Gov race has 2 unaffiliated candidates on ballot

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Long odds and meager press coverage aren’t slowing two unaffiliated gubernatorial candidates who predict the currents of this year’s political climate will break in their favor in November.

Paul Noel Fiorino, 55, is a leader in the state’s art community, a ballet dancer and instructor and is wholeheartedly in love with Colorado.

Gubernatorial candidate Paul Fiorino teaches ballet to youngsters.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Jason Clark, 40, is an entrepreneurial businessman and Army veteran with a West Point business degree, who’s aiming to provide Colorado with the strong economic leadership that he said it lacks.

Both candidates couldn’t be more different in their platforms and campaign styles. But one thing’s the same — both bring new perspectives to Colorado voters and both plan to upend the two-party system.

In it to win it
Standing in the fabric weaving room of Lakewood’s Washington Heights Arts Center recently, minutes before leading a ballet class of four and five-year-olds, Fiorino takes a moment to describe the advantages of being politically moderate.

“I’m not a non-party kind of guy. I just feel that as an unaffiliated, I can work easier between the parties,” he said. Dressed to dance in tan ballet shoes, khaki-colored shorts and a blue button up shirt with the top two buttons unfastened, he continued his credo. “We can bring the issues that mean the most to the Colorado people to the forefront,” Fiorino said.

Jason Clark and running mate Victoria Adams

Fiorino briefly registered with the Republican Party from 2000 to 2004 and once as a Democrat in 2008 so he could take part in the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Although he doesn’t identify with either party, he said both experiences have led him to become a more thoughtful unaffiliated candidate.

“I wanted to understand Democrats and I wanted to understand the Republicans,” he said. “I have found middle ground on both sides. I think that’s what I can do.”

In 2006, Fiorino’s brand of moderate philosophies earned him just short of 11,000 votes in the gubernatorial race that Gov. Bill Ritter won — good for 0.7 percent of the vote and fourth place out of six candidates. His candidacy, although unsuccessful, made Colorado history, as Fiorino became the first unaffiliated candidate to appear on the ballot.

Both Fiorino and Clark turned in the necessary 1,000 petition signatures to appear on the ballot this year. The process required both to attain signatures from registered voters from any party affiliation.

Fiorino and running mate Heather Anne McKibben count the 10,996 votes he received in 2006 as his voter base and plan to net larger totals on a meager budget of $101.

“If those voters believed I was the best candidate in 2006 to lead in regards to them, then I’m respecting them by running again,” he said.

Clark, cast in a square muscular build which has slightly slackened in his post-West Point years, talks quickly with the ease of an old friend.

“I can do a better job than these guys (on the ballot) and that’s why I chose to run for governor,” he said. “The governor has a skill set that means being an operator, a manager and a leader.”

Clark is the son of a 26-year Army surgeon. He graduated from Aurora’s Smoky Hill High School and then went on to West Point, from which he graduated in 1992. From there Clark spent his military career stationed at the U.S. Army’s post in Fort Carson as a first lieutenant.

His career working in finances started at Goldman Sachs in 1996 in New York City. That same year he quit the investment firm and moved back to Denver because he said he missed Colorado. Since, Clark said he’s been involved with countless startups, including his own company, Clark Bros., which he started in 2005.

Clark launched his campaign and earned national headlines in May when he used a Craigslist ad to find his running mate. Victoria Adams, 36, a former Marine who performed humanitarian missions in Afghanistan up until 2002, emerged as Clark’s choice because of her financial background, he said.

“I saw this article under the government section (on Craigslist) for lieutenant governor and at first I thought, ‘that’s not how the process really works, is it?’” said Adams, who said she is a three-time cancer survivor.

Adams applied for the job touting a public agency background, and masters in administration. She previously worked as a CFO for Olympus until it recently shuttered its Lakewood office in favor of moving overseas, she said.

“In the beginning it was kind of overwhelming because there were a lot of processes we had to go through,” Adams explained about the vetting for LG. There was the interview phase, adjusting the platform and seeing where we were on the same page and where we’re not on the same page,” Adams said.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Jaimes Brown

The novelty of using Craigslist wasn’t meant to be a publicity stunt, but a creative way for Clark to interview numerous people, he said.

