Politicians love holiday cards. For little cost, the cards are a way to put something with a warm-and-fuzzy message in the mailboxes of constituents and campaign donors.
Take, for example, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. Her card this year, as it did last, features her posed and smiling with her three grandchildren.
"May your blessings continue to multiply this holiday season," reads the card. The back includes a useful list of holiday events in her district.
However, as sure as the sun rises in the east and bears wander the woods, there are other officials who see the holiday card as a blank canvas to express things that are perhaps best kept to themselves.
It was just last year that former Councilman Nate Holden dispatched a card featuring him driving a sleigh while a woman -- his then-girlfriend -- posed in the foreground in full equestrian attire.
What made the card most interesting is the fact that the woman in the 1990s had co-written a book titled "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again," about working for Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss.
This year, two holiday cards from elected officials caught this column's eye.
And the nominees for holiday card of the year from an elected official in 2006 are ...
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who represents a slice of central Orange County, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
The last two years, Sanchez has sent Christmas cards featuring her posing with her big white cat, Gretzky.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that last year's card showed her and Gretzky snuggling in bed -- the place where most politicians avoid being photographed.
Even by her own standards, Sanchez's card this year is off the scale. One, she's in a wetsuit. Two, it's not a full wetsuit. Three, she uses an obscure surfing term to invite constituents to pet the cat sitting in her lap.
What do other politicians think about Sanchez's card?
I passed it around the horseshoe at Tuesday morning's Los Angeles City Council meeting and the reactions were varied.
Hahn audibly gasped; Wendy Greuel borrowed it to show to an acquaintance; Herb Wesson asked rhetorically, "Have you met her?" (He has and wasn't surprised); Dennis Zine said, "That's a big dog"; and Tom LaBonge commented: "I didn't know her district included part of the coast."
More from Zine:
"I don't see a sexual content here at all," he said. "It's very creative. But I do think it would have been cute if she was wearing a Santa Claus hat."
Whatever makes you purr, Councilman.
And what does Antonovich have in his envelope?
Antonovich's card has a dove on the cover and the word "peace."
But the inside includes a dozen passages that Antonovich gleaned from the New and Old Testaments. "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control," states one passage, adding that those qualities will help produce a better relationship with "our Lord Jesus Christ."
There's also a photograph paper-clipped to the card, showing the Antonovich family in cowboy gear. On the back of the photo are a few paragraphs about the Antonoviches' year. Constituents learn that they adopted two dogs -- named Lucky Guerrero and Angel Malissa -- and that both Antonovich children are faring well in their studies.
"They are also involved with karate, computer class, piano, soccer and T-ball," states the card. "Mary is also in ballet and Michael has an art class."
And so what do this year's finalists have to say for themselves?
Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said the supervisor sends about 16,000 cards each year and personally signs them.
"He delivers a message on many of them, depending on whether it's a Hanukkah message, Christmas message or personal message," Bell said. "The card goes to all of Mike's friends of all faiths and denominations. These are quotes" -- the Biblical passages -- "that he has picked out himself and that he thinks are apt, and he does it every year."
Bell also noted that passages from the Old Testament reflect Judeo-Christian history.
Asked if anyone has ever complained about getting religious material from a politician, Bell said, "He's not asking anyone to convert; these are blessings Mike would bestow upon his friends to celebrate all faiths."
As for the photo, Bell said the Antonoviches, though dressed as cowboys, do not own a horse. He did say that the supervisor goes on trail rides each year and that appaloosas are his preferred mount.
And what does the congresswoman have to say?
Sanchez noted that she has been sending out cards with Gretzky the cat -- a long-haired Himalayan, who is now 15 -- for a decade.
"I will tell you that when I think about sending out my Christmas card, I think about putting a smile on other people's faces," Sanchez said. "Gretzky is the main star of the card in my opinion, and I always try to add something a little political. If people interpret the card in some other way, that's their mind."
This year, the political message was a photo inside the card showing a giant wave cresting next to the message "May this year's big blue wave" -- that is, the Democrats' election victory -- "carry you into a joyous and happy holiday season."
Sanchez said complaints about her card have been few over the years.
"It's really interesting because there have been a couple of cards where people say that I'm being too sexy, but this is the first time I'm showing leg," she said. "Other times I've been completely dressed -- I'm wearing pants, boots, a blouse buttoned all the way to the neck."
And she said sending out a funny Christmas card doesn't, in her view, distract from the serious work that she does in the House.
"We decided a long time ago that we would send out a card that would make people laugh and enjoy the holiday season instead of everything being so somber," Sanchez said. "If people want to interpret it as nasty or undignified, that's their problem. It's not meant in that way."
And this year's winner?
As the sole judge and jury, I believe Sanchez trumps Antonovich in the category that really counts: chutzpah.
Any last thoughts on 2006?
Los Angeles may be heroically imperfect, but no one loves it more than Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who said the restored Griffith Park Observatory is a gift to everyone in Los Angeles.
Beyond that, LaBonge told the story about how Los Angeles once had streets named Hope, Charity and Faith. Hope remains, Charity became Grand Avenue and he doesn't know what happened to Faith.
"But I hope that we all have the faith that Los Angeles is a great place to live," LaBonge said. "And if we work a little harder and continue to put our hands out to others, we can make it the place we all believe it can be."
Amen, brother. Until Jan. 8, this column is adjourned.
Coming next year: a pop quiz for the school board candidates.