district in
which Green Party registration is a mere 1.2% of voters.

Political experts say it was Democratic arrogance, not Green ideas,
that squeezed Ms Bock into office, although much of her platform is
similar to pronouncements made by Jerry Brown, Oakland’s new and
progressive mayor. Ms Bock, of course, believes the American
electorate is finally showing some will to loosen the iron grip that
Democrats and Republicans have had on the nation’s politics, a grip
which, until recently, has kept third parties out on the far fringe
even in California. She sees herself as the third sign of hope, after
Mr Brown’s election last year and that of Jesse Ventura as governor of

In Sacramento, the state capital, she hopes to promote universal
health care, the issue that got her into politics in 1996 when she
volunteered for Ralph Nader’s Green campaign for the presidency. She
says she will also strive for greater reform of public education, and
“even though this will probably get me into trouble”, wants marijuana
legalised. On her first day of Assembly work she naturally travelled
not by car, but by train from Oakland, a nearly two-hour trip. She has
already enquired about facilities in the capital for electric cars
(none at present), and is busy learning the knack of forging political
alliances from the unlikeliest interests. During her campaign, she
says, she kept uncovering “closet Greens at all levels of society”. On
her first day in office, she kept uncovering “closet Kurosawa fans in
the Assembly”.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake