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Some of my favorite stories of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, I’ve been ruminating on my favorite political moments of this year – not the most important or impactful ones, perhaps, but the ones that either made me shake my head in amazement, or guffaw out loud, or both.

And so, in no particular order:

Homeless NeelNeel Kashkari takes it to the streets: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, distrusted by the more conservative elements of his own party, managed to beat out a more right-wing rival to finish second behind Gov. Jerry Brown in June’s top-two primary. In July, he made an inspired attempt to rekindle his unusual momentum (for when was the last time you saw a statewide GOP candidate running on so ardent an anti-poverty platform?) by spending a week “undercover” pretending to be jobless and homeless on Fresno’s streets. I said it then and I still believe it: “You’ve gotta give him credit for cojones. Whether California voters believe the state is worse off under Brown’s stewardship remains to be seen, but this is not something you would’ve seen Meg Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, Dan Lungren or Pete Wilson do in a million years.”

Neel's drowning kidNeel Kashkari drowns himself in hyperbole: Aaaaand then we had the rest of Kashkari’s campaign. Unable to maintain the buzz that his “homeless” stint created, polls shows his campaign on the slide as contributions dried up. In October, he aired a television ad depicting his rescue of a child that Brown had left to “drown” in poor schools. Candidates want people talking about their ads, but if the viewers’ main sentiment is, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?,” you’re probably doing it wrong.

ManoramaManorama K. Joshi (or Manorama J. Kumar): The 17th Congressional District battle between Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, had a lot of weird moments, but few that rivaled the revelation that Khanna donors and supporters had been instrumental in getting Republican Joel Vanlandingham onto the ballot. It seemed the idea was to dilute the GOP vote that would’ve gone to Republican Vanila Singh, as a means of ensuring Khanna would finish second behind Honda in June’s top-two primary. “No, I don’t want to talk to anybody, thank you,” Joshi replied when I buzzed her Newark apartment. Yeah, I’ll just bet you don’t.

Leland Yee (photo by Karl Mondon)“Uncle” Leland Yee gets pinched: When an editor called me early one morning in late March to tell me state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, had been arrested, I could never have anticipated the circumstances. Payoffs and gun trafficking and a Dragon Head named Shrimp Boy… oh, my! The affidavits accompanying the original criminal complaint and the superseding indictment filed in July made for 2014’s most compelling political reading, hands down. And yet Yee finished third in a field of eight candidates for Secretary of State in June’s top-two primary. Seriously, California?

DRAPER map 022514Six Californias comes apart at the seams: Honestly, it took me a while to figure out whether renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper was serious about his plan to split California into six states, or if he was doing some sort of Andy Kaufmanesque political performance art demonstrating the absurdities enabled by our ballot initiative system. As it turned out, Draper was for real, and so was the $5.2 million he sank into gathering signatures to put his measure on 2016’s ballot. But not enough of the signatures were real, so he blew it, depriving all of us of two years worth of joke-making.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.