Macho Hollywood actor Val Kilmer has starred in more than 40 movies, often playing tough cops and Western gunfighters. He's probably best known for playing the 1995 Batman and punching out a villain called The Riddler. Now
Kilmer wants to become a political hero by running for the governorship of New Mexico.
Don't laugh too hard. Kilmer lives in New Mexico at least part-time, and the license plates say it's the Land of Enchantment.
And the West has a tradition of Hollywood actors taking leading roles in real life. The most macho movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, plays the governor of California. That role was previously defined by a mediocre actor, Ronald Reagan, who got such great reviews that he ended up starring in the White House.
Kilmer says he may run in 2010, and if he does, he says, he's confident he'd win the election. He tells Associated Press, "I'm just looking for ways to be contributive." That indicates he needs a screenwriter to help with his dialogue. The AP adds, "Kilmer said ... it wouldn't have to be a conventional campaign."
No kidding. And Kilmer could play the role like a New Mexico Batman, moving the governor's office into Carlsbad Caverns, and tricking out the governor's limo to be like the Batmobile. He could roar out of his Batcave lair to battle New Mexico's villains, which include (in action-movie lingo) the Evil Legion of Chronic Poverty, the Joker of Heroin and Droughtwoman.
Maybe it should be a trend, because other Western states have huge problems that need heroes on the scale of the big screen. Anyway, it's a fun game, imagining which actor fits where.
Montana? How about Gov. Wolverine, the snarling X-Men mutant superhero played by Hugh Jackman? (I know, he's from Australia, but still.) He could use his titanium claws to defend the Last Best Place from the Coal Developer Hordes—invaders from a parallel universe where there is no global warming.
Wyoming's next governor? Clint Eastwood, obviously. The former gung-ho Hollywood cowboy has matured into making movies that reflect on the negatives of the mythology. He could lead the Cowboy State into the 21st century.
Tina Fey could simply take over Alaska, doing her dead-on imitation of Gov. Sarah Palin. But I think Fey would be even more effective in Idaho. Palin herself graduated from the University of Idaho in 1987 and remains popular in the state. Gov. Fey would unify Idaho Democrats (who get the joke) with Idaho Republicans (who don't).
Gov. Robert DeNiro would lead Nevada with a perfect wink and a wry grin, drawing from his many performances as a likeable rogue. He's already played a casino operator and a prizefighter and somewhat ethical mobsters—ideal experience for the state.
Oregon, the counterculture state, could be led by a team: Cheech and Chong as governor and lieutenant governor. Comic actors Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong would liven up press conferences with their bong-smoker routines, appealing to all generations of muddleheads. Like wow, man, better do something to save the salmon, you know?
Utah, the Mormon state, needs spiritual political leadership. How about Gov. Ben Kingsley, stretching his Oscar-winning performance as Gandhi? Possible alternate: Utah Gov. Madonna, just to hear it said out loud.
Colorado, the self-consciously sophisticated, tightly muscled state, would have good symbolic leadership with "Gov. Bond—James Bond," played by Daniel Craig, the latest actor in that superhero role. Bond movies feature many skiing action scenes, so the governor could count on support from that industry.
Gov. Juan Valdez—meaning any of the actors who've played the fatherly coffee growers in that 50-year series of TV ads—would be good for Washington. He'd appeal to Seattle's coffee-drinking crowd and the hometown global company, Starbucks, and would know what's important to his constituents (trade policies). Arizona, a state with primitive politics, including a legislature that doesn't believe in global warming, deserves to be led by a cartoon character, Gov. Homer Simpson. (Homer already works in a nuclear plant that resembles Arizona's Palo Verde plant.)
California has the greatest problems—billions in the red, systems breaking down, political gridlock. Gov. Schwarzenegger has tried to loosen the entrenched interests by knocking heads. When his second term ends in early 2011, California will need an even bigger Hollywood head-knocker. How about a giant chest-pounder, Gov. King Kong? On second thought, maybe only a vampire could get people to work together in California.
Ray Ring is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the magazine's senior editor in Bozeman, Mont.