One would think that in an electoral contest as listless and with an outcome as predetermined as that between California Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Bill Jones, there would be room for a forceful, experienced third-party candidate who could articulate alternatives to bipartisan orthodoxy on issues ranging from taxes and immigration to the war in Iraq and the war on drugs. One would be mistaken. California Superior Court Judge James Gray, an eloquent and powerful critic of prohibition and the war on drugs, is running on the Libertarian Party ticket (http://www.judgejimgray.com). But despite polling at unusually high levels for a third-party candidate, Judge Gray is being shut out of televised debates, campaign polls, and press coverage.
Gray, a Superior Court judge from Orange County who has taken leave to run for the senate, first appeared on the drug reform horizon in 1992, when he appeared at a news conference on the courthouse steps in Santa Ana to proclaim the war on drugs a failure and suggest that drugs perhaps should be legalized. In 2001, he published "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs," securing his reputation as a thoughtful, serious reformer. That same year, Gray, a life-long Republican, left that party, concerned about its authoritarian drift after the passage of the Patriot Act.
After securing the Libertarian Party senatorial nomination earlier this year, Gray has campaigned on a variety of issues, including the drug war. He has put together a $250,000 campaign fund and has a staff of five. "Of course I've been talking about the war on drugs," he told DRCNet, "but I have other big issues, too: health care, education, the Patriot Act, and certainly the war on Iraq. The underlying theme of this campaign is how big a government do you want?" he said. "Every president in my lifetime has left office with a larger federal government than when he went in. It cannot continue to grow, and there are a number of areas of expanded government, like the war on drugs and the Patriot Act, where both parties are reducing our civil liberties without making us more secure."
Gray has taken his message to college campuses and churches, small-town radio stations and street rallies. "A vote for me is a vote for getting the federal government out of marijuana prohibition," he said, reprising his campaign stance. "It is a vote against the Patriot Act and a vote for making sure we declare war before we go to war." As for marijuana, said Gray, "we ought to just go ahead and legalize and tax the stupid stuff."
But a full-bore campaign packed with cross-state trips and numerous appearances notwithstanding, Judge Gray appears unable to crack the glass ceiling separating him from the Democratic and Republican contenders. In an early indication of trouble, Gray was unable to persuade the League of Women Voters to include him in an August 10 candidate debate, a decision that led to street protests by Gray supporters outside the debate at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles when it occurred. While that incident stirred some press interest, the media have been distinctly disinterested in Gray's campaign or his message.
"It's a real catch-22," said Gray Wednesday as he motored between campaign stops in Northern California. "The polls don't include my name because the major newspapers don't cover my campaign, but the newspapers say they'll cover me when I climb in the polls. Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters says I couldn't be in the debate because I lacked poll standing, but it was the debate that would have increased my standing. The system is geared so that third party candidacies are almost doomed to fail; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy by the media, the pollsters, and the gatekeepers," he told DRCNet.
"Judge Gray is the Libertarian Party's flagship candidate in California," said his campaign manager, Julia El Haj. "He is the sort of serious, professional candidate the party needs, but he struggles with the obstacles that face any third party candidate," she told DRCNet. "We don't get covered by the papers, so we don't get the numbers in the polls. We don't get the numbers in the polls, so we don't get in the debate. Because we didn't get in the debate, it's not a 'serious' candidacy, so we don't get covered in the papers, and around and around we go," she explained.
Despite the difficulties, Judge Gray isn't going away. "I am running to win," he said. "I know that is unlikely, but I do have a better than zero chance of winning." Still, he conceded that this race wasn't really about Senator Jim Gray. "If I can make a strong showing, Republicans and Democrats alike will see my votes as a winning margin in future race," he said. "I assure you, they will want those votes, but they will have to change their policies to get them. If they do that, I will have won. We are going to make a strong showing," he predicted.
And what would a strong showing be? Five percent would be good, said El Haj, while 10% would be super. "If he can get more than 3% or 4% of the popular vote on election night, we will count that as a success. If we had been able to get him on the debate, I think we could have done 15%."