Don't extol the virtues of public servants to Oxnard City Hall watchdogs Oscar Karrin, a 72-year-old retired butcher, or Roy Lockwood, a 67-year-old retired federal fire chief.
"Most politicians are greedy and self-serving," grumbled Lockwood, a gruff, heavy-jowled man who uses a bulldog as his emblem. "Left to their own devices, we'd have corruption galore."
So every two years, the pair run for office. Although Lockwood in 1984 and 1986 finished third in the races for two council slots, both of Oxnard's perennial candidates have yet to land a seat on the five-member council, much less win the mayor's gavel. But that does not stop them from trying.
On Tuesday, Karrin's name will appear for the fourth time on an Oxnard ballot, this time as a mayoral candidate. Lockwood will be seeking office for the sixth or seventh time--he has lost track--in his bid for a seat on the council.
Neither accepts contributions; instead, they bankroll their campaigns from their pension and retirement funds. Lockwood said he set aside $30,000 for the race but decided at the last minute against using it.
"Nobody has to buy Lockwood's vote," explains a flyer from the Oxnard Madder Than Hell Watchdog Committee, a citizens group Lockwood helped to found.
Despite their record of no wins--Karrin finished last in the 1986 mayoral race with only 793 votes--both candidates bristle at the suggestion that they might find their losses discouraging.
"I'm doing it for the people," Karrin said. "If they don't understand that, fine. I'm a big boy. I can take it."
In the meantime, the two regularly attend City Council meetings, where before glassy-eyed council members, they expound on everything from the city's mobile home rent-control ordinance to the long-defeated ballot measure that would have turned the city treasurer's elected position into an appointed position.
"They're the ones who keep everybody on their toes," said Tony Grey, a planning commissioner and City Council candidate. "The only reason people get frustrated is they keep repeating the same thing."
He noted such issues as the establishment of councilmanic districts, which Karrin and Lockwood took under their wing well before the City Council's unsuccessful effort to place a districting referendum on the November ballot.
It is not unusual for the pair to call for the resignations of city staff or to threaten recall elections, petition drives or lawsuits. Anything, they say, to unseat the council, which they view as a diabolical "clique."
Lockwood played a leading role in two recall drives. The last one, in 1984, removed councilman and former mayor Tsujio Kato. And Karrin is a member of the group that is plugging for councilmanic districts, a plan that would end the political career of at least three council members because four live in what would be the same district.
Both Lockwood and Karrin have sued the city once--Lockwood over a neighborhood redevelopment plan and Karrin over a $12.40 city mobile-home assessment. Lockwood has taken Councilwoman Dorothy Maron to the state Supreme Court with conflict-of-interest allegations. He lost and had to pay her legal fees.
"I call them 'gadflies,' " said Maron, who responded with a nuisance suit aimed at Lockwood. "They make a commotion. They make it sound like things are bad, and things are not bad in Oxnard."
Karrin and Lockwood take exception to the label. Both prefer to be called activists, citing the preferred designation of Carroll Lorbeer, the dean of Oxnard's council agitators.
"A gadfly lays an egg in the hide of a cow, and that grows into a worm which spoils the hide for anything like shoes," said Lorbeer, who said he has never sought office because he believes it would compromise his objectivity.
Whatever their role, Karrin and Lockwood take pains to keep current.
Lockwood, who has been running for office off and on for 16 years, cannot remember the last time he missed a council meeting and finds it difficult to imagine doing so.
"It has to be something very important and necessary," he said, "like death."
Not content to merely attend the meetings, Lockwood makes a study of civic affairs.
He said it is not unusual for him to awaken at 3:30 a.m. to pore over the 300- to 600-page council agenda that he buys each week from the city for $12.50.
Boxes of papers, many involving civic concerns, climb halfway to the ceiling of the small clapboard house that Lockwood, a bachelor, shares with his widowed sister a block from City Hall.
The son of a mechanic who worked as a volunteer firefighter, Lockwood entered the political scene in the mid-'60s when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors threatened to revoke a permit allowing hog farming on a ranch he then owned.
He argued that the act would violate his "constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness," Lorbeer recalled.
Lockwood won, but he did not pick up political momentum until the city's redevelopment agency unveiled plans to raze and rebuild his downtown neighborhood in 1980.
Someone who still sputters at the mention of redevelopment--in a candidate's forum last week he said that the agency "should be run out of town on rails"--Lockwood claims credit for killing the plans. Redevelopment officials blame financing problems.
Formerly a Libertarian, Lockwood abandoned that party when he learned of its opposition to drug laws and became a Democrat in 1984. Since then, Lockwood has established himself as a vehement opponent of permits regulating satellite dishes--he owns a 9-foot model--and council meetings conducted in closed session. But his quest for openness in government does not always translate to self-disclosure.
Questions about the location of his campaign headquarters, for instance, set off alarms. "I ain't going to tell," he said. "If others know what we're doing, they always try to put up stumbling blocks to grab votes. The political spying and intrigue is terrific in Oxnard."
Inquiries about the Madder Than Hell Watchdog Committee, which he describes "as something like a grand jury except that it's ongoing," don't get much further. "We work in secret," he explained.
Also secret is the name of the law school that he says he attended after graduating from an institution he describes only as the "Old University of Hard Knocks."
Happy to Explain
Karrin, on the other hand, is only too happy to tell all. An explanation of the hiatal hernia that led to his move from Ozone Park, N.Y., to Oxnard eight years ago, for instance, comes with a description of the saltiness of the meal that he consumed moments before the ailment temporarily paralyzed him one day.
Lockwood introduced Karrin to Oxnard politics, but he did not have to teach him any lessons in assertiveness. Karrin said people used to drive for miles to see the angry letters he would scrawl on butcher paper and hang from the window of his Queens meat shop. They took on everyone from then-President Richard Nixon to the electric company.
With the same zeal, Karrin has styled himself as a champion of the city's mobile-home owners. Claiming to be the only promoter of the city's original ordinance who still lives in Oxnard, he is suing his mobile home park for charging him $7.35 a month for road improvements, a charge he maintains is illegal under state law.
He also is proposing modest manufactured homes as the answer to the city's need for affordable housing. And in another bold campaign proposal, he would use roadblocks to stop gangs from coming to Oxnard, in much the same fashion police occasionally set up roadblocks to scout out drunk drivers.
"I see something I don't like in the newspaper, and I start researching," he said.
Karrin is running for office this year at the urging of his 42-year-old daughter, Bonnie Karrin, who suggested that it might help him get over the death in June of his wife of 46 years. "It was a terrible blow," she said.
But Karrin said that he first ran for office in 1982 at the urging of Maron, whom he remembered predicting 7,000 votes for him--a figure he has not approached.
Lorbeer blames Karrin's showing on the perception that, despite his 8 years in Oxnard, the Queens transplant is still considered "a foreigner." Karrin, however, finds the explanation implausible.
"People think I'm living here like 20 years because I've made so many intrusions into their lives."