Because They Can

Six minor-party contenders for governor promise to bring back the primo dime-bag, turn the governor's mansion into a flophouse, tax water, get big brother out of your bedroom, ditch the nukes, and reveal the secrets of gravity-defying hair.

In 1993, Davis ran for mayor of Minneapolis, netting 100 votes to place 14th in an 18-way free-for-all primary. The next year, Davis scored 4,613 votes in his on-the-ballot bid for governor under the Nutritional Rights Alliance banner, outpolling only the Socialist Workers Party candidate in the six-way race. Davis notes that the party, which carried the same environmental themes, might have benefited from being listed as "NRA" on the ballots. Matching that total could be trickier this year, since voters will actually have to pencil him on their ballots.

At 61, the single father of four has the indefatigable energy of a young up-and-comer. Davis makes his home and office in a drafty, defunct bar near the corner of Lyndale and Lowry in North Minneapolis. He serves coffee in beer mugs to his visitors. The wooden bar sports his telephone and neat stacks of paper documenting his pro se legal fights against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (One suit over an ash dump in Rosemount was recently dismissed; he's waiting to hear an appellate court decision related to the garbage burner on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.) He's the only one in the old gin mill, but there's plenty of room for company with 12 stools with flower-print seat covers parked at the bar.

The walls of the old public house are decorated with posters for never-ending battles and news clippings immortalizing past clashes: Yes! To Hemp: Food Fuel Fiber Medicine. Yes! To Hydrogen! Ban Leghold Traps! Did Your Food Have a Face? Go Vegetarian. One corner houses cardboard boxes thick with alphabetically filed manila folders labeled "Radioactive," "Ramsey County," Rivers," "Solar." The wall space between the men's and women's bathrooms is adorned with photocopied clippings of the "Little Alfie" fight near Ely, Minn., in which Davis and Co. succeeded in delaying the U.S. Forest Service's efforts to sell old-growth pines for logging, but ultimately failed to stop it.

It wasn't always thus. Once upon a time, eco-warrior Davis sold "coordinated career clothing" for women, and by his own reckoning moved mountains of polyester product. Davis gushes, "Oh, a lot of it! You bet. Millions of dollars of polyester. In 1979, I sold $6 million of that stuff. I don't know if I should be bragging about this." But the garment business fell by the wayside after Davis took a swim in the Mississippi River and came out with his skin burning. In the late '70s, he got involved in a fight with NSP over the utility's proposal to burn PCBs at one of their plants and never looked back. In 1983 he founded Earth Protector Inc., his incorporated alter ego.

Davis sounds a little hurt at the mention of the Green Party, which he perceives as stealing some of his eco-thunder. "I thought they should've gotten behind me," Davis says. Referring to this fall's Green gubernatorial hopeful, he figures that the party is running an "office manager" for governor, but adds, "Ken Pentel is a nice boy. He wears a helmet when he rides his bike." Davis recalls that one Green stalwart went so far as to label him a "soloist."

Was that a polite way of saying "gadfly"? Davis bristles. "I don't like that word, 'gadfly,'" he counters in his still-lingering Brooklyn accent. "I'm a dedicated, committed environmental activist."

The candidate's principal campaign proposal, "The Davis Water Plan," calls for a 2-cent-per-gallon water tax to be levied upon Minnesota corporations using underground well water. (Davis says the Department of Natural Resources currently charges $4.50 per million gallons of water.) He estimates that the plan, once it gets going, will generate $2 billion per year for the state, which could in turn be used to cut personal and corporate taxes. Other issues he's pushing include establishing industrial hemp, organic food, and renewable energy industries in Minnesota.

As for his below-the-radar, off-the-ballot stealth campaign, Davis isn't worried. Ever the optimist, he sees at least one ray of hope--in younger voters. He makes a habit of hitting student unions at local college campuses, where he presses "The Davis Manifesto" into the hands of unsuspecting kids. "I might be able to reach the college students, if I can turn them out," he figures. If not, Davis will barely break his stride: "Life is not over for me after November 3. I continue on."

Chris Wright
Grassroots Party

Skip Humphrey isn't the only gubernatorial candidate who can boast of bringing a landmark smoking-related case before the courts. On September 29, Grassroots Party candidate Chris Wright and his attorney Randall Tigue went before the State Court of Appeals to argue that the inalienable right to grow--and sell--one's own dope is guaranteed by some parchment rolling paper known as the Minnesota state constitution.

Wright can quote Article 13, Section 7, which dates to 1906, from memory: "Any person may sell or peddle the products of a farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor." The case is appealing Wright's 1996 gardening-related conviction in Hennepin County after Minneapolis Police confiscated Wright's "incredibly great farm products." Wright wound up with a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.

He figures the ultimate service to the community will come if he prevails in court. "If I win my case, not only will I grow vast quantities of marijuana, I will sell vast quantities of marijuana. I will give everyone the right to smoke vast quantities of marijuana," proclaims the 40-year-old Wright, who often wears his long, flowing brown hair in a ponytail. "And I'll bring back the $10 ounce of primo bud!" He dubs the election a "reefer-endum."

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