Gallant Effort

We arrange to meet in a restaurant. I ask how I will recognize her.
"Do you know who Suzanne Somers is?" she asks me. I say I do. "Well, I look exactly like her."

She's not kidding.
I arrive at the restaurant and find her waiting near the door, all platinum blond hair, bust and smile. She's wearing shorts and a top in matching blue. She looks like a character in a movie from the '70s.

But Kat Gallant isn't an actress. She's a gubernatorial candidate, running as a Libertarian. At the moment, she's financing the campaign herself, though she plans to start fund-raising. She's also a former mayoral candidate; in 1995, she ran for mayor of Mesa, coming in third out of five.

Not everyone sees her as a valid candidate, however. The Mesa Tribune has organized a debate for gubernatorial candidates scheduled for August 27. Jane Hull, of course, was invited. So was former weatherman Jim Howl. And so was Gallant--for a short while.

"I got a call from Bob Schuster, who's the editor of the Tribune's editorial page," she says. "He told me, 'The governor has decided she doesn't want to debate you.' I said, 'I'm not sitting down for this. This is wrong.' I was appalled that a community newspaper would prohibit a candidate from giving her point of view. That's censorship."

So she plans to attend the debate and get her oar in anyway.
Bob Schuster says he is "disappointed" by Hull's decision.

At first impression, you could be forgiven for thinking that Kat Gallant was running for office simply as a publicity stunt to promote the hairdressing salon she owns. Fantasy's is an unusual business. Customers get their hair cut by women dressed in lingerie, and they can get a massage afterward.

When it's suggested that she's an unlikely candidate for office, Gallant is fond of saying, "What would you prefer--a man in a three-piece suit standing at a podium telling you lies, or a woman in lingerie telling you the truth?"

She's absolutely serious about her campaign, though she describes herself as an activist, not a politician.

"Am I a politician? No. Do I know about crime? Yes. About business? Yes. About people? Yes."

The 49-year-old Gallant is unquestionably resourceful. A farm girl by birth and upbringing, she's raised seven kids pretty much by herself, with little help from ex-husbands who, as she puts it, "didn't like to work." She ran out of money while studying journalism at Arizona State University, and so went to work at Fantasy's. "That was out of character," she says. The business wasn't making money, but Gallant changed that, eventually buying the salon. How did she turn it around?

"One word for you," she smiles. "Massage."
The story of how she got into politics is typical of her libertarian, do-it-yourself world view.

She'd bought a house in Mesa and got a grant from the housing authority toward fixing it up. Then she went to ASU, and had to rent out the house. When this fact came to light, "The City of Mesa put a lien on my house. They said, 'If you don't like it, sue us.' What was I going to do? They have all these attorneys, and I was a single mother. I said, no, I'm not going to sue you. I'll run for mayor."

Although ignored by local newspapers, her mayoral campaign attracted international attention. She was featured in the press and on TV in Sweden, Norway, Tokyo and the UK, clad in lingerie and holding forth about freedom.

"My conservative dad saw me on CNN--and he thought it was great! He didn't seem to mind that I was wearing black leather."

The lien got taken off her house.

The Tribune's grounds for excluding Gallant from gubernatorial debates are dubious. Even if some people regard her as a wacko, that doesn't make her politically unviable.

In 1979, Jello Biafra, singer with the Dead Kennedys punk-rock group, ran for mayor of San Francisco. "If you really want to fuck things up, run for office," he said later. He mixed bizarre proposals with serious ones. He announced that, if he were elected, people in the city's business district would be forced to wear clown suits between the hours of 9 and 5. But he also proposed that squatting be legalized in abandoned buildings that were kept that way for tax write-off purposes, and that cops should be elected by the citizens they policed. Outlandish though some people thought his campaign was, Biafra came in fourth. Lunacy doesn't necessarily handicap a campaign.

But Biafra's candidacy was intended as a prank. He wasn't trying to get elected mayor, but to annoy the establishment and raise awareness of issues that concerned him. Kat Gallant, however, isn't running on the wacko ticket. Wrongheaded or simplistic as some might consider her, she's a serious and thoughtful politician.

I tell her about a Democratic rally I attended some months ago, and how depressing it was to listen to Paul Johnson, Ed Ranger, Paul Newman and Art Hamilton all making speeches but saying nothing. "They seem to know what the problems are," I tell Gallant. "But they don't seem to know what to do about them."

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