By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
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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."
She nods. "People like Paul Johnson and Jane Hull cannot come up with solutions because in their parties there are no solutions. It's only about grabs, takes, perks. When poor people realize this, libertarians will get elected to office."
So, what solutions does Kat Gallant have?
"First, burn down Tent City. Then get rid of the drug laws. Legalize all drugs. Let people be responsible for their behavior. But my first objective is--burn down Tent City. I am so outraged by inmates being abused. And for what? They smoked marijuana? Well, who did they hurt? Real criminals--murderers, rapists, child molesters--belong in jail. Lock them up. But don't punish the chemically dependent. I've visited the jails and interviewed the inmates. I've seen what goes on."
Unfortunately, the governor can't burn down Tent City. It belongs to the county. If she burned it, she'd be committing a crime herself. She would have to get a law passed that outlawed such installations, which might not sit well with Gallant's dislike of government interference.
She shows me a documentary she made about the women in jail. In it, Gallant walks around the tents, speaking to the inmates. When one woman is hesitant to answer Gallant's questions, Gallant moves the camera and we see why--a guard is standing there, notebook in hand, apparently writing down the names of those who complain.
Gallant's view is the classic libertarian one. She opposes big government and believes the best kind of government is one that governs the least, or not at all. Although she doesn't smoke, she campaigned furiously against the City of Mesa's ban on smoking. She says she believes in three things: "Life, liberty and property." She sees dependence on government to solve social problems as an abdication of personal responsibility, a societal laziness and lack of compassion.
"I hate the establishment. I hate the bureaucracy. I hate politicians. I love freedom. This is about my family, my friends. . . .
"We need to take responsibility for our children, our friends, our neighbors, not leave it to the government. We need to have compassion."
What about that almost a quarter of Arizona children live in poverty? That the real story of Arizona is that the majority is getting screwed by the minority who's making a pile? Gallant blames it on big businesses being allowed to come into the state and pay slave wages.
"The solution is about a local economy. When a local economy grows, you have to increase your wage to get employees, or they're going to go work for somebody else. It's a simple formula of economics. If you cripple mom-and-pops, as big government does, you hurt the local economy and you hurt children."
Gallant was once asked if cutting men's hair while dressed in lingerie wasn't degrading. She answered, "No. What's degrading is working for someone who pays you very little and doesn't respect you."
The next evening, Gallant is invited to a meeting of the Arizona Breakfast Club, our local version of the John Birch Society. Various candidates for office have been invited--all conservative, naturally--and it looks to be lively.
Tonight she's wearing an understated brown suit, and the only thing that makes her stand out from the rest of the crowd is her beauty. The meeting is held in a church at 19th Avenue and Osborn. As soon as we enter, I know where we are--there are signs bearing slogans like "Fire the government--no New World Order," "Get us out of the United Nations" and that standard, "Impeach Clinton now." Welcome to the right-wing lunatic fringe.
I spot Jim Howl, Gallant's Republican opponent. I ask her what she thinks of him, and she laughs. "He's harmless. I don't thing he'd ever hurt anybody. He's kind of cute. But he couldn't even get the weather forecast right."
Gallant is disappointed when she realizes that the invited speakers haven't really been invited to give speeches. They're just supposed to get up and, in two sentences, say who they are and why they're running.
Former Joe Arpaio flunky Tom Bearup gets up and says he's running for sheriff. "Actually, my name is David and I'm fighting Goliath," he says. He doesn't mention that he's running against his old boss because he's pissed at having fallen from favor and being forced out of his job.
UFO nut and conspiracy theorist Frances Emma Barwood gets up. Instead of giving her usual aliens-are-among-us-and-I'm-going-to-find-them routine, she decides to push some easy racist buttons. She says she wants citizenship checks on immigrants to keep illegals from voting. This, naturally, draws considerable applause. Barwood has hit on a huge problem. Illegals are sneaking into the polls and stacking our Legislature with Mormons. Or maybe it's the Martians who're doing it. Barwood says nothing about trying to get citizens to vote.
Jim Howl declares that his Republican values are more conservative than the governor's. God help us.
When Gallant's turn comes, she decides not to participate in the bullshit. She just tells a joke.
"These kids in school see some ballot boxes, and they ask the teacher what's going on. The teacher says, 'This is voting day.' And the kids say, 'Good. We need some new teachers.'"
Then she sits down, as the audience looks at her in bemusement.
Contact Barry Graham at his online address: email@example.com