“This will be my last campaign,” Booth Gardner said. “This will be the biggest fight of my career.” He walked along the lane between the beach of driftwood and his compound of houses. The driftwood clotted the shore; it was the end of summer now, and the cove was still, but in winter massive branches and trunks churn up out of the water of Puget Sound. Bone-white roots clawed at the air on this late afternoon; Gardner’s grandchildren climbed across them. His walk was a vigorous lurch. One foot twisted inward, one knee buckled. His torso keeled slightly with each step. He has Parkinson’s. He was governor of Washington State for two terms in the 1980s and ’90s. He is 71, and his last campaign is driven by his desire to kill himself. “I can’t see where anybody benefits by my hanging around,” he told me, while his blond grandchildren, sticks prodding, explored the water’s edge.
From the beach on Vashon Island, where Gardner spends much of his summers, not far from Seattle, he drove me to the island’s town. His Lexus was cluttered with debris: a crushed soda can, a tattered magazine put out by a local pollster, an old plastic cup from McDonald’s, a torn T-shirt, sunglasses missing a lens. Wearing a gray fleece, he led me into a simple restaurant with rustic dÃ©cor. Full cheeks and green eyes impish, he chatted with the waitress and tried to start conversations with the people at tables around us. “You’re not having dessert?” he asked a young couple immersed in each other. Almost everyone seemed to recognize him, and almost everyone was friendly ”” he’d been the state’s most popular governor in recent decades. But it wasn’t always clear how interested they were in talking. The young couple gazed back at him, perplexed. It was 14 years since he’d been in office.
“Why do this?” he asked, turning from the other tables toward me. “I want to be involved in public life. I was looking for an issue, and this one fell in my lap. One advantage I have in this thing is that people like me. The other” ”” his leprechaun eyes lost their glint; his fleshy cheeks seemed to harden, his lips to thin, his face to reshape itself almost into a square ”” “is that my logic is impeccable. My life, my death, my control.”
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