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.

One of the central planks of Wright's campaign is his pledge to repeal the Controlled Substances Act. Under Gov. Wright, drugs would be regulated and taxed "just like liquor." His fundamental argument holds that most of the problems associated with drugs--main among them violence and gang activity--come about as a direct result of the prohibition of drugs, rather than drug use itself. He argues that prohibition reduces supply without curtailing demand, encourages criminal behavior by providing an economic incentive, and needlessly overcrowds both the state's courts and its detention centers.

"They can't even keep drugs out of prison," says Wright, sounding again one of his at-the-ready campaign slogans. "What kind of tyranny would it take to keep drugs out of society?" He also notes that two of the state's three major parties are in firm agreement on the issue: "Both Democrats and Republicans believe in criminal regulation of narcotics." No question: The day after the September primary, GOP candidate Norm Coleman attempted to criticize DFLer Humphrey for a vote to ease marijuana penalties 25 years ago, while at the same time admitting he got high in college.

Wright would do things a little differently. "If I become governor, I will seek a pardon for all nonviolent drug offenders," he says, though he isn't yet sure how many people that would include.

Daniel Corrigan

You could call casting a ballot for the Grassroots Party the ultimate wasted vote. But if Wright's only interest were in getting high, you wouldn't expect him to spend as much time as he does handing out leaflets and carrying signs to promote the legalization issue at public events--activities he says have earned him no small measure of police harassment. Recently, while proclaiming "Legalize Pot, Free Samples!" at Isanti County's Rodeo Days, Wright attracted the attention of local police who wanted to know more about those samples. Wright explained that his literature was printed on hemp paper. The humorless officers ultimately searched Wright, and came up empty-handed.

"Hell, I haven't gotten high in a year on marijuana," Wright confesses. But he does cop to ingesting a host of mind-altering legal substances: beer, Afri-Cola, and cigarettes. "I'm on tobacco maintenance," he jokes, patting the pack of Marlboros in his breast pocket.

Wright was one of the four founders of the Grassroots Party back in 1986. Eight years later, it ran a full slate of candidates for the state's constitutional offices, and provoked sideways glances from major-party honchos when it qualified for a check-off spot on the state's income tax forms--meaning taxpayers can now direct donations to the party. In that 1994 race, Grassroots gubernatorial candidate Will Shetterly came in third with 20,785 votes, or about 1 percent of the vote. The party's candidates for secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, and attorney general, however, all drew more than 50,000 votes each, perhaps in part because they were the only third-partyers in those races. (Colleen Bonniwell, the party's nominee for treasurer, came close to getting 5 percent of the vote in that contest.)

While there are other Grassroots candidates in smaller races this year, Wright, who ran for congress in 1988, is the party's only statewide representative. The party is active in only one other state, Vermont, where it has major-party status.

Hang around the candidate long enough, and you'll find that the pursuit of life, liberty, and legalized pot isn't the only pressing issue for the lifelong Minnesotan and Minneapolis resident: he's pro-choice, opposed to discrimination against the elderly, and for a fast, reliable public transportation system. The computer network engineer also favors an "electronic bill of rights" for protecting online privacy and safeguarding the free flow of information. As for the question of a new, publicly funded baseball stadium, he believes Minnesota voters have voiced their sentiments loud and clear--against charity for the Twins' fatcat ownership. Still, he says wryly, "I would go along with a stadium, as long I can smoke marijuana along with my beer and hot dogs in one of their suites."

In all, Wright believes there's a spirit of dissent in the Minnesota air this campaign season. "I have a feeling that the third-party vote is going to be the largest this state has ever seen," he predicts. "You cannot change the status quo with a vote for the status quo, because then they have no reason to change."


Reform's Alan Shilepsky calls for voting the 1-2-3 way

by David Brauer

Shilepsky says under his system folks can juggle their votes and keep their consciences clean

A friend and I have the same argument every election season. He finds a minor-party candidate who most precisely reflects our shared political views, then announces that he is voting for that person on principle. I play the role of pragmatist, opting for the major-party contender most likely to keep the worst one from winning.

Alan Shilepsky wants to end the quarrel. Shilepsky, 55, is the Reform Party's nominee to succeed retiring Secretary of State Joan Growe, Minnesota's head electoral cheerleader. While his DFL and GOP rivals earnestly talk about raising voter turnout among minority groups and through education drives, Shilepsky proposes the most radical reform: Change elections themselves.

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