YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Politics in a purple home

October 29, 2008|STEVE LOPEZ

Felix had Oscar.

Mary Matalin has James Carville.

But I've found an even odder couple living under the same roof.

Scott Talkov of the Inland Empire and Erick "E.D." Harris of Missouri are law school roommates and political junkies at Washington University in St. Louis. After talking to them Sunday night by phone, I don't know how they can agree on how to order a pizza, let alone share an apartment.

Talkov, who has a law firm job lined up in Riverside next spring and hopes to go into politics one day, retreats to his room to watch election news on CNN.

Harris, who also hopes to run for political office one day, hunkers down in his own room to watch Fox News.

Talkov, 27, loves Sen. Barack Obama and can't wait for election day.

Harris, 25, is an arch-conservative who will proudly cast a vote for Sen. John McCain.

Oh, and did I mention?

Talkov, the Obama disciple, is white. And Harris, who believes McCain will pull off a big surprise next Tuesday, is African American.

"Sometimes we yell and scream at each other and people at parties think we're going to kill each other," said Harris. "But the next morning we don't even remember half the conversation."

When they moved in together a few months ago, Talkov took the liberty of adorning their front door with some anti-George Bush posters.

"They were removed and put inside my room," said Talkov, who, unlike his roommate, opposed the war in Iraq.

And yet he insists that aside from politics, they love each other's company, like having an opportunity to know how the other side thinks even if it's balderdash, and have been pals since they met more than a year ago.

Dermot Givens, an African American Los Angeles attorney, knows both of them and told me their story. I wanted to know more. I'm up to my ears with all the red state-blue state bickering, and the idea of checking in on a purple household seemed refreshing.

Givens was managing L.A. City Councilman Bernie Parks' 2005 mayoral campaign when he met Talkov. Then a UC Santa Barbara student, Talkov wanted to join the cause but it was clear by then Parks wasn't going to win, so Givens suggested Talkov work instead for candidate Bob Hertzberg. Talkov liked the experience so much that Givens encouraged him to study law as a way into politics.

When Talkov met Harris in St. Louis, he called Givens to say his best friend at school was a black Republican.

There's got to be a mistake, thought Givens. He was planning to visit Talkov anyway, so he decided to turn his trip to St. Louis into an intervention. But he struck out arguing that Democratic politics cater more to the needs of minorities and that Harris was missing a chance to be part of a great moment in history.

"I don't understand where he's coming from," said Givens. "He knows he's black and he loves his family. Something just happened to him and I can't figure out what."

Harris says conservatism was "in the water and in the air" in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where he grew up. That's the home of Rush Limbaugh, and Harris briefly attended the same local college as Limbaugh before going on to Vanderbilt University.

"Yeah," Talkov piped in on our three-way call, "but Rush never graduated."

Harris said he grew up believing he shouldn't be expected to think a certain way based on race alone.

His parents -- who were killed in a car accident when he was 21 -- were Democrats, but his dad was a minister and social conservative. Harris is opposed to abortion and gay marriage, so the GOP was a comfortable fit.

He interned at the Bush White House one summer while at Vanderbilt and then worked in Missouri for former Republican Sen. Jim Talent. The GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility and small government, Harris told me.

Yeah, I said, it's also the party that just went socialist with the massive taxpayer-funded bailout of big business after preaching for years that deregulation and the free market were the Holy Grail.

Talkov howled in the background, but Harris remained as defiant as convicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, arguing that the market would have healed itself without intervention.

He also defended VP candidate Sarah Palin as a "necessary choice" to appeal to conservatives, and said he doesn't have a problem with the GOP smearing Obama as a man of dangerous judgment because of a limited relationship with a former subversive.

It sounded like Talkov was trying to suppress a belly laugh. But it's not as if Harris has no darts to throw at his Obama-loving roommate.

The way Harris sees it, Sen. Obama has spent more time running for office than doing anything substantial while holding office. And if he's going to promise more jobs, better schools and greater access to healthcare while lowering taxes for 95% of all families, it might be nice to know the details.

"I just don't believe he's going to be able to do the stuff he's promising," said Harris.

And Obama, Mr. Hope and Change, did pull off perhaps the biggest flip-flop of the campaign by reneging on his pledge to accept public funds, opting instead to rake in record-setting piles of cash.

"He's brought individual donors into the democratic process," protested Talkov, saying much of the money is from Tom, Dick and Mary rather than corporate titans and lobbyists.

McCain represents the tired and failed politics of the GOP, Talkov argued, while Obama appeals to a broader cross-section. Including African Americans, he said with emphasis.

Yeah, wonderful, said Harris.

"But I'd rather see our country go in the right direction as opposed to just making history."

And so it goes, back and forth, but I like these guys.

For all their sharp differences, this odd couple is more civil than the gasbag pundits and even the blowhard candidates.

Can someone please give them their own TV show?


Los Angeles Times Articles