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Back of the Pack 

Getting down with Vermont's independent and alternative-party candidates

America's two-party system is like the weather: Everyone complains about it, but no one does a thing to change it.

That is, almost no one. Each electoral cycle, we in the media focus virtually all our attention on the well-coiffed frontrunners - those candidates who ride under the gilded banners of elephants, donkeys and, in Vermont, moose. But for those other guys and gals who don't enjoy the luxury of six-figure campaign funds and legions of party faithful to stuff envelopes and lick stamps, the race for elected office is often a long, lonely ride.

Invariably, those "also running" must scratch and fight - sometimes literally, as noted here - for the mere crumbs of the democratic process: an inclusion in a candidates' forum here, a brief radio interview there. At best, they're dismissed as wide-eyed idealists; at worst, certifiable wing-nuts. It's an odd dichotomy in a country with a collective mythology that says anyone can grow up to be president and command the world's mightiest military in its ongoing campaign to spread democracy.

This week, Seven Days takes a closer look at Vermont's independent and alternative-party candidates. We only have enough space to profile the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate and Vermont governor. But among the passionate people who mustered the necessary 500 petition signatures (for major-party candidates) or 250 signatures (for minor-party and independent candidates), we discovered some unique positions and thought-provoking ideas, as well as lots of colorful quotes.

Most of the candidates express a profound loathing for the Bush administration, its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the two-party system in general. We heard diatribes about the current system of campaign financing, calls for ambitious alternative-energy programs, and demands for investigations into the attacks of September 11, 2001. We also heard the perennial minor-party issues of eliminating nukes and legalizing marijuana.

What we didn't hear were unrealistic predictions about candidates' chances of winning; in fact, most acknowledge they don't stand a chance. But victory isn't necessarily the point, they say. Expanding the boundaries of the discourse is. For that, we say, thanks for tossing your hat in the ring - wherever it lands.

U.S. SENATE

Pete Diamondstone, 71

Profession: Lawyer (retired)

Party ticket: Liberty Union

Town of residence: Brattleboro

Born: Bronx, N.Y.

Years in VT: 39

Estimated campaign spending: close to $500

Run before? Every two years since 1970 for U.S. House, Senate, governor or attorney general

Ever held public office? No

Website: Click here.

Why are you running? "I'm not running. Somebody has to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the Liberty Union Party and nobody else wanted to do it . . . For some people, an election is a gladiatorial event. For me, it's a hiring event, with the voters being the hiring committee."

Major policy positions: Wants to end violence as a tool of governmental policy. Believes the United States must move from a capitalist economy to a socialist one, producing for need, not for greed. "If both of those happen, everything else will be fine."

Interesting fact: Was arrested in October for disorderly conduct during a candidates' forum at Vermont Law School. Claims the alternative-party candidates weren't being given equal time and were "just window dressing." After a scuffle with security, Diamondstone ended up face down on the ground and handcuffed. "I suppose there were better ways to handle it," he admits. He's due to be arraigned in December - on his granddaughter's birthday.

Quotable quote: "We refer to this election as a two-party system. But there's only one party - capitalist-controlled."

Cris Ericson, 54 [also running for governor]

Profession: Artist and musician, plays keyboard and bass, currently working on a film script about Champ, the lake monster, scored with her own original tunes

Party ticket: Independent

Town of residence: Chester

Born: Washington, D.C.

Years in VT: 11 years; attended Goddard College for two years

Estimated campaign spending: Less than $1000

Run before? Ran for governor in 2002; for governor and U.S. Senate in 2004

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://crisericson.com

Why are you running? "I'm very concerned about water quality issues." Two people who helped her on previous campaigns died of cancer in the past year, which spurred her interest in waterborne carcinogens. Why run for both governor and U.S. Senate? "Every single issue that I address falls under state laws and federal laws."