“It was the only way to find the best candidate,” Clark said. “I want to come across as a very serious candidate. I don’t want to come across as goofy, funny, clown, joker, no — none of that. I’m a serious guy. I’m a finance guy. I don’t think people respond to that goofy stuff.”

Clark will attempt to boost his poll numbers this month by going on an advertising spree after lending his campaign $25,000 to purchase several billboards and a T.V. commercial. If that’s successful, he’ll loan another $25,000 later in September and again in October. In the event that Clark’s campaign gains major traction, he said he is prepared to pour his life savings of $250,000 into his campaign before the election.

“It’s kind of hard pulling that trigger,” he said. “It’s everything I worked for: two jobs, retirement, my house, everything. And I would still have a little left to get back on my feet if I lost.”

Clark’s campaign is currently $5,000 in the red.

Purple Platforms
Fiorino takes his candidacy seriously too. The central issue driving his campaign involves bolstering education by integrating the arts into school curricula, something Fiorino calls a non-partisan effort.

“I believe the arts can play a major role in integrating into all the subjects,” Fiornio. “It makes science more interesting and makes math more accessible.

“They say by playing music your mathematic mind connects, because we have this left brain and right brain. We need to educate the whole child,” he said.

Fiorino has held many leadership posts in the arts community. He’s currently serving his fourth stint as president of the Golden Triangle Museum District in Denver. He once was an appointed member of the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness by former Gov. Bill Owens, served on the Colorado Alliance for Arts Education under former Gov. Roy Romer, and was head of the New York City ballet education department between 1980 and 1983. His dance company, Ballet Arts Theater, is on a temporary hiatus, he said.

Fiorino’s coworker at the art center, Mary Carrigan, 45, said his work over the years has made him very influential in the community.

“He’s not famous just because he’s going to be governor,” Carrigan said. “He works with so many people in the community. He’s got a good read on folks.”

After Fiorino finishes teaching his class of clumsy first-timers how to maneuver into a ballet crouch, called a plié, and rise into a relevé, he highlights the importance of dance.

“There’s not enough focus on Colorado as the healthiest state,” he said. “Who better to lead the way than a dancer in place as governor and keep health in the forefront?”

Fiorino believes everybody should dance, not just for the physical release, but because a healthy state means lower insurance premiums. That was part of his message when he twirled, jumped and danced his way to a last place finish in the 2006 Colfax Marathon.

“It took my feet a whole year to recover,” Fiorino chuckled.

His plank also prioritizes maintaining a clean environment and supporting the burgeoning new energy industry. As a history buff and conservationist, Fiorino also believes smaller Colorado towns should be spotlighted for their pioneering legacy in the state — something that would bring more tourism revenue to Colorado, he said.

In September he will travel to Mineral County, the only county which deprived him of even one vote in 2006, and initiate his first major campaign event. Details are still being worked out for the event, but Fiorino wants to show that small counties matter.

“My campaign is also about the smaller town, the smallest town, and how do we be proud of our heritage of that town, the pioneers and ancestors that went before us,” he said. “There’re so many people coming to Colorado from out of state that don’t know our history. That’s an important aspect to education.”

Getting right down to business
While numerous polls identify the economy at the forefront of voter concerns this year, Clark is taking more of a conservative approach than Fiorino.

“Immigration and abortion, they’re hot, divisive topics, but that’s not what we need right now,” he said. “We need to get businesses back into our state. That’s all I want to talk about.”

Clark, who bills himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, envisions a governor’s office solely dedicated to righting the state economy with new jobs and flowing revenues. He said this could be achieved if he’s elected because he’s an experienced leader who thinks about the big picture and knows how to attract business to the state.

“We have the mountains, a great state, an educated work force, a healthy workforce and a low tax structure. Businesses want to be here,” he said. “We need to continue the alternative energy sector. We have the sun, we have the wind on the plains — we have it and no one else does.”

Clark was a long-registered Republican before leaving the party in 2008. He was preparing to back the gubernatorial bid of state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, before Penry dropped out last year.

“I did some research on Scott McInnis’ and his background and said, ‘I’m a better candidate than this guy,’” Clark said about deciding to jump into the race.

Clark said he has never voted outside Republican lines but has considered voting for Democratic Presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama.

