Giddy, Chris Thompson walked into his editor’s office one day in 2003 after realizing all it took to run in California’s gubernatorial recall election was 65 signatures and $3,500 in filing fees. The threshold was so low, it would be easy to poke fun at the process by running a candidate.

This stunt appealed to East Bay Express Editor Stephen Buel. They talked it over. Then a name was blurted out.

“We oughta run Gary Coleman,” Buel recalled. “I was thinking about Arnold. Who is the opposite of Arnold?”

The 2003 campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis had already turned into a political circus, with a carousel of B-list celebrities, adult entertainers, and third-party gadflies throwing their names into the ring. By the filing deadline, the ballot included 135 candidates: Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt was running, under the slogan “Vote for a Smut-Peddler Who Cares;” there was a Libertarian cigarette retailer and a Green Party custom denture manufacturer; a retired meat packer and middleweight sumo wrestler both ran as independents. Comedian Leo Gallagher, Arianna Huffington and adult film actress Mary Carey were also in the race.

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