Low-profile candidates voice issues

by Michelle Moriarity

As this year’s major-party candidates fight public battles over hot-button issues such as crime and taxes, a host of lesser-known candidates are struggling to make their voices heard on issues left by the wayside on the campaign trail.
“It’s easier to get a fix on our large parties,” said state election director Joe Mansky. “Most of the political territory is covered by the major parties.”
The inclusion of such high-profile names as Humphrey, Ventura and Coleman has made the struggles of low-profile figures lacking strong name recognition statewide all the more significant.
“The minor parties are clearly there to advocate issues that people believe aren’t being advocated by the major parties,” Mansky said.
Because of their strong stances on issues from environmentalism to drug legalization, minor party candidates Chris Wright and Ken Pentel, and write-in candidate Leslie Davis are working hard to make names for themselves in Minnesota’s political scene.

Write-in candidate
Leslie Davis
As founder of the Minnesota-based Earth Protector political action group, Leslie Davis, 61, has lobbied against environmental hazards as garbage burning, illegal toxic waste deposition and deforestation since 1982.
As governor, he said, he will distribute the Davis Manifesto, a document detailing his policy recommendations, to the state Legislature.
His recommendations include a tax charging 2 cents per gallon of water used for industrial production, as opposed to the current $4.50 per million gallons.
That action alone, he said, will create a $2 billion budget surplus for funding state economic, educational and environmental programs.
Davis said he stands out from typical write-in candidates because of his innovative ideas. Coupled with an aggressive grass-roots style campaign, he said he hopes to gain statewide recognition as a political figure.
“Those people that are going to vote have mostly made up their minds who they’re going to vote for,” Davis said. “I have to create an interest and an excitement before our elections.”
A significant part of that campaign includes appearing at the University. By approaching students at Coffman Union and spreading his ideas, he said he hopes to ignite student interest in starting an environmental revolution.
“The best thing I can do is get 100,000 students on any given day on the state Capitol with the Davis Manifesto,” he said. “If (activism) stopped the Vietnam War, it can stop the war on the environment.”
If he doesn’t win the election, Davis said his efforts in environmental activism will proceed. He will continue to lobby for environmental causes, he said, and run for the U.S. Senate in 2000.
“I’m here to stay,” he said. “My campaign headquarters will stay open. If it’s not me, it’s nothing.”

Green Party
Ken Pentel
As director of the Minnesota chapter of the Ralph Nader-Winona LaDuke presidential campaign in 1996, Ken Pentel, 37, helped gain recognition for the Green Party nationwide. As a gubernatorial candidate this year, he hopes to do the same in Minnesota.
“We offer the most effective base for change of any party,” Pentel said. “I feel that there needs to be different people making important decisions as elected officials.”
Pentel said as governor he will decentralize economic and political power and pursue organic farming and solar heating as means of investing natural resources more wisely.
“We need to build economics that give people full dignity,” Pentel said.
As governor, he added, he wants to eliminate corporate campaign finance.
“We want total public-financed campaigns so the public officials can do the job they’re elected to do, instead of raising money,” he said.
Pentel applies the same standard to funding University programs. Public funding for higher education should increase in proportion to decreases in private and corporate funding, he said.
“I believe that corporations’ influence on higher education has influenced our ability to provide a liberal base of knowledge access to everyone,” Pentel said. “I want to make sure that universities are not conduits for corporate subsidy.”
In order to make higher education more accessible to students, Pentel proposes a credit system under which individuals are awarded food, rent and entertainment credits in return for volunteer services.
“It’s a different way of rewarding people than we do now,” he said. “That’s important.”
Pentel is endorsed by the Free Burma Coalition and the Grand Marais River Protection Project.

Grassroots Party
Chris Wright
Chris Wright, 40, has two main goals during his campaign: to promote public safety through the legalization of all mood-altering substances and to uphold the basic tenets outlined in the Bill of Rights, especially the freedom of speech.
“Marijuana is not unsafe, and I have proven that,” Wright said. “I’m the only candidate in the election who has the chance to legalize pot.”
Wright, who has promoted marijuana legalization actively through campaigning and demonstrations, helped establish Minnesota’s Grassroots Party in 1986.
The following year, he organized the first Minnesota Tea Party, in which people protested marijuana laws on the state Capitol mall.
Instead of prohibition, Wright said, marijuana and other drugs should be taxed and regulated like alcohol. The additional tax revenue, he said, should fund rehabilitation programs for individuals addicted to drugs.
Wright, who attended General College at the University from 1976 to 1978, said as governor he would encourage the University’s administration to establish low-interest student loans.
“I think the state can afford, with the tobacco surplus, to find a loan program,” Wright said.
He would also begin a University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, he said, “so we could take political action against our ideological enemies.”
Wright said he has two plans to strengthen programs that offer affordable housing to urban residents. The government should increase advertising funds for programs like Habitat for Humanity to increase visibility for working-class individuals. If Minnesota pursued industrializing hemp to use for houses, he added, residents could build and purchase homes that don’t endanger trees.
Wright said even though his ideas are uncommon, he believes they have merit and can improve Minnesota’s quality of life: “You never change the status quo if you’re voting for the status quo.”