Major policy positions: Notes that one third of Vermonters drink water from Lake Champlain, though it's polluted by stormwater run-off, motorboats, snowmobiles and 86 sewage treatment plants. "Everyone is paying for it because everyone pays for Medicaid or Medicare out of their taxes. Even if you're drinking spring water or well water, you're still paying for everyone who gets sick drinking Lake Champlain water." Opposes the New England Wilderness Bill and the creation of Mooselamoo National Recreation Area. Says increased motorboat and snowmobile traffic will "pollute the holy hell" out of Vermont, and insists the feds will not hire Vermonters to staff the park. Wants to legalize marijuana.

Interesting fact: In 2002, Ericson listed her party as "Make Marijuana Legal." In 2004, worried that voters with short attention spans might miss the gist of that name, she shortened it to "Marijuana." "I got more votes that way."

Quotable quote: "The other candidates are allowing the water quality to deteriorate. The other candidates are wasting your tax dollars sending people to prison for marijuana, and marijuana is no more dangerous than alcoholic beverages, hand guns and hunting rifles."

Craig Hill, 56

Profession: Marketer for a small "mom-and-pop company" in Bristol

Party ticket: Vermont Green

Town of residence: Montpelier

Born: Los Angeles, Calif.

Years in VT: 11

Estimated campaign spending: Less than $2000

Run before? In 2004 for U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://www.hillsenatenow.org

Why are you running? "Basically, to alert as many people in Vermont as I can reach to the fact that the Democratic Party in Washington is part of the single war party along with the Republicans, that the Democratic Party basically exists to protect the Republican agenda of wars for oil, and Bernie Sanders' voting record proves it. He's on a very short leash of the Democratic Party in Washington and he votes for war the way Joseph Lieberman does and people in Vermont don't even know it."

Major policy positions: Supports the impeachment of Bush as part of the constitutional checks and balances to "remove this insane man from office." Opposes wars for oil and supports a five-year emergency program to switch to alternative energy, particularly wind power. Backs the "truth movement" to reveal what really happened on September 11, 2001 and to expose who was really behind the attacks. Claims the DNC orders and controls Bernie Sanders' votes. Highly critical of Sanders' vote for the Iran Freedom Support Act - "which authorizes Bush to change the government of Iran, one week after Bush said the nuclear option to do so was on the table."

Interesting fact: Produced a 35-minute video called "Treason, Inc." which accuses the Bush administration of orchestrating 9/11. Also claims that on October 10, more than 300 Americans were killed in an attack in Baghdad outside the Green Zone, but the incident was never reported by the U.S. media because the Pentagon and the Bush administration covered it up.

Quotable quote: "In Vermont, we have a terrible media, which I call bush league, because all it does is fawn over its political icons and refuses to inform the people of Vermont about aspects of their voting record that if the people knew about, they'd vomit."

Peter Moss, 77

Profession: Chemical engineer, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (retired)

Party ticket: Anti-Bushist

Town of Residence: Fairfax

Born: Hungary

Years in VT: 53

Estimated campaign spending: $400

Run before? For N.J. State Senate, Vermont Senate and U.S. Senate

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://www.petermoss.org

Why are you running? "I am sick and tired of the Big Media - which are really the Big Lie Media - reporting, rather than ridiculing, the latest press conferences by President George W. Pinocchio."

Major policy positions: To enact legislation that would allow for initiatives, referenda and recalls at the state and federal levels. Would introduce legislation to create the "U.S. DUD, or Department of Un-Do, to undo all the shit that Bush has pulled." He'd also push for passage of an Environment and Energy Emergency Act, or "ENEMA," to replace oil with liquid hydrogen, solar and hydroelectric power in an 18-month Manhattan Project-like program. It would address environmental degradation, global warming, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, excessive oil and gasoline prices, peak oil and the hatred that fuels Islamic terrorism.

Interesting fact: Moss, a former EPA law enforcement officer who investigated environmental crimes in New York and New Jersey, is the only candidate calling for the impeachment of Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell - in an Eastern European accent. Also running as a Democrat for the Vermont House of Representatives.

Quotable quote: "I don't spend money on name-recognition advertising. Most people vote by name recognition. That's OK for fast food. But when you select a candidate because you heard his name or saw his lawn sign, you don't know diddly. It's a fool's game!"

