Legislative Hopefuls Break Political Molds

By: - October 26, 2004 12:00 am

Statehouse candidates following an unbeaten path into politics this year include a former Middle East hostage in Ohio and a California woman who could be the first Saudi-born elected official in the United States.

Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press reporter who was kidnapped by Iranian-supported militiamen and held captive for six years in Beirut, Lebanon, in the 1980s, is running in an Appalachian community as a Democrat for the Ohio Senate. In California, high school teacher Ferial Masry won the primary as a write-in candidate and would be the first Arab-American to serve in her state Legislature.

Other unconventional contenders include two college students running for legislative seats in Texas and Kansas. And at the opposite end of the political-experience spectrum is a former Kentucky governor vying for a state Senate seat after 25 years away from the Capitol running against the big brother of Kentucky’s current governor.

More than 78 percent of the nation’s 7,382 state legislative seats are up for grabs on Nov. 2, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. State legislative races usually don’t attract national attention, but a few, such as Anderson’s and Masry’s, have drawn considerable interest this year.

Anderson, an ex-Marine who is running in Ohio’s 20th Senate district, has won attention because of his notoriety as a hostage and because his southeastern district is considered key to the presidential race. Anderson, who turns 57 this week, said people listen to him on the campaign trail because of his fame.

After his release, Anderson taught journalism at Ohio University and in 2002 received a multi-million-dollar compensatory settlement from the Iranian government. He is a half-owner of two restaurants and also owns a horse ranch. Anderson said he’s comfortable now but can relate to his electorate because, “I grew up poor. I worked hard all my life. I’ve made a good life.”

Anderson is running against Republican Sen. Joy Padgett. Anderson’s campaign is expected to spend at least $600,000, while Padgett’s is expected to spend nearly three times that amount. He said he is seeking public office because, “I just want to help people.”

Masry, a Muslim born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, who has lived in the United States for 26 years, won the March 2 primary as a write-in candidate, a rarity in California. Running as a Democrat, she has raised more than $80,000 for her 37th Assembly District race against Green Party candidate Adrienne Prince and Republican Audra Strickland, the wife of an incumbent who is prevented from running again by a term-limit law.

“What I did here will be a textbook study for a lot of candidates, starting with nothing — $143 — and getting the money and support. Don’t assume anybody is a long shot. You have to look at the potential of the person,” Masry, 55, said.

An open seat in the Kentucky state Senate is the stage for a clash of prominent gubernatorial names. Former Democratic Gov. Julian Carroll, 73, is aiming for a political comeback in race against Republican Harold Fletcher Jr., older brother of current Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R).

Carroll is campaigning on his resume of 10 years in the state House, including four as speaker, then a term as lieutenant governor, also serving as president of the Senate, followed by five years as governor. The elder Fletcher, an architect, is running for office for the first time.

At least two political newcomers this year are university students. James “Jake” Gilbreath, a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is a Democrat seeking a seat in the Texas House.

Gilbreath is taking a break from his studies to campaign in his district south of Dallas. He said the 10th District voted 70 percent Republican in 2002, so he faces an uphill battle. His opponent, Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), won notoriety for supporting legislation to make 11-year-olds eligible for capital punishment.

A University of Kansas student, Jay Maus (D), could be a contender for catchiest slogan. The 21-year-old political science student campaigning for the state House urges voters: “Put a Maus in your statehouse.”

Maus is running against Rob Olson (R) in a historically conservative district that covers a south-central area of Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City. Maus chronicled some of his campaign adventures in an online journal at his Web site, Nerdusa.com. He described being asked to give a speech about his candidacy.

“I’m sweating profusely in my thrift store suit, but I smile, walk to the front of the room, take the microphone, and start: My friends and family have asked me why I’m running. To be honest, it really started with ‘Man, do I ever have nothing to do this summer,'” Maus wrote.

And a strong contender in the category of unconventional campaign issues is Fred Ruge, a Hawaiian legislative candidate who wants to move his state into the future — literally. Ruge has proposed changing the international dateline so that Hawaii’s day begins before the rest of the United States, according to the Maui News.

Ruge, who also has called for a luxury tax on million-dollar homes, is a nonpartisan challenger for the state House seat in the 8th district, Wailuku, Waieh. Ruge’s opponents include Republican Robert Min and 11-term incumbent Joe Souki (D). 

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