Candidate of the week

Sacramento’s Leonard Padilla sees taxing marijuana as a solution for the state’s budget dilemma

Bounty hunter Leonard Padilla promises to track down new sources of revenue for the state.

Bounty hunter Leonard Padilla promises to track down new sources of revenue for the state.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Leonard Padilla sat back comfortably in his file-ridden Sacramento office. Every square inch of wall space was lined with framed photos of friends, family, celebrities and politicians, including one photo of Padilla with George W. Bush. A bounty hunter for 30 years, Padilla was born in 1939 in Firebaugh, the son of field workers, and became one of the elders of the Padilla dynasty of bail bonds and bounty hunters. Of all the candidates for governor, Padilla arguably has demonstrated the greatest knack for finding unorthodox solutions to difficult problems.

“First of all, I would legalize marijuana and quit sending all that money down to Mexico, South America and Canada,” said Padilla. “I would either have a plant stipend that I would charge as governor of the state of California, or tax it.”

Padilla says marijuana is California’s No. 1 cash crop and that legalizing and taxing it could solve the state’s budget problems. “I’ve never smoked marijuana, and I don’t intend to start if it’s legal. I just think that it’s a good revenue [source] that is not being utilized,” Padilla said. “We could charge a plant stipend, where the individual can grow his plant at home. I’ve talked to individuals who said that they would pay $500 for a plant tag, just like you pay for a deer tag or license.”

Padilla claims that many law-enforcement and other public officials at least privately agree with his idea for legalizing and taxing pot. “I definitely got a lot of positive reaction from people who don’t want to see Prop. 13 done away with and their taxes raised,” said Padilla. “They’d rather see marijuana taxed than to see their property taxes increased. Senior citizens wouldn’t have to worry about their house being overly taxed, or we wouldn’t have to triple the vehicle-licensing fees, and we definitely would not have to increase tuition for college students.”

Padilla, who has a law degree and has been the target of at least two assassination attempts, has a lot of other ideas for the state of California. He says he also would fast-track online Indian casinos, change the bidding process on state purchases, dip into the state employees retirement fund, eliminate the three-strikes law, release nonviolent prisoners and limit the salaries of state employees to $60,000 a year. He also argues that California should be a completely self-sufficient state.

“It’s the fifth-largest economy in the world,” exclaimed Padilla. “We’ve got to act like a world economic power. We can’t act like a Third World country that doesn’t know how to maintain its own power interest. We can’t be running around wondering where our power is coming from tomorrow. We’ve got to have more control over our destiny by having our own power plants in the state of California. If someone in the state of California is messing with it, we can get a hold of him real quick. We won’t have to go all the way to Texas.”

Padilla might have a harder time selling the salary cap on state employees and borrowing from their retirement fund. “Every state worker who makes over $60,000 a year,” he argued, “broke their promise in the worst way they can. Because, while we weren’t looking, they mismanaged.”

He equates raiding the state employees retirement fund to dipping into a personal savings account. “If you have a $100 check that is about to bounce, and you have $500 in your savings account for your retirement,” said Padilla, “I bet that you are going to think about paying that check. Then, you’ll have $400 in your savings account. Why should a few people, just because they work for the state of California, have some security as far as their retirement goes, when the rest of us are busting our ass trying to figure out how are we going to make it tomorrow?”

Padilla, who spent a year in prison for failure to pay income taxes, says he would not be soft on corporate crimes; he places Ken Lay in the same category as a criminal who steals Social Security checks from a senior citizen’s mailbox. “The public need has to be balanced against the capitalistic profit,” said Padilla. “I’m not a communist, I’m not a socialist, but you can’t have people dying because they don’t have air conditioning or heat simply because some guy wants to eat a little better, like Ken Lay.”

You won’t be seeing any television commercials with Padilla holding up a pot plant in a casino. He knows he can’t compete in fund-raising with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cruz Bustamante, Peter Ueberroth and Tom McClintock. But he still sees plenty of interest in his ideas and is interviewed several times a day by California radio stations. “California is still the greatest place in the world to live,” said the lifelong Californian. “We are not a Third World country by any stretch of the imagination, but we have to continue to go forward. And we can’t do it when we have legislators over here that, just because they belong to political parties and have personal agendas that they are trying to fulfill, that everything has to come to a stop as far as the state functioning.”

Padilla feels that today’s politicians are too partisan to put a budget together and that they have no interest in discussing inventive ideas to fix the budget. “The professional politicians can’t think past the front of their nose,” said Padilla. “Marijuana money is leaving California. There is not a politician in the state right now that would risk using the legalized-marijuana statement, because he’s afraid that he’s going to lose votes. If they tried it, they might like it.”