3 Colorful California Politicians

When it comes to offbeat political figures, California’s history is remarkably rich—and we’re not talking about The Governator. While these candidates’ philosophies range from obtuse to downright crazy, their campaigns may have caused voters to wonder what the real difference is between politicians and performance artists.

Emperor Norton

The self-proclaimed “His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, Protector of Mexico” was born around 1819 in England. While many thought he was a homeless nutcase, Norton was actually celebrated and revered by many of San Francisco’s citizens over a twenty-one-year period.

He issued a decree to formally dissolve the United States Congress, and later summoned the U.S. Armed Forces “to proceed with a suitable force and clear the Halls of Congress.” Years later, he tried to abolish the Democratic and Republican Parties, and declared that anyone who uttered the word “Frisco” would be guilty of a High Misdemeanor and pay a $25 fine.

The Emperor spent most of his time walking around town dressed in full regalia and sword, inspecting cable cars and making sure the community’s affairs were in order. He gained such notoriety and influence that he issued his own currency, which was accepted as legal tender by local businesses. After Norton’s death in 1880, a reported 10,000 people turned up at his funeral.

Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra, born Eric Boucher in Boulder, Colorado, is best known as the lead singer of San Francisco’s volatile punk pioneers, The Dead Kennedys. Singing into a microphone to make people upset wasn’t enough for him, so he made a serious bid for Mayor of San Francisco in 1979.

His platform included an asymmetrical mix of items, ranging from the comical (requiring businessmen to wear clownsuits during business hours, erecting statues of Dan White—who’d assassinated the mayor in 1978—all over the city) to serious proposals to improve the community (banning cars from the city limits and advocating public transportation, legalizing squatting in vacant buildings, requiring the public election of police officers). On one occasion, he showed up at Diane Feinstein’s house with a leaf blower to “clean up the city,” and was even bold enough to wear a pirate suit in his publicity photo.

Biafra finished fourth, and in the end, had this to say: “For those of them who have seen my candidacy as
a publicity stunt or a joke, they should keep in mind that it is no more of a joke, and no less of a joke, than anyone else they care to name.”

Steve Rocco

On November 2, 2004, a mysterious character won a place on the Orange Unified School District Board of Trustees. He rarely leaves his house and refuses interviews. He will not allow himself to be fingerprinted for district records. He shows up at meetings in a costume consisting of either black or camouflage clothing, a knit cap, and sunglasses. He has self-published his own book of conspiracy theories, and has made speeches regarding something called, “The Partnership,” a secretive entity that is trying to assassinate him. As of April 2008, The Board has gone so far as to vote to silence the presentation of his theories at meetings. And some even believe Rocco is none other than comedian Andy Kaufman.

This article was originally published by Mental Floss in July 2008.