The following is an excerpt from Dead Man Wins Election: The Ultimate Collection of Outrageous, Weird, and Unbelievable Political Tales
Julian and Joaquin Castro - can you tell which is which?
Julian Castro, campaigning to become mayor of San Antonio, Texas, in 2005, threw away his chances when he dealt with a clash of schedules by getting his identical twin brother to stand in for him at a civic parade while he attended a campaign meeting. Leading in the opinion polls at the time, he had brother Joaquin, a state legislator, walk in the city's high-profile annual River Parade, waving to the crowds, while he attended his meeting. Claiming afterwards that he never intended to deceive, and blaming a parade announcer for misidentifying his brother as himself, Castro failed to survive the controversy. It did not help that the brothers previously had similar incidents, Julian having been accused of impersonating his brother when Joaquin ran for his state legislator seat.
Julian lost the election 51 percent to 49. "I don't think he was ready to become mayor," said his victorious opponent, diplomatically. He bounced back, however, and eventually won the mayoralty in 2009.
Mistakes That Reveal
Irked by a political opponent who had called him a liar, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger succumbed to temptation in October 2009 when he wrote back to the lawmaker vetoing his proposed legislation. Encoded in the official-looking response to San Francisco Democrat Tom Ammiano was an obscene message. Reading vertically downward, the first letter of each line spelled out "fuck you." Officially, Schwarzenegger's press spokesperson was "surprised" at the "strange coincidence."
Doing It My Way
Harold Gunn, campaigning as a Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives in 2000, lost at the primary stage in March when it emerged that he had written and appeared in a pornographic film featuring naked women jogging through a Houston park and lathering themselves with motor oil. Gunn said this showed him to be "a communicator," adding, "It's as tasteful as it can get with naked women in it." He was trounced by his opponent 78 percent to 22.
The Dead Are Returned
Carl Geary was elected mayor of Tracy City, a community of 1,600 near Chattanooga, Tennessee, in April 2010, having died of a heart attack at the start of the campaign. He trounced his only rival, winning over three-quarters of the vote. Barbara Brock, who had campaigned on a platform of beautifying the city, showed less than fulsome grace in defeat, bewailing the fact that the council would be run by someone "pushing up the daisies instead of planting them." A local restaurateur offered a confirmatory insight into the electorate's view of her: "I knew he was deceased, but we wanted someone other than her."
William Levinger, running as the Republican nominee for election to the U.S. House of Representatives in Idaho in 1996, spent most of the final six weeks of his campaign holed up in a state mental institution after spectacularly imploding during a television interview. For reasons only he himself could know, halfway through the interview he propositioned the female reporter, offering her $5,000 if she would kiss him on camera. He then began stripping off his clothes. The station cut the broadcast when he was down to his underpants. Despite the restrictive circumstances of his last weeks of electioneering, he still managed to win 32 percent of the vote on polling day.
New Mexico state senator Duncan Scott waged a campaign in 1995 in protest of the growing trend of defendants pleading insanity in courts to avoid criminal convictions. Evidently no admirer of the psychiatric profession that helped them do this, he proposed amending state laws to require that:
When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant's competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is no less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts.
Additionally, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than eighteen inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements in his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand.
Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding the defendant's testimony, the bailiff shall dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong.
In March of that year the amendment was approved by the Senate without a vote, and passed the House of Representatives 46 - 14. It took a veto by Governor Gary Johnson to stop it becoming law.
With Friends Like These
For notoriety in political actions, the Texas legislature has a long track record. In 1971, Tom Moore, Jr., a representative from Waco, set out to demonstrate his concern that few of his fellow members of the House of Representatives actually paid attention to the resolutions they were passing. He introduced a motion to honor Albert DeSalvo for his pioneering work in population control. DeSalvo was better known as the Boston Strangler, who had murdered 13 women in the Massachusetts city in the early 1960s.
The citation lauded DeSalvo's "dedication and devotion to his work" that has enabled the weak and lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain an new degree of concern for their future ... He had been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional technique involving population control and applied psychology." The motion passed unanimously.
Ignorance in Motion
A satirical magazine in Washington, DC, shed an alarming light on the lack of worldly knowledge of newly elected members of the 1993 Congress. During apparently serious interviews, the reporter threw in a question about an entirely nonexistent country. To the question, "What should we be doing about the ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?" a large number of politicians rolled out very serious answers. Corrine Brown, a freshly elected Florida member, called the situation "very, very sad," adding, "We need to take action to assist the people." James Talent (Missouri) opined, "Anything we can do to use the good offices of the U.S. government to assist stopping the killing over there, we should do." Jay Dickey from Arkansas took the easy route and blamed then-president Clinton for the debacle. Jay Inslee, a Washington State representative, confessed not to be familiar with Freedonia, but urged action nevertheless as, "It's coming to the point now that turning a blind eye to it for the next ten years is not the answer." Steve Buyer (Indiana) acknowledged, "It's a different situation than the Middle East." The magazine commented that politicians "are asked a lot of dumb questions, and they are all used to supplying answers."
Despite our differences, there's a common thread uniting all of us: absurd political screw-ups happen.
Welcome to Dead Man Wins Election, the ultimate collection of bizarre and outright unbelievable tales from politics at home and around the world. Uncover the least competent politicians, the most outlandish government decisions, the strangest elections results and much more.
Dead Man Wins Election: The Ultimate Collection of Outrageous, Weird, and Unbelievable Political Tales by Phil Mason is available at Amazon and bookstores near you.
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