I'm easily bought. I wrote a column in 1998 spoofing Orange County Sheriff-elect Michael S. Carona just as he was about to begin his first term. A few days later, he called up laughing and said he got a kick out of it.
What manner of public official was this? It turned me into a Carona fan.
Now, with a first term under his belt, the man some thought had no business running for sheriff is being talked about for statewide office. The California Republican Party's failure again to win a major race has some in the GOP dropping Carona's name as a lieutenant governor candidate in 2006.
That's not worth discussing today because it's four years away, and besides, who cares who runs for lieutenant governor? What is worth discussing is Carona's emergence from the near-invisibility of being the county marshal, and whether his success reminds anyone of a certain someone at the national level whom people dismissed as a lightweight but who now is seen as something much different.
To Lake Forest Mayor Richard Dixon, who first met Carona when the then-candidate invited him to lunch, the key to Carona's success is obvious.
"He hasn't changed from that first sit-down in the restaurant, talking about why he wanted me to support him," Dixon says. "He's still a very humble man that truly cares about an individual's position and situations he may be getting involved in. He comes across as a person."
Dixon, a 10-year City Council veteran, says even when he's disagreed with Carona, there was no doubting his genuineness. "There are some people who, if they told you the sky is blue, the first thing you'd do is run to the window and look outside," Dixon says. "If Mike says the sky is blue, you don't have to open the curtains."
There's more than that, Dixon says. Despite holding a job that wouldn't seem to carry much clout outside Orange County, Carona has delivered for the county, Dixon says. "It became very clear that Carona had the ear of leaders throughout the state, all the way to the governor's office," he says. He attributes that to Carona's personality.
Developer Buck Johns is part of the conservative, pro-business GOP establishment in Orange County that first backed Carona. Although outgoing Sheriff Brad Gates had lamented that Carona was barely qualified to be a sergeant, let alone sheriff, Johns liked Carona's politics and steadfastness.
Talk of a 2006 candidacy is premature, Johns says, but he thinks Carona, 47, will keep his options open. Nor does he think the traditional dead zone that is Orange County politics would hurt Carona's chances statewide. "Everyone loves a leader," Johns says. "Where he comes from is inconsequential. Mike has the kind of leadership capability that will attract voters across the board."
This one-sided view of Carona is brought to you only because he's not running for anything soon and to demonstrate what people like about him. If he has political ambitions that stretch beyond Orange County, he'll be tested plenty.
For now, however, this unassuming man, who came out of nowhere, is riding every bit as high as predecessor Brad Gates, considered the county's most powerful politician when he left office.
Carona doesn't act like a power broker, but neither did a recent Texas governor thought to be in way over his head when he ran for president in 2000. Now look at the guy.
Carona for president? Not hardly.
But on the miniaturized scale that now measures Republican candidates in California, it'll be fun to see if the Carona charm plays in Petaluma.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.