Old Joe’s campaign
At 74, Joe Brouillette is the oldest person running for California governor this year. It’s not something he tries to hide. He’s even named his Web site oldjoe4governor.com. It’s not much of a site, but then, “it was put together by a high school student,” he said.
Brouillette, a longtime high school teacher from Granite Bay, made his one and only Butte County campaign appearance Saturday morning (May 27) in Stirling City—the tiny (pop. 400) mountain town above Paradise. He is a wiry man with a weathered face, a raspy voice and a full head of white hair. He says he was reluctant to run for governor at first, mostly because of the $3,500 filing fee.
“I weighed that,” he said while sitting in an easy chair in the parlor of the Stirling City Hotel. “Do I want to spend $3,500? Then I thought of my granddaughter, and the world she was going to inherit, and I wanted to do something.”
He’s running a “thousand-dollar campaign,” he said. He doesn’t want to spend more than that because otherwise he’d have to file a report with election officials.
That Brouillette is listed on the same ballot as Steve Westly, who’s spent more than $32 million of his eBay fortune in an effort to win the Democratic primary, is one of those piquant ironies that give American politics its flavor. But there he is, third on the list, tucked between two other unknowns, Barbara Becnel and Michael Stimling, who also coughed up $3,500 to get their names before millions of voters.
Brouillette was in Stirling City at the invitation of Charlotte Hilgeman, the genial proprietress of the hotel, who’d seen his name on her Democratic sample ballot and remembered that he’d once written a history of the area. Hilgeman has a fondness for Stirling City history—her 103-year-old hotel is the same age as the town—and also for quixotic political campaigns. Two years ago she challenged District 5 incumbent Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, pledging to accept no contributions, spend no money and rely solely on word of mouth and media attention. She lost, of course.
Brouillette was a student at Chico State College in the mid-1950s, living “in the Vets’ Village with a wife and two kids,” he said, when his father convinced him to drive up to Stirling City. Intrigued by the town’s history as a mill town, Brouillette decided to make it the subject of his master’s thesis, which he submitted in 1957.
That thesis was enough to draw a turnout that probably was larger than any he could have gotten in Chico, pop. 103,000. About a dozen people showed up at the hotel that morning, some with copies of his thesis in hand to be autographed. Hilgeman had baked brownies and put out cantaloupe slices and tinned cookies for the occasion.
In a private interview held as people gathered, Brouillette discussed the issues that inspired him to run: overpopulation and immigration. He and his wife have four grown children and six grandchildren; he worries for his grandkids.
There are simply too many people, he said. The U.S. needs to help developing countries more, he says, because prosperous societies have fewer children. And, in California, he’d crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Otherwise, he’s on the side of working people, who he says are being fooled into voting against their economic self-interest by Republicans who focus on social issues such as parental consent, he said. The super-rich are running the country, he added, creating “a kind of royalty that goes on generation after generation.”
Hilgeman followed form in presenting him to the assembly. “I want to introduce you to the next governor of California, Joseph Brouillette!” she trumpeted, with only a hint of amusement in her voice. Brouillette stood at the end of the hotel’s long dining table, but if the people seated around it were expecting him to talk about California, or even Stirling City, they were disappointed. Instead, as if to illustrate the notion that when you don’t have a chance of winning you have nothing to lose, he launched into a history lesson on the German and Japanese myths of racial superiority that led to their nations’ destruction during World War II. Then he stood for questions.