Transcript Staff Writer
The Jim Lemons political campaign is pretty low key.
There's no television.
There's no radio.
No newspaper ads.
Public appearances are scarce.
Heck, if you attended Lemons' last press conference, consider yourself among the chosen few. Finding the Lemons headquarters isn't easy, either. Granted, there are yard signs and stickers scattered throughout Norman, but Lemons and his staff are very difficult to locate.
There is a campaign spokesman.
And yes, there's also a Web site.
But a vote for Jim Lemons is, well, pretty much impossible.
Because Jim Lemons doesn't exist.
At least not in the flesh.
The brainchild of Norman residents Tres Savage and Josh McBee, the Jim Lemons campaign is a statement; a protest, Savage says, "about the deplorable electoral process Oklahomans have gotten themselves into."
And that protest has become a local legend.
With curious phone calls to The Transcript and questions from seasoned political obser-vers and other candidates, the Lemons campaign has grown far beyond a few yard signs and a Web site.
It has quickly become part of the local political landscape.
And that landscape, Savage says, needs to be shaken up.
As the editor of the University of Oklahoma's student newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, Savage has covered his share of politicians; and it's their behavior, along with the process of getting elected, which bothers him.
"This is personal," Savage said.
"It has nothing to do with my job. It's a protest about ugly political process and how people are being misled." A former intern and Transcript reporter, Savage is no stranger to politics or protests.
And while some protesters choose to rally, march and sing or boycott whatever entity they disagree with, that's not Savage's or McBee's style.
Both are journalists -- college journalists.
And, unlike many players in the state political arena, they actually have something to say. But to be effective the pair knew their protest had to be unique; it had to have some panache, if you will. For them, their political statement had to be something the public would remember, and hopefully, take to heart.
And yeah, it also had to be fun.
"OK, the truth is Josh (McBee) and I were sitting around this summer when we came up with the idea. We were talking about politics when I realized how much I hated the process," Savage admitted to The Transcript.
And thus, Jim Lemons--and his 2006 campaign--was born.
Labor was induced.
"Yes, we were induced by something," Savage said. "But what, I don't want to say."
Taking advantage of the quickest way possible to get the message out -- the Internet's myspace Web site -- the Lemons campaign took its first steps. Following the site's launch, the first bright red yard sign was placed in Savage's yard.
Touting Lemons' name and the slogan, "Make lemonade 06" the sign caught the attention of locals and more signs -- and supporters -- followed.
And, before long, Savage had produced 500 yard signs -- at a cost of almost $800 -- urging voters to support the unseen candidate. "We looked at it like this: No matter who you're gonna vote for you're gonna get a lemon. So that became our slogan."
And even though Lemons claimed no party affiliation, nor did he seek any particular office, his campaign continued to expand -- due in part, Savage said, to the public's frustration with mainstream candidates, political parties and the media. "Plus the fact there really isn't anyone trying to do anything different."
But to keep their momentum their candidate had to seem real.
Back to the Internet.
Complete with photographs and "news" stories, the Jim Lemons' site includes some personal information, but little political insight:
Lemons says he's 51 years old.
He says he's married.
He says he has grandchildren.
He says he's straight.
He says he's a Capricorn.
He claims to be a resident of Norman.
He also says he's a Christian, a proud parent and a college grad.
And his chief political rival is a man named David Dibble.
Lemons, according to his Internet site, has also been busy: The candidate has hosted at least one impromptu campaign rally and a fall press conference. In a September press release, Lemons even responds to questions about his campaign literature being found at the scene of several area drug busts.
"Because hundreds of supporters have been spreading my message and sticking my stickers all across Norman, it's unavoidable that some of the thousands of marijuana users in this city might happen to venture past my campaign postings," Lemons' release said. "I think, if anything, that these so-called seedy sightings of my election paraphernalia only prove the strength of my campaign."
In another posting, Lemons, like many local candidates, addresses his problems with yard signs being destroyed.
"There have been reports that Mr. Dibble and his associates have been involved in the disappearance of my signs," the site says, "but I do understand that David is a documented kleptomaniac and has been seeking treatment at various facilities for multiple years. Thus, I do not want to turn his struggle with a crippling psychological syndrome into a campaign issue."
The tongue-in-cheek volley comments on the recent spate of television stories covering controversies about thefts and defacing of candidates' yard signs.
As Lemons' stealth campaign continued, his strategy evolved and, consequently, a new theme was adopted. "I was working as an intern for the Oklahoma City Gazette and was covering the 5th Congressional District race, and I was amazed by the rhetoric -- faith, family and all that stuff," Savage said. "I wanted to take a shot at that."
The result, Savage said, was a new campaign theme: "Jim Lemons -- America, families, etc."
"That pretty much summed up our feelings," he said. "We're trying to throw Oklahoma politics a curve ball. It needs a curve ball."
So far, Savage and McBee have thrown strikes.
From the huge increase in requests for yard signs to the unscheduled campaign rally, Jim Lemons and his cadre of supporters are injecting a bit of fun and political theater into an otherwise drab campaign season filled with sleaze, mud-slinging and ever-increasing claims of negativity.
"It's not just the politicians," Savage said. "I'm also frustrated with the media; they are part of a politician's plan to get elected. The politicians want to get publicity. They mostly court television, more than print, for sure, but the trick is to get attention. And yet, at the same time, no one in the media is holding any candidate's feet to the fire."
As an example, Savage cites the Senate District 16 race.
"None of the candidates separated themselves from one another," he said. "There was hardly anything about how the candidates stood and what they believed in. Plus, early in the primary they were all heavy into yard signs. I was talking with Josh (McBee) about it and we agreed: If you were just going on yard signs early on, Ott would have been elected."
That race, Savage said, and the fact that the state's voter turnout has been incredibly low for the election cycle, gives Lemons' campaign more standing.
"It's something different," Savage said. "It's far from the norm. Lemons appeals to people who don't tune into what's going on right now between Thad and Wallace and Sparks and Davis. Lemons is for those people who are so disgusted they don't care about the other."
The campaign's focus, Savage says, is on those who are frustrated.
"If only 30 percent of the registered voters in this state vote, then Jim Lemons is for the other 70 percent," he said.
With just days left before the Nov. 7 election, Savage said the Lemons campaign isn't worried. "We're telling people to write Lemons' name in," Savage said. "Even if it does invalidate their ballot."
"In Oklahoma, write-in candidates are not counted," says Cleveland County election board secretary, Paula Roberts. "Our machines are not set up to read write-in candidate names. And writing in a name could invalidate the ballot."
That fact doesn't bother Savage, he says, because not allowing write-in candidates is wrong. "It's ridiculous and it needs to be changed," he said. "I know I will be writing Lemons' name in and I highly encourage anyone who doesn't know who they are voting for to write Lemons' name in."
People, he said, should not be discouraged from voting.
"That's why we've put the date on our sign," he said. "To let people know when they could vote."
So what happens to Jim Lemons after the election?
"I think Jim will stick around," Savage said. "I was thinking, 'From now on anytime I want to be philanthropic to help further society, Jim Lemons will help me do it.' Plus he may write the occasional opinion piece or letter to the editor."
A fictional way to solve some very real problems, he says.
And Lemons today?
"Oh he's everywhere," Savage said. "That's what the signs say."
M. Scott Carter 366-3545 firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcript Staff Writer
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