Bye, bye Birner

She can’t marry, but she can retire: On August 11, the California Supreme Court stripped giddy, lovey-dovey gay couples of the right to wed, but local advocates still grin with pride over a generation’s worth of gay activism in Sacramento. In fact, that’s what Linda Birner, founding publisher of Mom Guess What! (MGW), has been doing since announcing her retirement.

“I feel like I did my job; I educated people,” Birner told Bites. “We made gay people feel good about themselves. … I think people are coming out more and more.”

MGW went to press for the first time in 1978 to advocate against a law seeking to purge gay teachers from public schools. Birner, at age 24, had policemen sleeping on her sofa to deal with the death threats, and she relied heavily on the mentorship of C.K. McClatchy, editor of The Sacramento Bee. In 26 years, Birner’s MGW grew into the mother of all local gay-pride publications (not in the least because disgruntled employees went on to work for other papers), but constant deadlines, financial woes and seven-day workweeks finally wore her out. This summer, Birner threw in the towel—or at least passed it on to her protégé, Jeffry Davis. While Davis takes over the all-night editing sessions, Birner has taken to relaxing, consulting occasionally and encouraging more young idealists to join the fight for gay rights.

Further adventures of Mr. Freeze: What’s worse than summer swelter in Sacramento? Why, August in New Mexico, of course! That’s where Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently devised an interesting new way to beat the heat during his trip to the Western Governors’ Association meeting.

But first, some background: As reported in this column last month (“Mr. Freeze,” SN&R Bites, July 15), our Batman & Robin villain turned governor seems to be taking his Mr. Freeze character to heart of late, chilling state workers by cranking up the air conditioning to semi-arctic proportions whenever he visits a state building.

Now comes word that Governor Freeze may be adding an eccentric new wrinkle to his ritual. After he used the New Mexico event to introduce his new energy-conservation plan, he invited reporters back to his non-smoking presidential suite, where, according to his arch nemesis, Bob Mulholland, Arnold lit up not just a cigar, but also the fireplace—while simultaneously cranking the air conditioning up to high. “Isn’t this what doctors describe as schizophrenic behavior?” wondered Mulholland, as if that were somehow incompatible with politics.

“I’m thinking, ‘What the hell are we doing here, man?’” the Democratic spokesman told Bites. “You know, it’s one thing to have bad habits; it’s another to invite the press in to watch it.”

Fortunately, the governor’s energy plan does not recommend that Californians try this at home.

Democrat in debt: Assemblyman Ron Calderon is still having trouble hanging on to all that cash he raises. Since SN&R profiled the Montebello Democrat’s habit of using campaign accounts to fund trips to Las Vegas (“Spending trend” by Jeff Kearns, SN&R News, January 1), the picture hasn’t improved much.

Reports released last week show that Calderon’s committees raised $144,028 in the first half of 2004—but he spent $105,016, leaving him with $62,906 in the bank and $88,874 in debt. He’s still not frugal, but at least the word “Vegas” doesn’t appear in the reports.

Calderon’s heavily Democratic district makes his seat safe, but Republican challenger Rita Topalian, a Whittier attorney, has raised $52,826 and loaned herself $50,750. And she’s making her opponent’s excessive spending into a campaign issue. “It’s hard to rationalize that [kind of spending] and do it with a straight face,” she sniffed.

“Those who have supported me through personal donations,” Calderon told Bites in a written statement, “understand the need to expend those funds in any given manner so long as it is within guidelines and provide strength and purpose to my election.”

That’s an odd remark, coming from a guy who got exactly zero personal donations this year—only big checks from political action committees, corporations, industry groups and unions.