Ken Wahl talks animals, how he met his wife, and his possible run for Congress

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Ken Wahl was a television star, starring alongside Paul Newman, and is married to a Playboy centerfold.

And he is thinking about a run for Congress.

“I’m still mulling it over,” Wahl told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.

The star of the 1990s television series “Wiseguy,” Wahl, in his words, “virtually fell off the face of the earth” in 1992, when he fractured vertebrae in his neck in an accident that left him disabled but able to walk.

But he recently resurfaced on Twitter, where he has found a medium to express his opinions, which are not of the liberal variety usually found in Hollywood.

“I don’t like to have labels or to be pigeonholed into certain areas, but I guess you could say I’ve always been conservative,” he said.

In fact, the genesis of his Twitter presence, he said, was when he saw House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comment about the Affordable Care Act that “We have to pass this bill so you can find out what is in it.”

“I was so enraged by that, I thought, ‘Good God, that’s your job! Your job is to read bills and then debate them and vote on them,'” Wahl said. “What made it even worse is that the media did not get on her about that; they completely let her slide on that.”

Wahl decided he had to say something, so he started tweeting.

He said he remembered thinking, “I don’t know if anybody’s gonna remember me. I don’t know if anybody’s gonna care.”

As it turned out, people did, and in a big way. Wahl “started getting messages back from people saying, ‘You should run for Congress, you should run for this, you should run for that.'”

“I was very flattered and surprised by that, so I thought, well, if enough people want me to do that, then I’ll think about it,” he said.

“I was really, really surprised by that,” he emphasized.

If he does run, he will either challenge Rep. Henry Waxman, who represents California’s 33rd District, where Wahl owns an apartment, or he will run against Rep. Ron Barber in Arizona’s 2nd District, where he lives most of the time.

He will run as an independent, though he admits he is “definitely right-leaning.”

“I very much have disdain for the political parties and the political process,” he said, calling it “corrupt and it’s all based on money.”

“Whoever has the most money wins,” he says.

“When you consider both Obama and Romney spent a billion dollars each on their presidential campaign, to me that is atrocious,” Wahl went on. “To think what good that money could have done elsewhere than to make a bunch of 30-second commercials.”

Any campaign of his, he said, would not be funded with taxpayer money.

“I don’t want their money. I really don’t. I’m really taking a stand about that. I’m not naïve. I realize if I was actually to mount a campaign, that there would be some money needed,” he said.

“I know you’ve got to get out and talk to people, and we’d at least need gas money to get there, so if someone wants to lend me $20 or $30 for gas, I might take that,” he said.

But, he said, he definitely would not be doing “big campaign fundraisers.”

Since talk of a potential congressional bid began, people have already begun offering him money on Twitter, and he has been turning them down.

“Give that money that you were gonna give to me, give to either pet shelters, pet rescue and veterans disability groups. Give that money to them. Give it to charity. Don’t give it to me,” Wahl says.

Wahl is adamant that he is not a politician.

“Number one, I hate wearing suits, I’m a T-shirt and jeans guy. I hate wearing suits with a passion. When I was an actor I had to wear suits, and I hated it then, but at least they paid me for it,” he said.

“I’m also not a very sociable guy,” he went on.

“I’m not the life of the party. I would much rather sit back and observe people. … I’m not the kind of guy that goes around … kissing babies, though I love babies,” he said.

“I just hate the phony big smile thing, I just hate that political stuff.”

“If I do do it, it’ll be different, ’cause I really don’t have the personality for it,” he said, mocking the thing politicians do when “they shake hands and they put their other hand on the person’s shoulder and look deeply into your eyes like ‘I really care about what you think.’ And they don’t. ‘I want your money, I want your vote.'”

“I’m much more comfortable … one on one, than I am with a lot of people,” he said.

“I don’t even know how I would address a big crowd or anything,” he went on.

“You might think that’s kind of odd given that I used to be an actor, but when you’re a film actor, particularly, you have a scene with another person, you’re just involved with that other person, and you completely ignore the camera … so that doesn’t require any kind of gregariousness,” he said.

“So I get a kick out of it, thinking about it, how it would be,” he said.

Wahl’s wife, Shane Barbi — she signs her emails “Mrs. Wahl” — is one half of the Barbi Twins, and, with her identical twin Sia, was featured on the cover of two Playboy Magazine covers that boosted record high sales.

The two met through a mutual acquaintance who worked at the local grocery store.

“This one day I felt halfway decent and had my buddy take me to the grocery store,” Wahl recounted, which was “a big thrilling out for me” at the time because he was in such bad shape that “the things that you take for granted normally when you’re really well are a big deal.”

While he was there, the girl he knew who worked at the grocery store told him, “I think I’ve got a girl you might like,” she told Barbi, “I think I’ve got a guy you might like.”

But Wahl was in no shape to meet her; so instead, they spent six months talking on the phone before he finally felt up to meeting her in person.

Wahl said the two “just pretty much picked up our conversation where we left it on the phone, and just continued from there.”

We’ve been together ever since,” he said.

Barbi’s political views are also “very independent,” she says. Her husband has dubbed her particular brand of politics the “green tea party”; she calls herself “green independent.”

“I’m a weirdo,” she says of her politics.

The thing that gets Wahl going most is when he starts to talk about animals, and in particular, his work connecting therapy animals to military veterans.

After Wahl’s accident, he recounts, he was working to recover, and he was also struggling with clinical depression.

“At the time, where I lived there were no pets allowed, so I didn’t have any animals around,” Wahl said. But there was a terrace outside his apartment, and “every day at about two o’clock, a little squirrel would come by.”

“And after about a week or ten days, I started to look forward to this squirrel coming at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Wahl said, and he started to “leave out sunflower seeds for her. It was a girl.”

“It got to the point where she allowed me to pet her,” he said.

“I was so starved for an animal, and I didn’t even realize it until this squirrel thing happened, so we moved to a place that did allow pets, and I got a rescue kitty,” he said.

“The littlest thing,” he said, “is such a big deal when you have a chronic condition and you’re so out of it.”

He has been adopting cats ever since.

“When I go get a rescue kitty, I don’t get the perfect ones, I always get the ones who got problems, cause I feel sorry for them, so I’ve had some very old kitties, and some one-eyed kitties … and they passed away,” Wahl said. “So I’ve got one now who’s got vision problem. … She’s young. … They were gonna kill her; she was dead kitty walking. And she’s just the sweetest thing, I just love her to pieces.”

“And I know I sound like a crazy old cat lady,” he adds.

The cat was so helpful to him in dealing with his ailments, that when he learned about the high suicide rate of veterans, he wanted to do something to provide veterans with that same comfort.

“Now, believe me, I’m not comparing myself to soldiers coming back from war. … I’m not trying to compare my injuries to those guys. I walk kind of funny, but I can still walk. And I have all my limbs, I have all my fingers, all my toes.”

Wahl has been working to pair up veterans coming home with animals that can help them feel better.

“When you’re really down, the animals are an incredible comfort and that’s really being down physically or mentally,” he said.

“Because the animals need saving, the people need saving. Put them together, they save each other,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to get overemotional, but it’s something that’s really close to my heart.”

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Alexis Levinson