I walked past armed security and into the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom wearing flip-flops.
It was Election Night, and on short notice, I was entering Arnold Schwarzenegger’s GOP layer. Everyone at the party was waiting for an official declaration of victory followed by what would turn out to be a brief, yet festive, victory speech.
The venue was swollen with media. An array of invite-only guests, friends of the governor and Republican Party functionaries mingled among the press. B-list actors like Lou Ferrigno, Tom Arnold and Rob Lowe inspired the occasional second glance.
Within the first hour, I interviewed the mayor of Monterey Park, one of her councilmen, a Los Angeles County Sheriff Union member, a Baptist minister from South Central, a Log Cabin Republican representative and a insurance lobbyist from DC – all self-proclaimed supporters of the governor. Everyone I spoke with (granted, I did not run into any teachers or nurses) seemed content with the governor’s wide range of appeal.
Around 8:20 p.m., just about the time the Associated Press declared Schwarzenegger the winner, I drifted off to my last interviewee of the evening. I ended up omitting his controversial quotes from my original Election Night story. But now I would like to share them.
Upon eye contact, I approached Mike Shelby from the Los Angeles Chapter of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactment. His organization, I would later find out, advocates motorcyclists’ rights. The organization spends a lot of effort lobbying against helmet laws.
As a guest of the governor, Shelby seemed more approachable than those around. Perhaps it was the casual attire – black button-down shirt and jeans. Cleanly shaven, his jet-black hair was pulled back.
Upon registering my introduction as a CSUN student reporter, Shelby’s mingling demeanor quickly soured.
“You guys are going to get what you deserve!” he yelled over music festively playing throughout the ballroom.
He again repeated the threat.
Straining to put his comments into context, I asked him to back them up.
“You college kids,” he said. “You’re all gonna get what you deserve.”
He did not seem to be in tune with the victorious GOP surroundings. The colorful balloons, the hour devours – the celebration! Upon hearing about my college affiliation – representing college media no less – Shelby felt inclined to address me as a plural entity.
“Your generation is going to get a nuclear war that will make World War II look like a joke,” he said, adding that a draft within the next few years was inevitable. “You’re going to lose family members ? best friends.”
The end of the world as we know it, not the governor, seemed to be the developing theme. And this guy was actually connected to the governor? While he did not elaborate, Shelby said he helped the governor “throw some motorcycle events.”
“I’m here because this is a Republican event,” he said before spouting off a list of what he perceived, as core Republican values, such as limited government, strong borders and “English speaking only.”
“I support all red state events. I support everything Republican, and let me tell you something,” he raved, “George Bush is the best thing that has ever happened to America.”
There was booze at the party. In fact, banquet bartenders poured cocktails steadily throughout the night. Shelby, however, was sipping coffee from a porcelain mug, and his breath smelled like it. When I directed questions, he responded with force. His disdain steadily mounted.
Rational or not, I stayed with my subject. I wanted to flush out his opinions. I asked him what he would say if I were to give him a medium to reach all CSU students. What would he want to tell us? At this point, I was not completely sure if I was dealing with a madman. So I scribbled notes as he enlightened me.
“Well first off, I’d like to say f*** every one of you, and f*** that John Kerry bullshit. Colleges are made up of a bunch of idiots,” he blasted. “Army guys are some of the smartest guys we got. I have two kids in the army.”
Evidently Shelby attributed America’s inevitable future of demise to an educated – predominately liberal minded – college society? That was the impression I was left with.
No doubt the middle of Shelby’s address was in regard to Sen. John Kerry’s recent pre-election, public relations blunder – Kerry was thrust into the spotlight after ignorantly botching a joke directed at college students. “If you don’t do well in school you might get stuck in Iraq,” the senator recently laughed.
Shelby was not amused. Neither his angry rant nor my inquiry stopped there. Shelby echoed Republican concerns over a growing critical consensus with the war in Iraq, a war that he said could be won in time, but only if troops are given a fair chance to stay and continue the fight. He told me he was a Vietnam vet and that America could have won that war had we not withdrawn prematurely. Conjuring a smooth escape, I first wanted to know the extent of his hatred toward critics of the Republican agenda.
True, California’s top political slot had just been re-awarded, but as we spoke, the Democrats were taking Congress. And Democratic running points, like the desire to investigate the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq, were deeply disturbing to Shelby. He spoke of his disgust for those in politics who dare question the Bush motive. Playing off his bitterness, I asked Shelby to fill in the blank. “A vote for a Democrat is a vote for a __.”
Shelby automatically obliged.
“A terrorist. Hamas. Al-Qaida,” he said.
I thanked Shelby before breaking at the ballroom’s front entrance bar. The governor would soon take the stage.
With the majority of America’s voters historically voting Republican, I could not help but dwell on the thought that there might be a little bit of Shelby in every single one of them.