Although I'd read the news report that former child actor Gary Coleman was in "serious condition" on Thursday, I was surprised to learn on Friday that he had actually passed away. I'm not sure what is most appropriate to say in commentary on the actor's clearly difficult, if short, life. Perhaps I can respect his comedic career by sharing this "news story" that I wrote a number of years ago, as California was reaching the end of what has easily been one of the most bizarre periods of recent political history, when Coleman was one of over 100 candidates running for governor in the election that gave us Governor Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger. I distributed it to a few friends on the morning that Schwarzenegger was announced as the winner. It is, of course, entirely a work of fiction:
(Excerpt from The Los Angeles Herald, October 8, 2003)
Coleman wins election!
SACRAMENTO - In an election result that stunned political speculators, candidate Gary Coleman won the gubernatorial recall election in California yesterday, beating out a field of over 100 candidates including Democrat Cruz Bustamante and Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock.
Although recent polls had suggested Schwarzenegger was set to win the governorship, political experts have suggested that Schwarzenegger’s own campaign may have been his downfall. Exit polls indicate that many voters believed Schwarzenegger’s “Join Arnold” campaign slogan referred to Coleman’s Diff’rent Strokes character Arnold Jackson, who popularized the catch phrase “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” in the late 70s and early 80s. When asked about the confusion, Schwarzenegger, known for his role in the Terminator movies, responded, “We spent a long time debating what message we wanted to send to the voters of California. We had tried ‘Hasta la vista, Davis,’ and had even made T-shirts with Davis’ picture saying “He won’t be back,” but it was decided that it would be best not to use my Terminator experience too heavily. We decided to go for a more personal slogan, but felt that too many people would have trouble saying ‘Join Schwarzenegger.’”
Outgoing Democratic Governor Gray Davis could not be reached for comment, and some analysts speculate that he may be considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court for a ballot recount, despite the fact that the recall election defeated him with a vote of 95% for the recall and 5% against. Davis is said to blame the controversial “punch card” voting systems used in the heaviest population centers of the state, claiming that any voter who attempted to vote “No” on the recall ballot was unable to punch all the way through the ballot. “It’s a clear example of the Republican conspiracy to get him out of office,” Davis aide Jerry Walters was quoted to say. “The ‘yes’ card was made out of tissue paper, so that it tore through easily, while the ‘no’ card was made out of corrugated cardboard!” California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) declined to comment.
Ironically, Coleman celebrated his victory on the set of NBC’s Los Angeles-based Tonight Show, where Schwarzenegger had begun his campaign only a few months earlier. When asked by host Jay Leno about his plans for the state of California, Coleman could only reply “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout Jay?”