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Green will bring new tone to Assembly
By Patrick Hoge, Sacramento Bee, Capitol Bureau
April 2, 1999
OAKLAND -- Audie Elizabeth Bock has had an eclectic career -- part-time
East Asian academic, Japanese translator to the stars, foreign film
distributor and international movie marketing consultant.
Now Bock is a national figurehead of the Green Party, a loosely
organized, young, fringe political movement that this week captured a
traditionally Democratic Assembly seat in a special-election upset in
the East Bay.
"Nobody saw me as a threat," a bemused and somewhat bewildered Bock said
Wednesday night, hours after it became clear that she had beaten Elihu
Harris, a former Democratic assemblyman and Oakland mayor, in the 16th
Assembly District, which covers Alameda, Piedmont and most of
"But this district is very progressive. There is a desire here to see a
progressive agenda among Democrats and Republicans alike," said Bock,
53, a single mother of a 14-year-old daughter. She recently taught
ethnic studies for an East Bay community college district and runs a
small foreign language film distribution business from her home in
Green Party members up and down California waxed jubilant at their
unexpected triumph in a district that is 65 percent Democratic. It
marked the first time that a Green candidate has won state office in the
nation, although the party has almost 60 members -- including 29 in
California -- holding local offices in more than a dozen states. Davis
Mayor Julie Partansky is a Green, though the office is nonpartisan.
Democrats, meanwhile, were conducting post-mortems on their failure,
questioning how they could outspend Bock 20-to-1 and lose. "Democrats
failed on Tuesday, but they won't fail in that district in November of
2000," said Bob Mulholland, the state party's political director. "We're
not here getting ready for the next chess tournament."
A relative newcomer to politics, Bock was alarmed when, hours after her
victory, she faced a barrage of questions from reporters and others
about how she planned to hold onto her seat in the 2000 general
"I'm really surprised to be asked that today," she said. "That's part of
what's wrong with the electoral system in California. The constant fund
raising prevents politicians from doing their jobs properly."
More immediately, Bock has pressing logistical problems confronting her,
including hiring a legislative staff and allocating her nearly $250,000
office budget. Assuming that her victory is certified today by the
Secretary of State's Office, Bock is scheduled to be sworn into office
Monday in the Assembly chambers.
Even if Bock is ousted in 2000, Mike Feinstein, one of two Greens on the
Santa Monica City Council, said her victory will have served a profound
Beyond advancing the Greens' agenda of environmentalism, improved access
to health care, increased education spending and decreased military
spending, Feinstein said Bock's victory struck a blow for democracy
against a system rigged for the benefit of the two major parties to the
"What this is telling us is that the electorate is far more Green, and
far more progressive, but our electoral system works against that,"
Feinstein said. "Here was a chance for people to vote green
against the machine."
A major goal of the Green Party, which was established in California in
1990 and certified for the state ballot in 1992, is to reform the
electoral process to allow for proportional party representation in
legislative bodies, as opposed to the current winner-take-all district
Proportional systems are used in numerous other countries, including in
Europe, and reduce the influence of money, Feinstein said.
Raised in Berkeley by idealistic but not particularly politically active
parents, Bock graduated from Berkeley High School two years before Elihu
Harris. She headed east to Wellesley College, where she graduated two
years ahead of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For half a decade after college, Bock lived in Japan, teaching English
near Tokyo, then helping to publish English-language travel books. She
returned to attend Harvard University, where she received a master's
degree in East Asian studies.
Bock entered Harvard's doctoral program and received a Fulbright
scholarship for her dissertation on 10 great Japanese film directors.
She went to Japan and sought to interview directors, among them Akira
Kurosawa, who made "The Seven Samurai" and other classic films.
The two struck up a friendship that was to last until the end of his
life, and she became his translator of choice when he visited the United
Bock's involvement in the film world expanded, and she was an assistant
producer of the international version of Kurosawa's movie "Kagemusha."
That film won a Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Bock's political awakening began in 1990 when she returned to Japan for
a time and enrolled her 6-year-old daughter in a Japanese public school,
which she said was "sensationally good" -- better, in fact, than the
private school her daughter attended in Berkeley.
"When I got back, I had the conviction that the public schools could be
good in this country," she said.
But Bock did not become politically active until about 1995, a year
after she left the Democratic Party because President Clinton's plan for
universal health care had collapsed. She first helped produce and
disseminate a Green Party voter guide, then volunteered on Ralph Nader's
presidential campaign and, last year, Green candidate Dan Hamburg's
campaign for governor.
Early this year, a fellow Green Party member suggested that she should
run for the 16th Assembly District seat.
"They said I didn't really even have to run a campaign if I didn't want
to, but that I could do a very credible campaign by putting in just 20
hours a week," she said. "But I got into it, and I said, 'Hey, if I'm
going to do something like this, do it to win.'
"My goal was to help grow the party and help get the message out. My
primary goal wasn't winning. But if you really do believe in what you're
doing, wanting to win is a key part of it."
Mulholland said he did not think a Green revolution likely. "They're
like mosquitoes. They're still around, but they're not taking over," he
Bock says she will focus on the business at hand. "I have planned to be
a diligent public servant, and if the voters like what I do and they
like what my party stands for, then hopefully that will offer some
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