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Losing Herself in Politics : Maxine Quirk has been on the ballot seven times in the last 12 years and has yet to win a race. But the Peace and Freedom candidate says running for office lets the voters know there are alternatives to the established powerbrokers.

November 15, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Maxine Quirk apologized as she handed me the dashboard permit necessary to park my car on the street in front of her house in Old Town Orange. "I voted against having these. But then, I'm used to things not going the way I vote," she said, and it's the voice of experience.

If Democrats think they have cause to feel rejected, they should try being Quirk sometime. The 72-year-old activist has been on the ballot for seven elections during the past 12 years and has lost, lost, lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.

She's not just trounced by her major-party competition, she's all but beneath their notice. This time out, running as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for State Board of Equalization, Quirk polled 44,087 votes, which might seem a respectable number until placed alongside winner Ernie Dronenburg's 1 million-plus votes. Still, she considers it a good showing if she's able to draw 2% of the electorate.

Quirk likes to crochet and to braid old-fashioned rugs. She's had no children of her own but has helped raise some 30 kids: nephews, nieces and others. She has a cat named Chi Chi Foo Foo. She reads, from the Nation to Tom Clancy. But chiefly, Quirk is a nonstop activist.

Under the Peace and Freedom banner she has run twice for the State Board of Equalization and five times for the U.S. House of Representatives. She also is the Orange County chair of the party, as well as being the "convener" for the Orange County chapter of the Gray Panthers and secretary/treasurer for the peace-promoting Nippozan Myohoji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles.

She is a member of Vets of Peace and the Orange County Workers Coalition for Justice and Democracy, which supported the dry-wallers strike in the county. She fought against the passage of Proposition 187 and now is among those hoping to nullify it. In her spare time she works toward closing the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Ga., which she and others contend trains South American death squads.

Lost causes are practically in her blood.

"When the women got the vote, my mother voted for (five-time Socialist presidential candidate) Eugene Debs. I grew up in La Habra and Whittier, and we were in very close proximity to Richard Nixon. My family used to be Republican, but they went over to the Democrats after the Depression in 1929. So they worked against Nixon, not very successfully," she said with a laugh.

Quirk became politically active herself in the 1950s, precinct walking for Adlai Stevenson, one of the most brilliant, articulate and compassionate candidates this country has produced, and, of course, a big-time loser at the polls. That began a real streak for Quirk, who went on to locally support Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.

*

Although the outcome of last Tuesday's election was certainly enough to give her the impression she's paddling against a tidal wave, she didn't seem particularly daunted when we talked the morning after the vote. She'd been up nearly all night listening to the results come in on the radio.

"It doesn't bother me," she said. "I don't know why, except that I just feel like a very small percent of the people can make a very big difference. Maybe you don't get elected or maybe you don't do the things that the big money people do, but you have an influence on what's happening."

If she ever did wake up to find she'd been elected, Quirk admitted her first act would be "to go into shock."

"I frankly have never believed that I would get into government. And it doesn't matter to me. I just feel that I'm working for something that's good. Like Eugene Debs said, 'It's better to work for something that you want and lose than to work for something you don't want and win.' I think he hit the nail on the head."

Quirk had been a 30-year Democrat, though she had her doubts about the party in the early '70s when, precinct walking for McGovern, she found all of her Democratic neighbors were voting for Nixon. She began voting for Peace and Freedom candidates for lesser offices but stayed with her old party.

"Then in 1979 when there was Three Mile Island, I thought, 'Both the Republicans and the Democrats are never going to do anything about this.' There is really no left left there. It's drifted to the right, and Democrats and Republicans are almost identical, and they're in somebody's pocket both of them.

"And so I just switched. I was really glad I did because people in the Peace and Freedom Party seem much more active to me. That was the beginning of a lot of really active times, the anti-nuclear movement was really big, the opposition to registration for the draft, then Central America," she said.

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When she decided to try for public office herself in 1982, her years of campaigning for others had prepared her for the trials of going door to door.

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