Friends shouldn’t let friends run for office

Column by Hal Walter

Politics – July 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

LET’S FACE IT. Friends really shouldn’t let friends run for office.

But try as I might to dissuade Curtis Imrie from pursuing politics, he still insists on running. And maybe that’s a good thing for us all.

I met Curtis years ago, and have gotten to know him fairly well as a “mentor” of sorts in the sport of pack-burro racing. He got me started, sold me a burro, and recently told me that I’d be a fat journalist making typos in obits somewhere if it hadn’t been for my involvement in the sport.

Curtis has never been one to mince words. But even he admits that his desire to run for office is some sort of “genetic flaw.”

I used to think that people sought political office because they were seeking some sort of attention. This psychological profile was only bolstered by a discussion I overheard between Curtis and his folks, Mary and Walter, back in 1981. They were standing beside his burro trailer, and he had in fact garnered his mom’s attention with some graffiti on the side of this one-axle wagon that we still refer to as the “outhouse on wheels.” Not very well camouflaged amidst other paintings resembling Anasazi cliff scrawlings was a political message in big letters: “Eat the Rich.”

The trailerside discussion was highly political and concerned censorship. From my hiding place I took Curtis’ side on this one, though I didn’t dare jump into the family fracas. In his latest bid to run for office, Curtis took a much more tactful approach, describing his agenda as a “progressive populist” movement with a “strong grassroots theme.” And that didn’t garner the right kind of attention either, at least not from the people in power.

In late May, Curtis was denied his chance to run in the race for the 3rd Congressional District against Republican incumbent Rep. Scott McInnis. He received seven too few votes to force a primary election.

Democrats instead nominated farmer-conservationist Reed Kelly of Rio Blanco County. Afterward Curtis charged that a third candidate had sought support knowing he was ineligible to run. This candidate then threw his support to Kelly at the convention.

So much for the progressive populist movement.

I empathized with Curtis on this one. I know he’s not naive, but it just didn’t seem right. He’d spent a good deal of effort attending Democratic functions all over the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, spreading his message about bringing democratic control back to the people.

Just a couple weeks before the convention he had his burro trailer repainted in preparation for the big campaign. The trailer looks like Professor Marvel’s rig from the Wizard of Oz, proclaiming “IMRIE” in person-high letters, and “Donkeys, Democrats and Drama” below. Ironically, there’s a horse of a different color towing the thing around, too.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, Curtis just can’t get us out of the Land of Oz.

It’s not that Curtis doesn’t have some good ideas. He suggests that all politicians should wear silk bowling jackets with the logos of their sponsors on them like race-car drivers. Amen. I would take that idea a step farther and say that election ballots should not only list the names of candidates but also contributors to their campaigns. It would take a lot of extra paper to print ballots like this. But at least then we would know who we’re really voting for.

Curtis also supports adding “none of the above” to election ballots. That way if voters didn’t like the choices, they could check this box. If “none of the above” “wins” the election, then the parties would be given 30 days to suit up some new suits. Sounds good to me.

If Curtis had been chosen to be his party’s nominee, he would have been running against an opponent whose sponsors in 1996 included insurance companies who are charging us too much for too little, several big oil and mining companies who would rather not clean up after themselves, and the National Association of Realtors, which indirectly promotes the destruction of our habitat through development.

That’s enough right there to vote for Curtis, regardless of his platform.

But the sad truth is that Curtis would have brought limited funds, little political clout, virtually no name recognition outside the KVRH radio listening area, and no experience in government, to a race against a well-funded and popular Republican incumbent.

So once again we get exactly the government we DON’T deserve.

It’s representative, all right. The trouble is that it’s not representative of us. Instead it’s representative of special interests, big businesses and people of money. We vote for candidates, but like Curtis says, we’re really electing their sponsors. And when it’s time to vote on legislation, the sponsors get what they paid for, and we the voters get shined on. We complain about it ad nauseum. Yet when someone like Curtis tries to buck the system, we get cynical because we know he has virtually no chance of getting elected.

“We live in an oligarchy of corporate insiders and big money,” he says. “The public knows it and two-thirds of them, God bless them, exercise civil disobedience by not voting, because they know there’s no friggin’ point.”

Miles Porter, who now owns the Ten Mile Times in Frisco, introduced me to Curtis back in 1980 when I was a sophomore at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Miles lived in the Denver Metro area at the time. Once, when Curtis visited, the three of us went out for an evening jog along Federal Boulevard right about rush hour. Curtis snuck up behind us while we were running along and pulled Miles’s running shorts right down to his ankles. Miles had trouble finding his waistband as passers-by honked their horns, and he was truly irked. But the message was clear. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Curtis later pulled the same gag on me during the first mile of a running race.

Indeed, if Curtis took himself too seriously he wouldn’t even consider running for congress. But he possesses enough of a sense of humility to enter this race, to voice his ideas and concerns right in the face of almost certain defeat. Why? “If nobody does it, the greed-heads are going to get everything,” he says.

I remember standing near the summit of Cumbres Pass with Curtis, taking turns standing on the bumper and peeing on the engine of his car in an attempt to cool it off. We were hauling some burros to Chama, New Mexico, for a race when his big-block Chevy vaporlocked. When we finally got it running again, I jogged alongside spraying ether into the carburetor to keep it going while he drove the rig, trailer still attached and loaded, the rest of the way to the top of the pass with the hood up. The engine had cooled and started to smell better by the time we coasted into Chama.

Despite the odds against our even arriving, Curtis won the race the next day. With a similar attitude, ingenuity, a lot of luck and a bunch of money, Curtis might do well in politics too. He says he’ll be back to run again.

“I keep shoveling around in this manure because I know there’s a donkey in here somewhere,” he says. “And donkeys are living proof that God’s got a sense of humor.”

Colorado Central columnist Hal Walter was an intern at The Colorado Statesman, a political newsweekly in Denver, when he met Curtis Imrie in 1980.