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The year in weird: 9 bizarre political stories that rocked 2021

In the midst of a pandemic, growing concerns about the future of American democracy, an uneven economic recovery and a former president who refuses to concede the stage, politics in the United States was filled with anxiety and anger this year.

Then there were the Connecticut state legislators who thought that the real priority should be naming an official state food, the pizza.

Beyond the grim headlines, some stories reminded us that politics can be an odd calling, one that attracts the inept, the bizarre, the crooked and the downright strange to run for office, serve in public positions or try to influence the national debate. Here’s a look at the strangest political stories of the year.

Utah’s governor faces recall for … his name?

Kids can be cruel. So can constituents who object to someone’s last name, as Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) found out. 

An angry, but anonymous, citizen sent the first-term governor a letter in August demanding he change his last name, lest the “decent people” in his home state mount a recall campaign to oust him from office.

“I do not know if you know this, but when people say your surname it sounds like the word cock. It’s obscene!” the constituent wrote in a letter Cox shared online. “Because of your reluctance to change your foul, dirty and obscene surname myself and thousands of other Utahns will be sitting in protest, not standing, until you change your heinous surname to something less offensive.”

Bad news for the outraged Beehiver: Utah doesn’t have a recall mechanism in state law. Cox, who won office by a 32-point margin in 2020, is safe for another few years.

Top New Jersey Dem loses a stunner

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) was for years one of the most powerful figures in Garden State politics. He was a headache for governors, Democratic and Republican alike, with whom he clashed over just about everything.

But he couldn’t outlast a commercial truck driver who spent little on his campaign but who lost an impressive 55 pounds knocking doors and pounding the pavement. Sweeney lost his reelection bid in November to Republican Ed Durr.

Durr has become a minicelebrity in his southern New Jersey district, but he’s not terribly comfortable with his new status. His reaction after Sweeney conceded defeat: “I feel like I’m about to throw up.”

Idaho’s governor feuds with lieutenant

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) is pretty much the archetype of a Mountain West Republican governor: He’s conservative, even if he’s not particularly partisan, and he served in various elected offices before ascending to the top job.

But coronavirus lockdowns drove new anger at Little, from an unexpected source: His own lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin (R). Several times this year, Little has left the state, leaving McGeachin ostensibly in charge, authority she has used to issue executive orders undermining Little’s own power. After one such incident, Little called McGeachin’s actions “tyranny” that “require me to clean up a mess.”

McGeachin recorded an anti-lockdown video showing her in the driver’s seat of a truck holding a gun and a Bible — but not the wheel.

McGeachin isn’t Little’s only rival: Ammon Bundy, the antigovernment activist who was convicted this year of two misdemeanor charges for trespassing and resisting arrest, is also running. He wants a court to count his gubernatorial campaign toward the required 40 hours of community service he must perform as a part of his sentence.

Florida’s fake candidate

Florida state Sen. Ileana Garcia (R) won election in 2020 by a slim 32-vote margin over incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez (D) in a Miami-area swing district. But a third candidate running as an Independent, Alex Rodriguez, took 6,382 votes.

The other Rodriguez, it turns out, was allegedly recruited and paid by former state Sen. Frank Artiles (R) to run for the seat. His mission wasn’t to win — it was to confuse voters who thought they would be voting for the Democratic incumbent.

Authorities charged Artiles with three criminal counts for funneling more than $44,000 to the fake candidate, including $10,000 he paid Rodriguez for a used Range Rover that didn’t actually exist.

Garcia, who won the election, was not implicated in the scheme.

Alabama secretary of state plays with fire, gets burned

One of former President Trump’s most ardent, if ungrounded, supporters is Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow who has advanced wildly unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election that have fallen apart under the barest scrutiny.

But some Republicans have encouraged, or at least placated, Lindell’s insistence that voter fraud took place. And sometimes that encouragement comes back to haunt them, as in the case of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R).

Merrill met with Lindell in September, posting a photo of the two men in front of a ceremonial fireplace. Days later, Lindell claimed cybercriminals “flipped” 100,000 votes cast for Trump in Alabama to count for President Biden, in a state Trump carried by 25 points.

Merrill called out Lindell’s claims for the bunk they were: “We didn’t have any vote changes. Zero. It’s not possible to have any vote changed,” he said.

That same month, Lindell alleged that vote tallies in all of Idaho’s 44 counties had been manipulated electronically. The Republican secretary of state had to remind the public that seven of Idaho’s 44 counties are so small they count ballots by hand and do not use any electronic steps in the vote-counting process.

Kansas state rep can’t stay out of trouble

One of the first members of Generation Z to win election to a major public office isn’t representing his age cohort very well.

Kansas state Rep. Aaron Coleman (D), 21, beat a sitting Democratic state representative in the 2020 primary election, then went on to win election to the legislature. He hadn’t even taken office before seven of his soon-to-be colleagues called on him to resign over domestic abuse and revenge porn allegations.

This year, he was banned from the offices of the Kansas Department of Labor after he demanded access to an employees-only area. Overland Park police arrested him on a domestic violence charge in October, after he allegedly attacked his grandfather and brother. The next month, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Just about everyone in Kansas politics, including House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R), Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Gov. Laura Kelly (D) have called on Coleman to resign.

Michigan state rep’s ‘key’ to success

When Michigan state Rep. Jewell Jones (D) was arrested in September for violating the conditions of his bond on a drunk driving charge, he had problems. He made things a lot worse for himself when he showed up to jail with a key taped to his foot.

That move earned Jones two new charges: a felony charge for allegedly bringing a weapon into the jail, and another for attempted escape. Together, the two new charges could send the state representative away for half a decade.

The ageless candidate

Audrey Clement has run for office several times in Arlington, Va. But her would-be constituents might be a little flummoxed about her age.

The perennial candidate had told news outlets in the past that she was in her mid-50s. But when a reporter from The Washington Post looked into public records, it turned out she was born in 1949 — 20 years earlier than she said. Asked about the discrepancy, Clement invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

Just to be clear, there is nothing illegal about being a septuagenarian. Clement scored 18 percent of the vote in November’s elections, just trailing the winning candidate, who took 60 percent.

Portland’s new brid-diddily-idge

Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” is a native of Portland, Ore., and many of his characters reflect landmarks in the Rose City. Mr. Burns is named for Burnside, one of the main streets bisecting the city; Lovejoy, Quimby and Van Houten, all characters in the show, are also big streets. The Terwilliger Curves give Sideshow Bob his last name.

So what more fitting way for Portland to inaugurate a new pedestrian bridge than to name it for a Simpsons character?

In September, Portland officials unveiled a new bridge over Interstate 405 named for everyone’s favorite left-hander — the Ned Flanders Crossing. We’re sure ol’ Neddarino would be tickled pink.

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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