Please Don’t Eat the Ballots

Times Staff Writer

Opie the goat charmed his way out of the slaughterhouse, but he wasn’t as nimble in the gruff world of desert politics.

The goat was named honorary mayor of this rural Riverside County town after drumming up more money for charity than anybody else. But like any office-holder, he wasn’t without enemies.

Local business leaders, fearing that Opie made the more than 5,000 townsfolk look like yokels, decided he had to go. Opie’s supporters kicked back, and the ensuing fracas divided the growing town.


“Opie stands for why so many people moved out here,” said Nancy Ross, a stylist at Anza Barber & Beauty. “We don’t want some human sitting on a throne.”

With his foray into public service, Opie had joined a select number of four-legged mammals ascending to small-town higher office.

Voters have elected goats, donkeys and dogs to honorary mayor positions in recent years -- almost exclusively in sparsely populated communities where a barnyard politician can reel in dollars from curious tourists.

Near Colorado Springs, Colo., the town of Florissant elected a donkey named Birdie in a charity ballot that benefited the Pikes Peak Historical Society.

“We decided to have a little truth in politics: We’d only have jackasses run,” said society president Celinda Kaelin.

Paco Bell, the current mayor, won a second term in 2004 after one opponent got sick, another didn’t show, and a third, a llama with pasted-on ears, was booted because it didn’t meet the jackass standard.

Some folks in Rabbit Hash, Ky., blanched at the election of a dog named Goofy in 1998, wondering if this speck of a town near the Ohio border would look foolish.

But the mixed-breed dog’s victory raised at least $9,000 -- one vote, one dollar -- leading a filmmaker to record a documentary called “Rabbit Hash: The Center of the Universe,” which screened at a Pennsylvania film festival.

Rabbit Hash, whose official population fluctuates between three and five people, revived the race during the last presidential election after Goofy was euthanized, choosing a black Lab named Junior.

“You have to have a sense of humor down here, I guess, to beat everyone else to the punch of making fun of us,” said Sue Clare, secretary of the local historical society, which used the second race’s proceeds to preserve the town’s general store, barn and other wooden buildings.

Like Florissant and Rabbit Hash, Anza is an off-the-main-road town, dozens of miles from a Costco or a movie theater with stadium seating.

In a way, Opie was Anza’s comeback kid, the right goat at the right time.

Dan Hurtado, who raises goats for their meat, rescued Opie three years ago, after Opie’s mother, a Nubian goat named Satisfaction, abandoned him in the snow.

Hurtado’s wife, Carol Ann Smith, warmed the 3-pound baby with a blow dryer and fed him from a bottle.

Hurtado named him after Ron Howard’s character on the “The Andy Griffith Show,” and gave him the run of the house.

Meanwhile, some residents were rolling their eyes at the annual honorary mayor contest. For nearly three decades, the unincorporated town has awarded the title to the candidate who raised the most money for charity.

But some of the human politicians started to act -- well, too political. One mayor printed mayoral stationery. Another attended a breakfast for Riverside County mayors.

Then Smith heard about Clay Henry III, the third generation of goats to preside over the tiny Texas town of Lajitas near Big Bend National Park.

Tourists loved to see the Henrys down Lone Star long-neck beers.

A few years ago, Clay Henry III was castrated after he guzzled the wrong man’s cerveza. The trial of his accused attacker, Jim Bob Hargrove, on animal cruelty charges ended with a deadlocked jury after his attorneys argued that he’d been framed.

The goat churned misfortune into money for the town’s school district, with a website that shills T-shirts with his slogan: “I Want Beer for Lajitas!”

He recently outmaneuvered Bo the Dog and the Cigar Store Indian to win reelection, though opponent David Tinsley -- “You Can Own Me for a Beer Too!” -- vilified the mayor as having “no cojones.”

Clay Henry’s story stoked Hurtado’s and Smith’s ambitions for their 200-pound goat.

They took Opie on the fundraising circuit -- the feed store, the salon and the casino -- netting more than $2,000 to fund a college scholarship at Hamilton High School. The goat’s only miscue in the 2003 campaign was at his victory party, when the crowd learned his diaper didn’t quite work.

The goat beat out three men -- including the incumbent mayor, Carl Long, who did not return calls seeking comment.

“The people that lost to him were not happy campers,” Hurtado said.

Robyn Garrison, president of the Anza Valley Chamber of Commerce and owner of the local Dairy Queen, fretted that business owners wouldn’t locate in Anza if they perceived the town as doltish.

“If you’ve got a mayor who’s a goat, do you take the place seriously?” she asked. “I want people to take us seriously. We’re just as legitimate as Los Angeles.”

The chamber let the 2004 election pass without a ballot, but Opie kept mugging for features in the local paper, the High Country Journal.

Sporting a red visor, the goat anchored this year’s Fourth of July parade, peering from a Chevy Blazer.

The next month, the community had to grapple with a new reality: Because the chamber hadn’t sponsored another election, Opie was out of office.

“He does nothing. He can’t even talk,” said Tom Spanley, a retired aircraft engineer and member of the Chamber of Commerce board.

“Mayor Resigns” is how the Journal headlined its flip account, which quoted Garrison as saying the goat had ceased to be mayor last December. “Opie has continued to be mayor only in his own mind,” the paper reported.

Opie seemed to take the news in stride, retiring among chicken coops, horses and fellow goats Georgia and Firecracker.

And the chamber board decided that another community group should take over anointing the town’s leader.

“Maybe we’re getting bigger,” huffed Bob Giffin Krieg, a real estate agent and Opie supporter. “Somebody should run a mule so we have a bigger animal.”



Four-legged mayors

Some towns are going to the dogs; others have gotten their goats. In the 2003 mayoral election in the rural Riverside County town of Anza, a 200-pound goat named Opie beat out three human opponents. No election was held in 2004, and Opie has since been put out to pasture. But at least one goat, a donkey and two dogs are currently serving as mayors:

*--* Animal Name Town Term Dog Bosco Sunol, Calif. 1981-91 Dog Goofy Rabbit Hash, Ky. 1998-2001 Goat Opie Anza, Calif. 2003-04 Dog Junior Rabbit Hash, Ky. Current Goat Clay Henry III Lajitas, Texas Current Dog Devlin Abilene, Texas Current* Donkey Paco Bell Florissant, Colo. Current


*Actual title is “Dog Mayor”

Source: Times research