Cold cash

I'm not sexy. I wear thick, high-waisted underwear. Campaign finance reform and I were made for each other.

I've heard politicians and analysts say that campaign finance reform is not a sexy issue. Perhaps that explains my attraction to it. I am not a sexy person. I wear thick, high-waisted cotton underwear without apology. The issue of campaign finance reform and I were made for each other.

Under our current system, it costs a phenomenal amount of money to run for office. Politicians are forced to prioritize their list of evils, accepting money from groups they'd rather not be beholden to in order to stand firm against more evil evils.

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If I were running against a popular, monied candidate whom I suspected of being a Nazi, I might well take money from a hot dog lobbyist who, with a wink and a nod, asked me to vote against stiffer regulations on the acceptable percentage of insect parts in hot dogs. What, after all, are a few more fly wings in my almost-all-beef weenies compared to brownshirts goose-stepping past my neighborhood coffee shop?

In a way I feel sorry for politicians. They are in a bit of a pickle. As repugnant as fund raising is, they can't get elected without it. Even a lowly citizen like me is caught in a similar predicament. Until we have campaign finance reform, I feel forced to support candidates that share my views. I did a fund-raiser for a man running for California state treasurer. There. I've said it. Recently, I did a Democratic fund-raiser in D.C. Common Cause was picketing out front. I was in hell. I wish someone in charge of the list of hypocrites could tell me I'm not on it, but I fear that I am.

After state Sen. Tom Hayden lost in the primary of the California governor's race--typically, candidates I support do lose--anyways, after Hayden lost, I wrote him a note to inquire how I could help in his fight for campaign finance reform. He invited me to visit him on the Senate floor in Sacramento to see how things work. I was sort of a legislator for a day. It's like being queen for a day, except there's no tiara and you don't cry as much.

Sen. Hayden can't be bought. He apparently votes his conscience. In the eyes of many legislators, he sets a bad example. It's like when I rinsed the syrup containers when I waitressed at the International House of Pancakes--the other waitresses hated me.

I really admire Sen. Hayden's courage. Still, when we were in the hallways, I tried to pretend I didn't know him. I might want to run for office someday.

I felt quite sheepish about my own fund-raising participation. I had already told Sen. Hayden about the Democratic fund-raiser in Washington, but I did purposely ixnay the undraiserfay I did for the guy running for easurertray.

I was amazed at how truly dull being a state senator is. At times I could barely keep my eyes open. When I first went to the Senate floor, one of our duly elected was sound asleep in a chair.

As each bill comes to the floor, both sides can state their views twice for two minutes. These senators are some of the worst speakers I've ever heard. I used to recite "Little Orphant Annie" with more passion.

The California state Senate does not vote electronically; rather, it calls roll almost constantly. It's like the recorded announcement at the airport telling you that the red zone is for loading and unloading passengers only. Some poor guy at the Senate calls those 40-or-so names in alphabetical order for hours on end. Did he audition for the job? Who failed? Maybe the guy who called out, "Anderson, Baker, Bostick, Higgleby, Bronson . . . Damn." The senators are so blas about this roll calling, which must be used as torture in the penal systems of some dictatorships, that they can be engrossed in conversation and, without missing a beat, yell "aye" or "no" and continue the conversation.

Eighty-something-year-old Ralph Dills was elected to office in the late 1930s. We were chatting when his name was called. He responded, "Dills, aye," and continued talking. Another senator asked, "Ralph, do you know what you just voted for?"

"No," he said. Then he leaned towards me and said, "That happens a lot."

Considering the pace and the bulk of bills, I'm sure it does.

This must drive the anxious crowd of lobbyists wild. The rules say that the lobbyists may not be on the Senate floor, so they wait in the hall. They can watch the proceedings on a monitor, talk on their cellular phones, and lean on the wall to write notes to a senator on the back of their business card, which they send in with a guard or a page. A typical note says, "I have grave concerns about Bill X. Could I speak with you?" The senator then leaves the Senate floor, which is carpeted, and goes out into the tiled hallway to be coerced. Tile good. Carpet bad.

As I exited the Senate floor, an old gentleman with tubes up his nose and an oxygen tank was wheeled onto the carpet. When I inquired, I was told he was a retired senator who is now a lobbyist. Before I could ask where the hell he was going, I was told senators never lose their welcome on the plush red carpeted floor. I know this is an awful thought, but this guy must be incredibly persuasive. Who's gonna turn him down? Anything he asks could be his last wish. If he wants more fly wings in hot dogs, fine. A simple "no" could push him over the edge.

I don't think my political representatives are corrupt, but rather, like all of us, caught in a system that needs overhaul. What I saw of the state senator's job makes cheating to get it a bit like tunneling into French Guiana. There must be only three types of legislators: true public servants, corrupt con men, and the stupidest members of the work force, who are perhaps safer there than operating heavy machinery or serving hot coffee.

Letters to Paula

Regina Boyles, e-mail: My brother thinks that Rush Limbaugh is the Second Coming. I'm convinced that Rush is the Antichrist. Can you find supporting evidence for either view?

A: Regina, dump your brother. Blood may be thicker than water, but water has a whole lot more uses.

Without much research, it was easy to find error in your brother's view that Rush Limbaugh is the Second Coming. The Second Coming is Jesus' reappearance on earth, at which time something fairly bad is supposed to happen to all of us who have not accepted him as our savior--something with fire.

Rush Limbaugh has been with us since 1951, and I'm pretty certain we haven't been overtaken by an inferno. It has been sweaty hot in my house recently, but I don't believe the bad punishment coming my way after the Second Coming could be thwarted by air conditioning.

I can't find as much argument against your assertion that he is the Antichrist, but here's some: He seems too petty to be the chief evil spirit. He is avoidable and not physically compelling. His mother's name is Millie.

Glen Raphael, Mountain View, Calif.: I've always loved peanut butter. My favorite brand is "Old-Fashioned," which according to the label contains "Just peanuts and saltathat's all!"

But now I read that peanut butter contains high levels of natural carcinogens. So my question is: Could the plastic peanut butters like Skippy be better for you because they have fewer peanuts? Have I been living a lie all these years?

A: I called Mrs. Gooch, the founder of a small chain of large health food stores here in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I asked her not about natural carcinogens in peanuts, but about the pesticides used on peanut plants. Mrs. Gooch felt that you and I both ate too much peanut butter.

She also explained that if we don't want pesticides in our food, we have to buy natural foods. She said we're voting every time we buy a jar of peanut butter. It's no wonder I'm stressed-out all of the time.

After I hung up the phone, I realized I had asked the wrong question. It took me a few weeks to recover.

When I reread your question, I called Dale Anne Ogar, the managing editor of the UC-Berkeley Wellness Letter. Dale said it is possible that commercial peanut butter is safer than freshly ground, which can contain the carcinogen aflatoxin.

Somewhere in here there's another fine "Murder, She Wrote" episode.

Larry Hudson, Greer, S.C.: Isn't it time for the Confederate flag to be removed from the South Carolina statehouse?

A: Yes, I think so. I called the sergeant at arms at the South Carolina statehouse to ask how long it had been there. He said that a resolution had been passed to hang it in 1962, on the 100th anniversary of the War Between the States.

I don't know why they didn't take it down after the anniversary. However, I used to know a family who put Santa Claus on their roof in October and left him there through August. It seems like much the same problem.

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