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The Perspective From the Polo Grounds

In this Santa Barbara-adjacent sanctuary of gentility, not everyone agrees that the election is the right thing to do.

September 12, 2003|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

CARPINTERIA,. Calif — Champagne flows and sea breezes soothe on a late summer Sunday at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. Women in the grandstand wear splendid hats, waiters serve a fine lunch and velvet green turf stretches far and wide--enough hybrid Bermuda to swallow nine football fields.

It's a setting captivating enough to push aside thoughts of the world outside the towering hedges that rim the club and certainly not a place to invite chitchat about untidy topics like California's recall election.

Yet when asked politely, the regulars at one of the West Coast's oldest polo grounds will answer in kind. They have some thoughts about the recall that are expected. And some that are not.

Yes, there are plenty of wealthy Republicans here who think it's time to give Gov. Gray Davis the boot. For many of them, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger seems like a righteous replacement. But there are others who believe removing an elected governor is simply unfair. And there are idiosyncratic thinkers, weary of candidates who fit into the same tired categories.

Carlos Fairbanks is one of those. The 47-year-old businessman sat handsomely in the saddle last Sunday with his three teammates for his 1 p.m. game in the annual Harry East Tournament.

A Republican and an environmentalist, Fairbanks contributes to groups that he hopes will preserve the ocean and the green hills around Santa Barbara, where he has spent most of his life. He named his first son, 10-month-old Teddy, for his political hero, Theodore Roosevelt.

"He was a conservative but a radical environmentalist," Fairbanks said. On average, "he preserved 8,000 acres a day of open space and parks in each day of his presidency. That is the kind of leadership I would love to have running California."

Unfortunately, Fairbanks said, he doesn't see anyone cast from that mold among the 135 people whose names are listed on the Oct. 7 recall ballot.

He suggested, with only a touch of irony: "I like what Davis is doing to California. The more jobs he chases out of the state the better.... If we could shed a few people we would be much better off."

Besides preserving the state's open spaces, Fairbanks would like to find a leader who would crack down on illegal immigration and bring discipline to the budget, maybe a businessman who has had to meet his own payroll, maybe somebody like state Sen. Tom McClintock. "From what I have heard, McClintock might have his act together. I have my doubts about Arnold ... " he added, his voice trailing off.

Fairbanks said he would keep studying the matter and, most likely, vote if he could find a candidate he could live with.

At halftime, he took a horse damp with sweat to the sidelines for a new mount and waited for the next chukker, while the crowd sauntered onto the field for a polo tradition--replacing hunks of turf torn up by the galloping horses.

"My first reaction to the recall was that it was something we shouldn't be doing," said a trim man in a baseball cap, stomping on a divot. "There's a governor we voted for, millions of people did.

"But then we started hearing from a lot of our friends who felt misled about the financial condition of the state," said the recent retiree, holding a flute of champagne and conceding that he had only recently returned from living in Great Britain. "They felt like the remedies that were suggested sounded a lot worse after Davis was reelected than before and that the problems might have been known, or should have been known, earlier."

The man working the turf with his toe turned out to be Bill Kimsey, who recently stepped down as chief executive of accounting giant Ernst & Young Global at 60, a mandatory retirement age. He said he was leaning toward voting the governor out. "It's just not an easy question," Kimsey said. "It shouldn't be done lightly."

Many others at the 92-year-old club, south of Santa Barbara on the inland side of U.S. Highway 101, are ready to yank the reins away from Davis. They see in Schwarzenegger a kindred spirit -- a man who made his own fortune and who acts decisively.

"California needs someone who is not just good, but fabulous," said Stephanie Flu-Martin, who has lived overseas but always returns to Santa Barbara. "I think Arnold Schwarzenegger has a lot to do with integrity. He came from nowhere and made his own way in the world. He

Fairbanks' mother, Beatrice "Bibi" Fairbanks, concurred. "I'm for Arnold," said the charming grandmother, cheering her son under a tiny Asian parasol and sporting a nearly dime-sized diamond on her finger. "I think he is a doer and that is what you need in anything -- in government, in business, medicine or whatever it is."

But it would be silly to mark polo aficionados or Santa Barbarans as single-minded about the recall. The city went nearly 2-to-1 for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race, after all, and favored Democrat Davis by a wide margin in the 2002 election against Republican Bill Simon.

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