Brian Mittge Commentary: Standing Up to Be Counted


Longtime readers of this column might have noticed that I seem to have a fondness for colorful characters, especially those who run for public office.

It’s true.

I’m fascinated by how people relate to one another in a community. Elections, in a way, are a microcosm of human relationships and the complex diversity of our fellow men and women.

Putting yourself out there in a run for public office crystallizes the mixture of comradery, puzzlement, satisfaction and friction that most of us feel when interacting and trying to relate to one another in this wonderful but imperfect world.

We have major candidates who reflect broad swathes of the community — and then we have contenders who, shall we say, bring a whole different attitude to the ballot. While far outside the political (and often social) mainstream, they sometimes catch hold of a small but important thread that just might connect to something worth noticing. Sometimes it’s an idea whose time has not yet come. Other times its nothing more nor less than a full-throated expression of all-American independence — or quirkiness.

And so today I say a farewell to Javier Lopez, a painter and frequent political candidate. He ran for both local and statewide offices without success — unless one measures success as standing up to be counted against the odds and dictates of convention. In that case, he was accomplished, indeed.

Lopez, who died March 15 at age 79, was remembered in his obituary as a beloved husband, father and “a prolific artist, dedicating his life to the creation of paintings and murals.”

A 2008 Chronicle profile described the walls of his Bucoda home as covered in “edgy renderings of George W. Bush, Marilyn Monroe and Jesus Christ,” including apocalyptic scenes from the book of Revelation.

Lopez, a Republican, ran for governor in 2004, 2008 and again in 2012, when he had his best showing (receiving 6,131 votes in the primary, or 0.4% of the vote, coming in 9th out 10 candidates, including finalists Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi).

In his 2008 voter statement, he claimed to have invented an engine that ran on air as its power source.

Lopez, born of an Apache Indian mother and a Jewish father, reflects to me the diversity of democracy. As we’re continually re-creating our republic, these outsiders help remind us that this nation really does belong to all of us.

“We don’t have any problems in Washington except the politicians we choose,” Lopez told The Chronicle in 2008. “We continuously keep the good people out of our political lives. I want to say to people, put yourself on the ballot. Make sure we have options. If Washingtonians do not see that, then they’re going to deserve what they get.”

I don’t know about the practicality of an engine that runs on air, but I do think that Lopez was onto something, with that quote at least. It captures an essential slice of the American spirit.

Farewell, Javier, and thanks for standing up in your own unique way.


Brian Mittge’s column appears in his hometown newspaper each Saturday. Contact him at