Media Darling | After 32 years, acupuncture-loving candidate Lowell Darling is running for governor—again.
It may seem that this month’s Democratic gubernatorial primary offers only one viable choice: the soon-to-be King Jerry. Upon closer inspection of the ballot, though, you’ll find Jerry’s nemesis from the last time he ran for governor back in 1978, one Lowell Darling. An artist by trade, and an early disciple of Buckminster Fuller, Darling—who now lives in San Rafael—made a media splash in the ’70s curing various cities’ ills through the use of acupuncture. After literally sticking giant long needles in the earth in Los Angeles, Portland, and Needles, Calif., to stop California’s drought (Darling claims it worked), he announced his candidacy. Already something of a media darling, the stunt attracted even more attention and a whopping 2 percent of the vote. Darling’s platform this time out is simple, and not just a silly stunt. If elected, he won’t lift a finger until the state’s required two-thirds majority to pass a budget—a little-known aspect of Proposition 13 that GOPers love dearly—is repealed. I caught up with Darling recently after a fundraiser at the Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda to see what else was on his agenda.
Paul Kilduff: You’re on the ballot. This takes you beyond, say, the Pat Paulsen . . .
Lowell Darling: I’m an artist and I’m running for governor. The one promise in my platform makes serious political and economic sense. A one-third majority of the legislature cannot control our budgets and revenues. As an artist who’s involved in politics, I’m free to say “revenues,” “taxes.”
PK: If you had a simple majority to pass these budgets, does that mean that you’re talking about increasing taxes?
LD: I’m not saying they necessarily have to be raised but I think we can shift things. If you look at what has gone up and down in California, the school systems have gone down to number 50 in state rank in reading skills and the budget for prisons has gone equally high. It’s like the state of California . . .
PK: . . . is in the prison business.
LD: I also have some advice for Meg Whitman. If she had given $49 million right off to elementary schools, she would be the most popular politician in California and she would have won hands down.
PK: Instead of spending that on her campaign?
LD: Right, yeah. If I spend $4,900 on my campaign, my personal economy would [have] as much effect as her $49 million.
PK: What is your war chest, Lowell?
LD: I have none.
PK: There’s a lot of people, like Warren Buffett, who would say today that Proposition 13 should be repealed. As an adviser to Schwarzenegger’s campaign, Buffett said he should be paying more in property taxes for his mansion in Newport Beach and Schwarzenegger’s people told him to hush up.
LD: Life’s like a river and the state cannot freeze itself and say this is a really great thing. At the time, it was. It was also okay if I ran for governor. Jerry Brown said on national television I was a good guy, that I understood running for office as an art form. I mean, everybody knew it was a performance and I got 2 percent of the vote. This time, honestly, I’d like to keep Arnie’s tent, be governor, [and] sit there every day. Californians could come in and talk to me and I’m not doing anything except listening to what people want to tell me.
PK: After the 1978 election, you talked about how you got 2 percent of the vote so you should serve 2 percent of the time. Would you want something like that this time around?
LD: Yeah, I think that’s true democracy, right?
PK: In The New York Times, Jerry Brown’s people, his handlers, referred to you as Jerry Brown’s good luck charm. How do you feel about that?
LD: I sent his organization an email. I said I hadn’t gone to charm school.
PK: Another thing you talk about is the idea of politicians staying at home within their districts and not going to Sacramento, eliminating that expense because of today’s technology. Wouldn’t that also eliminate all the lobbyists’ control?
LD: Sure, if the politician lived in his own neighborhood, his neighbors would know when the lobbyists are showing up. Also, think of the amount of money the state would save if these people are living in their own homes and not renting nice homes in Sacramento. As an artist, I can’t spend all my time hanging out with artists. It’s not good. You’ll never get time to be in the studio to think, to work—and the politicians, it should be the same thing. They’re representing us. They should live with us on a daily basis.
PK: And what about if we adopted the unicameral system of government? Do we really need a Senate and an Assembly? I mean, wouldn’t one guy from each little district work?