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Chris Karr, 52

Profession: Carpenter (currently unemployed)

Party ticket: We the People

Town of residence: East Montpelier

Born: Montpelier

Years in VT: 52

Estimated campaign spending: "Around $1000, maybe a little more."

Run before? For state senate from Washington County in 2000

Ever held public office: No

Website: n/a

Why are you running? "I think that both parties are getting away from our Constitution, and what our founders intended for our government to be like. More and more it's the special interests and the big money that are buying our elections, and the average person is suffering because of that."

Major policy positions? Believes lawmakers should do their duty as described in the Constitution, i.e., "provide for the common defense" and "promote the general welfare." "To provide for the common defense does not mean offense. Our founders never intended for us to engage in pre-emptive wars." Would require the press to print "timely, unbiased and factually accurate information," but doesn't specify how.

Interesting fact: Karr doesn't own a computer or a camera, and doesn't have a website or campaign photos. "I want people to judge me by what I'm saying, not by what I look like."

Quotable quote: "We basically have to start voting out people that have been there too long." Karr is running for an open House seat.

Bruce R. Marshall, 46

Profession: Electrical energy-conservation expert

Party ticket: Vermont Green

Town of residence: Rochester

Born: Connecticut

Years in VT: 9

Estimated campaign spending: $150-$200

Run before? No

Ever held public office? No

Website: n/a

Why are you running? Partly because he co-chairs the Green Party. "People need to run for office and get involved . . . Basically, I'm running to inject some issues that I think are very important at this time that are not being discussed properly."

Major policy positions: Believes in replacing pre-emptive war with pre-emptive peace. Wants to save our constitutional republic from all the violations and encroachments on our rights that have occurred since 9/11. Wants to restore Congress' right to declare war and not just give the president a blank check for war. Wants the troops withdrawn from Iraq right away. "If we're going to talk about getting out of Iraq, you have to first talk about stopping Bush from going into Iran." Wants a commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks. Supports the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, as well as an FDR-style emergency program to diversify the failing U.S. auto industry.

Interesting fact: After a recent appearance on Webster Tarpley's World Crisis Radio webcast, Marshall got his first campaign contribution offer - from a resident of Virginia. He refused the money.

Quotable quote: "We need a Congress that stands up to the unitary-executive principle. That principle comes right out of Nazi Germany."

Dennis Morrisseau, 64

Profession: Restaurateur (retired)

Party ticket: Impeach Bush Now

Town of residence: Pawlet

Born: St. Johnsbury

Years in VT: 64

Estimated campaign spending: "Somewhere south of $10,000"

Run before? U.S. House of Representatives, 1970, and U.S. Senate, 1971

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://www.2ltmorrisseau.com

Why are you running? "Because there's been a coup. It's not something that's going to happen in the future. It's already happened, and they're consolidating their power rapidly. And, we have to take it back or we're not going to get it back. I'm pretty good on my feet, I can take a punch, I've been around for a long time and I'm at the top of my game. Stand up and holler - that's my plan."

Major policy positions: Sees his candidacy as a statewide referendum on the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Wants to take our government back so it represents us again. "It's the only issue I give a shit about. Ordinary people need to be represented again. To achieve that, we have to take the totalitarians down."

Interesting fact: In 1968, Morrisseau beat a military court martial for refusing to go to Vietnam. He also started Vermont's Liberty Union Party in 1970. In a special election the following year, he ran for Congress - and claims Bernie Sanders was his speechwriter. Morrisseau's campaign headquarters was in the old gas station that eventually became the first Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop. He also founded Leunig's Bistro - and hired Peter Freyne as his bartender "back when all Peter had were sandals and hair down to the middle of his back."

Quotable quote: "The problem we have in this country is a politics that's subservient to this fucking bribery system. I don't have a pot to piss in, but I don't owe anyone anything."

Jane Newton, 75

Profession: Nurse (retired)

Party ticket: Liberty Union

Town of residence: South Londonderry

Born: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Years in VT: 48

Estimated campaign spending: "Absolutely nothing but gas money."

Run before? U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and 2004

Ever held public office? No

Website: Click here.

Why are you running? "I've done this whole business of being a candidate out of some form of desperation over the world we're leaving our kids. The legacy that we're leaving the children right now is unbelievably horrible."

