Some Cat's Running for Mayor

As the feline frontrunner for a mayor's race in Mexico suggests, sometimes it takes a political animal to make a protest vote count.
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(PHOTO: CREATIVE COMMONS)

(PHOTO: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Usually around the time people get fed up with their politicians, some jokester gets the bright idea to run an animal, fictional or real, for higher office. And so it is in Xalapa, the capital of Mexico’s Veracruz state and historic home of the jalapeño pepper, where some cat named Morris is burning up social media as an unofficial entrant—the “candidigato”—in the mayor’s race.

Xalapa isn’t particular dysfunctional. Yes, it has a form reached from the homepage on the city’s website for denouncing corruption, but what larger government in Mexico couldn’t make good use a similar button? And it also offers a fairly thorough litany of local laws and financial statements under a tab dubbed “Transparency.”

Nonetheless, "Morris has become an expression of how fed up people are with all the parties and a political system that does not represent us," the cat’s kingmaker and chief feeding officer, Sergio Chamorro, told The Guardian.

Morris has become an actual “thing” in Mexico, spawning 139,000 Facebook likes so far (way more than the other four candidates have combined).

While Morris' stalking horse candidacy may be tongue in cheek, that sentiment is not. Chamorro said self-appointed monitors will curl up at some polling places to make sure the Morris vote is cast, even if it won’t count.

The Instituto Electoral Veracruzano has promised to annul any votes that are cast for the cat come July 7, and urges citizens to avoid this particular protest vote “because it doesn’t help democracy in Veracruz.” And even Animal Planet—which really ought to be in his corner—labeled his effort a “broma,” or joke. Jokes—cheap, plentiful, but not necessarily inaccurate—surround this kitty, such as the poster of a napping Morris and the legend, “Plenty of legislative experience.”

But Veracruz’s governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, has endorsed, if not Morris, then the impulse behind his run, calling the feline “respectable” during Xalapa’s Freedom of Expression Day. Such impulses have borne electoral fruit before; in Brazil, “Cacareco vote” has referred to protest votes ever since a rhinoceros of that name (a female candidate to boot!) topped balloting for the Sao Paulo city council in 1958.

Morris has become an actual “thing” in Mexico, spawning 139,000 Facebook likes so far (way more than the other four candidates in the race have combined) and a stable of political copycats–Chon the donkey in Ciudad Juárez, TinTan the dog Oaxaca, and in Tepic a chicken named Tina.

Morris, however, remains the king of the beasts, based less on his platform or stump speech—predictable slogans like, "Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a cat," and more honest offerings like, “Candigato promises nothing more than the other candidates: Rest and frolic"—and more on his cool, Obama-inspired social media presence, including a Shepard Fairey-esque “Yes We Cat” image. (No word yet on where the underlying image of Morris came from, but since the Internet is, after all, made of cats....) Initial funding for his bid came via the sale of bumper stickers at 50 pesos apiece, and T-shirts and other tchotchkes are giving him a visibility far beyond Mexico’s east coast.

Jay Leno got off his own offering: “In Xalapa, México, a cat ran for mayor. You know the difference between a cat and a politician? Cats don't pretend to care about you.” To which Morris, via Facebook, replied on message in Spanglish: “"Hey ... just are honest ... and there is an abyss between nosotrs [us] and politicians.”

The small place usually reserved for political animals is in nomenclature, whether the butterfly ballot or donkey voting (which genuinely describes dumb asses in the electorate).  But when an animal runs, it seems to be not only a reflection of voter disgust, but also a barometer of the health of local democracy. While not all of his human opponents were first class, you’re not going to see a cat running against Putin anytime soon. But put up an animal, or a monkey mascot, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and you’re making a statement both that you’re mad as hell and you’re willing to point out the absurdity of the system to make it better.

That was the case with Cacareco. Her election, across all social lines but never consummated, saw loads of hand-wringing from the chattering classes, who saw such shenanigans as a bad sign of public discontent. "Better to elect a rhino than an ass," as one voter was quoted. At least it’s not foot powder.

That animal, plant, and silly celebrity bids for office offer a legitimate, minor-key outlet for protest, akin to many more serious protest parties, is a form of what Duke’s Daniel Kselman might consider "voter signaling." In the United States, at any rate, it’s no sillier than the majority of third-party bids, which are aimed at breaking up what Micah L. Sifry, in his new book on third parties, termed the “near total paralysis” created by the “two-party dupololy.” Why not the beast?

But I wouldn’t take the idea too far, even if it is attractive. Witness Tom T. Hall’s take in his 1972 song, "The Monkey That Became President:" “It was more than weary sociologists could stand.”  (How time makes the once innocent suspect....) A lot of animal candidates are clearly just jokes, and not pointed ones, as this list on Wikipedia demonstrates. And some were even commercial adjuncts, like the Finicky Party candidacies in 1988 and ’92 of the original Morris, shameless shill for Big Cat Food.

The best known example wasn’t a democratically elected critter, but Caligula’s horse Incitatus. According to the Roman historian Suetonius—who in this case wasn’t above reporting a rumor—the emperor planned to make his favorite ride a consul, presumably to make a point about politicians and equine anatomy that’s still pertinent today.

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