LD: I don’t know. I know people who wish they had one more camel like two camels, the bicameral, I don’t know.
PK: I’m getting wonky.
LD: Yeah, you’re getting too wonky.
PK: What about some of your radical approaches over the years?
LD: I want to franchise the Office of the Governor and I’ll wear a video camera all the time. I first suggested this in ’78 and people thought I was nuts but funny. But everything that I see, say, in here will be on television.
PK: That’s possible, really.
LD: Reality television. Imagine a Presidential Television Network (PTN). Imagine if we could have all watched the Monica Lewinsky affair, which wouldn’t have happened because Clinton would have been wired.
PK: We’d be able to know exactly what they’re doing all the time. There’s no opportunity for corruption.
LD: As governor, I want to try it. If we make a lot of money, then we’ll sell it to the country. Then the president gets wired, then we franchise the presidency worldwide.
PK: That is a brilliant idea.
LD: Obama looks at a Coca-Cola, we have a deal with the corporation. Whenever a product appears on PTN, voom! Money into the coffers.
PK: Talk about transparency.
LD: Hey! The politicians have to start paying back.
PK: Forget C-Span. Would it be 24/7?
LD: 24/7 and when you have a private moment, the lens cap comes down and everybody sees the gubernatorial or the presidential seal.
PK: An example that’s always given is the standard of living in the Northern European countries with cradle-to-grave benefits. They can all go to grad school, kids are taken care of, but they pay 50 percent taxes. But they’re still really happy. Have you been there and seen that?
LD: Well, in brief, I also like it because I didn’t understand all their problems and it’s nice to live some place for a while where the problems they have, you know that you’re not responsible. Do you know what I mean?
PK: Right, I get you.
LD: And frankly, I would really like borders to be loosened. If the world is going to get along, everybody has to meet each other. I spent a lot of time in Muslim communities in Bosnia, and it’s no different. It’s a place. They’re humans. I am married to a Bosnian woman who’s a fabulous pianist and composer but she’s also a Muslim. I met her in Berlin after she had taken her daughter [there] at the beginning of the war, on the last plane out. She lived in Mostar, everything was blown up out there, moved to Zabar, everything was blown up there and so she had been living illegally undercover for all those years. So my personal immigration policy is to try to get her into the country. There are just too many people in the world that are separated by borders like family members. This all has to be humanized.
PK: It sounds like you’re almost saying get rid of borders entirely.
LD: I’d love to. If I was going to return to acupuncture, I’d probably acupuncture the world to somehow increase the flow of humanity around the earth. We’re the blood of the earth. When we get clotted, which we do at the borders, the blood doesn’t flow normal and this isn’t good for the body. It’s like the blood clots are the fanaticism.
PK: Do you think that we want top-notch government services like schools, police, and fire but don’t want to pay for them?
LD: If you go in, you buy something, you pay for it. If you want a steak, you have to pay for it; otherwise, we don’t have a steak. I think that there are places that we could raise taxes that would not really hurt anyone. Corporations are corporations and they should pay as much taxes as they can afford. I know people that love to make money the way I make art and they make it blindly, ruthlessly, and as much as they can. I’m a little that way myself. I was never married to anybody that agreed with my business plan.
PK: Unfortunately, speaking sense like this about these issues is kind of political suicide. Jerry Brown is running on the platform, I’m not going to raise taxes. How do we solve our problems without doing that?
LD: I don’t think any problem was ever solved in a campaign. Either you raise taxes or you shift them in some way and you shift for the money you spend. All the prisoners, maybe they have to go back to first grade, I don’t know.
Age: 32. I’ve been lying to my kids for years. No, I’m 67.
Birthplace: Jacksonville, Ill.
Astrological sign: I’m a Gemini.
What extinct species would you like to be reincarnated as?: Well, I don’t think we have that choice. I have a theory that we have to come back as everything that exists before we go wherever it is.
Planet I’d emigrate to: I never think about these sorts of things. I’m fairly old. I know the technology doesn’t exist and I like Earth. It breaks my heart all the time when we do bad things to it.