Major policy positions: Supports the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Also against the use of violence as a tool of government; thus opposes the death penalty and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "You can't fight terror with terror. We've become terrorists ourselves." Endorses the impeachment of President Bush. Her anti-violence platform also includes opposition to poverty, "which is also a form of violence."

Interesting fact: Newton has been arrested twice during protests at the Entergy offices of Vermont Yankee. Also admits she's "terrified" of speaking in front of large groups of people - not necessarily a hindrance, considering the attendance record of many Congress members.

Quotable quote: When asked about her favorite nursing position: "My favorite was in Waterbury at the mental institution. I loved it!" Useful training for Washington politics.

Keith Stern, 51

Profession: Owner of White River Junction-based Sterns Quality Produce

Party ticket: Independent

Town of residence: North Springfield

Born: Springfield

Years in VT: 51

Estimated campaign spending: $1000

Run before? Ran for U.S. Senate in 2004

Ever held public office? On the Springfield zoning board (not an elected office)http://www.getstern.org

Why are you running? "My big issue is, why do the wealthy pay a lower percentage of taxes, both the income tax and the FICA tax, than the rest of us? It's set up that way because that's what the Democrats and Republicans want, because their wealthy contributors and friends want it that way. And we have no representation, other than Bernie Sanders, representing the people, the working class."

Major policy positions: Wants the first $75,000 of income exempt from tax. "It simplifies the system, it puts money into the working class people's pockets, and it'll actually go back and be good for the economy, and for raising revenue for the government." Remove the cap on the FICA tax. Has a plan for a treaty of non-aggression and basic human rights that will create world peace. "It's a very simple plan, and it's 100-percent effective, I believe."

Interesting fact: On the endorsement section of his website, Stern admits that he doesn't actually have any. However, he reports that he has shown his "position cards" to staffers who work with the major party candidates. "One of Peter Welch's campaign workers said, 'You're the candidate we've been waiting for.'"

Quotable quote: "When I was in the debates with Senator Leahy two years ago, I said, 'You know what, my ideas are better than his. If he can do it, I definitely can do this.' Because it's really not like surgery or something. It's all based on what your ideas are. Just because they've got experience doesn't mean they're going to do a good job."

Jerry Trudell, 52

Profession: Pilot, photographer, sells triple-pane windows for a home-improvement company

Party ticket: Independent

Town of residence: Colchester

Born: Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Years in VT: Attended Johnson State College, moved here permanently in 1998.

Estimated campaign spending: Less than $1000

Run before? Conducted a grassroots write-in campaign for city council in Manhattan in 1989.

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://trudellforcongress.com

Why are you running? "I'm running this year because we have to do much better when it comes to developing renewable, locally grown energy. I have a plan to do just that in five years, what the peas in the pod [Peter Welch and Martha Rainville] are saying we can do by 2020."

Major policy positions: Would pledge 50 percent of his salary to organize a biofuels co-op for Vermont farmers. It would produce energy locally, and power a fleet of state-owned vehicles that would serve as the beginning of a statewide public transit system. "I am telling you that between the knowledge, expertise and drive that I have, I could single-handedly set up farmer co-ops throughout the entire state of Vermont within two years." Address the current nursing shortage by providing incentives for nurses to become nursing instructors. Stop building permanent military bases in Iraq.

Interesting fact: Trudell staged a protest in front of Burlington Free Press headquarters in October, complaining that the paper wouldn't print his position statement. He stood outside the building waving a sign attacking the paper as "unfair to democracy," and occasionally stepped in front of traffic on College Street to bring his message to drivers, calling himself "a one-man revolution."

Quotable quote: "There are such eminently practical solutions that are so doable right now, that I have to try and make it happen, OK? That's the honest, sincere truth. I feel so passionately about it."

GOVERNOR

Ben Clarke, 39

Profession: Adjunct French teacher, St. Michael's College, works with kids with learning differences at the Bellcate School, owns small business making Vermont Bonky Swords

Party ticket: Vermont Localist

Town of residence: Winooski

Born: Lancaster, N.H.