Economically, Clark considers himself a conservative. He said he would trim pay for state employees up to $100 per paycheck to help balance the budget. That way, he said, nobody would have to be laid off.

Clark would rather avoid talking about social issues, but said he favors some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants who would pay a fine and learn English.

Campaigning in the dark
Over one-third of Colorado’s three million registered voters are unaffiliated. However, appealing to any voters is hard without proper media attention and invites to debates, Fiorino and Clark said.

“It’s anti-American. It’s really not the political process,” Clark said about not being invited to debates. “It’s not up to these guys to determine who is in the debate or who the people want to hear. They should let everybody get heard.”

Clark said he was denied a spot in the KBDI gubernatorial debate taping on Thursday between Republican candidate Dan Maes, Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo. He protested with a megaphone across the street from KBDI’s studios in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.

“I told them to let me in,” Clark said. “The people deserve to hear what I have to say and to hear why I’m the best candidate with the best skill set.”

Typically, a candidate must poll better than 10 percent to receive a debate invitation. Tancredo is regularly polling above that mark thus far.

Fiorino said he defeated the American Constitution candidate Clyde Harkins by more than 1,000 votes in 2006, and deserves to be mentioned.

“I beat the American Constitution party — an unaffiliated succeeded over their party in 2006,” said Fiorino, who defeated Harkins that year. “For them to give so much press time to Tom Tancredo: they’re pushing one thing but not pushing something else.”

Clark said he understands that publications like The Denver Post can’t cover every candidate, especially those polling less than 1 percent.

“When I got in the race I knew it was a huge uphill battle. I’m not delusional,” he said.

Last week Clark wrote an email addressed to over 100 Post staff writers and media organizations protesting the lack of coverage.

“I am all for being criticized, challenged, asked hard tough policy questions, but I am going to challenge that you uphold the same professional ethics as you are asking me to uphold — nothing more, nothing less. We are asking the DP and other news organizations to let ‘the people’ decide who is the best candidate for governor of Colorado,” Clark wrote.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Jaimes Brown, 41, said the big money two-party political system suffocates all other candidates.

“We’re all running to win and hoping to win. Given that the two parties spend so much more money and get so much media attention, it’s hard to compete with them on that level,” Brown said.

Brown said he welcomes Tancredo’s candidacy because it gives much needed attention to third-party politics. In an attempt to reach voters across Colorado, Brown will join three other Libertarian candidates during the next six weeks on the statewide “Paul Revere Liberty Tour.” Brown will join U.S. Senate candidate Mac Stringer, CU regent candidate Jesse Wallace and CD 3 candidate for congress Gregory Gilman.

Kenneth Bickers, chair of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s political science department, said there’s a reason newspapers rarely cover or even mention unaffiliated candidates: they’re rarely competitive.

“Most people vote their party leanings,” Bickers said. “It’s very, very rare that unaffiliated candidates are able to win elections outside of really small municipal and county elections where the number of the voters is in the dozens and few hundreds.”

Bickers points to the election of Independent candidate Jesse Ventura in Minnesota as one out of a handful of elections this century that an unaffiliated candidate prevailed in a large race.

“Many of the people who voted for him never anticipated that he would win. They thought that they were casting a safe protest vote,” he said.

Bickers said the political environment could bode well for Tancredo, but ultimately Democrat John Hickenlooper looks to be in the best position to win.

Clark thinks Bickers is right when he says Hickenlooper is going to win. But Clark isn’t ready to lie down and let it happen, he said. He’s proposing that Tancredo, Fiorino, Brown and write-in candidates Michael Moore and Willie Travis Chambers ditch their campaigns to join his unaffiliated effort for the governor’s seat.

He said that Tancredo has already turned him down, but is hopeful the other candidates accept his offer to create a powerful unaffiliated option.

So far Fiorino and Brown aren’t buying in.

“I know (Clark) has been trying to have a unifying message and I appreciate that,” Brown said. “We’ve been working cooperatively but I’m not sure about that. He never specifically asked me to drop out or be his lt. governor or anything.”

Fiorino said his own victory means too much to him to abandon hope.

“I’m not joining up with anybody to defeat anybody,” he said. “This would be a huge win for Colorado if an unaffiliated is elected. That’s the bottom line.”

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com