CALIFORNIA, Mo. — Political bus tours haven’t made their way here yet, and this town’s 20 churches have more clout than anything produced in Hollywood. The biggest political spat in this California is whether the new city hall should be built within city limits.
To residents of California, Mo., population 4,005, today’s recall vote on embattled California Gov. Gray Davis is a farce. It’s something they keep half an ear on — if that — and harumph when reporters come to call.
Here, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only talked-about candidate, and many locals admit to not knowing “who the other guy is” way out in that “other” California.
A slower pace
“Running California is pretty smooth over here,” said Mayor Norris Gerhart, who chuckled at the suggestion of a recall. “Typically, in California, it’s pretty hard to find somebody to run for election.”
If any people in town are distantly related to the Golden State’s governor, they’re not saying. Of the five Davis households listed in the local phone book, four scoffed at the notion of fiscal woes or political unrest, and only one unceremoniously ended a phone call when asked about the upcoming election.
“Unless I find a candidate that I can tell has an agenda of biblical principles — and not political ones — I don’t think I’ll do much leaning,” says Phil Davis, who voiced scant support for the governor who shares his surname.
The idea of tour-bus political travel, such as Schwarzenegger’s recent junket from San Diego to Sacramento, is impractical on these highways. Here, the most proven campaign method is pounding the pavement by foot — as Kenneth Kunze demonstrated when he walked to every door of every house of every city in the county during his quest to become presiding commissioner.
“I did it on my own,” says Kunze, who began walking for three hours a day in April and finished his travels the night before the August primary election. “I just think you got to go forward being yourself and put out what you’re for and what you want to do.”
Life goes on
High-profile politics have limited usefulness in this town. The political upheaval in the coastal California hasn’t even helped lift Schwarzenegger’s popularity at local video stores.
“Everybody is into “Dreamcatcher,” “Daddy Day Care,” and “2 Fast 2 Furious”because that’s what’s new and that’s what people want to see,” says Celia Wolz, a night manager at C&R Super Market, which boasts one of the largest video collections in town.
“I can’t say he (Schwarzenegger) has gotten any more popular,” says Wolz, who suggested next month’s release of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” could boost Schwarzenegger’s status. “Then everybody will rent it, I think.”
According to folklore, this California was named after California Wilson, an early settler who vowed to buy local residents two gallons of whiskey if they renamed the town — then called Boonesborough — after him. That fact isn’t lost on Gerhart, who carries out much of his mayoral duty from Mr. G’s Liquor Store, which he owns.
When the phone rings in the store’s back room, which functions as a temporary city office since a storm ripped the roof from the old city hall building last year, Gerhart picks it up authoritatively.
He chats quickly with a City Council member about a coming real estate deal.
“That,” he says, tossing down the receiver, “is how you run California.”
At the local courthouse, Moniteau County Clerk Anita Groepper laughs at the thought of conducting such a far-flung election as her left-coast counterparts. The town hasn’t seen political mayhem in anyone’s recent memory, and Groepper prefers to check the Web for updates on election mechanisms instead of political gossip.
Sure, Groepper says, she has a favorite out there.
“But I’m not going to express it,” she says. “The voters will speak. They always do.”