Years in VT: 10

Estimated campaign spending: Less than $500

Run before? Ran for Winooski City Council 2003 and 2005

Ever held elective office? Yes. Won both races for city council, but resigned at beginning of second term, citing increased family responsibilities.

Website: http://www.benjaminclarke.org

Why are you running? "I'm very concerned about the future of Vermonters. I feel that this trend toward centralization of business, government and energy production is simply toxic and needs to be reversed."

Major policy positions: Support small-business owners by eliminating state tax on self-employment income, because small businesses are good for democracy. "If you have a very small number of owners running giant companies and everybody works for them, you don't have a very democratic distribution of power, economically or politically." Instead of taxing property, tax consumption of non-renewable energy, creating a financial incentive for conservation and energy production via solar panels. Give towns more control over taxes and government spending.

Interesting fact: Clarke invented his foam Vermont Bonky Swords - "so you can safely bonk away" - to let his two young sons duel without hurting each other. Find 'em at Kidstown, Outdoor Gear Exchange and Woodbury Mountain Toys. How about using them in a debate?

Quotable quote: "I think we ought to be able to attune our taxation to our social and ecological priorities, and this is something that we're not able to do. I ran straight into that as a Winooski city councilor. The state is dictating how we tax, how much we tax, and now, as I understand it, Jim Douglas is proposing that the state limit how much the towns can spend on their own kids. It seems intrusive to me."

Jim Hogue, 58

Profession: Vegetable farmer, actor

Party ticket: Vermont Green

Town of residence: Calais

Born: New York City, N.Y.

Years in VT: 17

Estimated campaign spending: $650, not counting gas money

Run before? No

Ever held public office? No

Website: n/a

Why are you running? "Because there are issues that none of the other gubernatorial candidates will discuss, such as a proper investigation into the events of the attack on 9/11, election integrity, sovereignty for the state of Vermont, breaking away from the Federal Reserve System and support for local currencies such as Burlington Bread."

Major policy positions: Believes in local control. Argues that, since Iraq never attacked the United States, deployment of Vermont National Guard troops to that country was "unlawful." "As governor, I would have dug my heels in and said no." Calls for increased development of sustainable energy practices, and supports the Second Vermont Republic, which advocates that Vermont secede from the Union.

Interesting fact: Hogue may be best known as his alter-ego, Ethan Allen - the actor often performs excerpts from Allen's writings while dressed as the Revolutionary War hero. "Ethan Allen stood for all the things that the founding fathers stood for, which is to defeat tyranny wherever it raises its ugly head." Catch Hogue in a pre-election Allen performance at the International Secessionist Conference on November 4 in Burlington, at the Wyndham Hotel.

Quotable quote: "The level of autonomy that states have now is just a fig leaf. I'm trying to re-establish the rights of the states - in particular, Vermont - to do what they traditionally have the right to do."

Bob Skold, 53

Profession: Web publisher

Party ticket: Liberty Union

Town of residence: Springfield

Born: Manhattan, N.Y.

Years in VT: 20-plus

Estimated campaign spending: Nothing but gas money

Run before? No

Ever held public office? No

Website: http://www.Robertskold.com

Why are you running: "I'd like to see a change, not only in our local government but all the way up to Washington. I think Democrats and Republicans are crooks. They're a set of gangsters. There's too much money in the political system the way it is."

Major policy positions: Wants Vermont and the nation to adopt a single-payer health-care system. Supports alternative energy, especially hydroelectric power. Believes the state should work towards self-sufficiency on energy, food and clothing. Says "Survival services should not be a source of profit." Doesn't think local property taxes could be cut, but believes they should be capped. Wants to remove the school-tax portion of property taxes for all retirees. "I know people who are losing their houses and businesses because they can't pay their freakin' taxes. I'm not comfy with that."

Interesting fact: Skold has the most unique facial hair of any statewide candidate and readily admits he's "inhaled a few times." Has a weekly radio show on http://www.spox.com called "Shabby's History Hour."

Quotable quote: Why he refuses all campaign contributions: "As soon as you take a dime, you owe 12 cents."

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Bio:
Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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