If there's one thing that we've concluded from watching the Republican presidential contests play out in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, it's this: Republicans aren't very happy with their options this year.
They certainly should love Mitt Romney. He's done all he can to pander to their every desire, eagerly abandoning any position he might have held in the past that might conflict with the current GOP id. And yet, in South Carolina, they picked Newt Gingrich, despite the fact that Newt is, well, Newt Gingrich. This is a sign that they really, really don't like Mitt. But they don't seem to like Rick Santorum, either. What's the evidence of this? Well, the big Iowa mix-up notwithstanding, voters appear to prefer Newt over Rick, despite Newt's Newtness. And Ron Paul? Despite his willingness to lead America into the 19th century, Paul can't seem to expand his appeal beyond those hard-core supporters who will stick by him no matter what. And this is the final four. Bachmann has dropped out. Cain has dropped out. Perry has dropped out. Huntsman has dropped out. Pawlenty was barely even in. With voters rejecting all these big names, it's clear to us that Republicans are hungry for new choices—and that's where Project White House 2012 comes in. The Tucson Weekly felt it was time for more voices to be heard—so we have assembled a stable of dark-horse candidates for the presidency of the United States.
Perhaps you haven't yet heard of Kip Dean or Peter "Simon" Bollander or Charles Skelley or Al "Dick" Perry—but they are actual candidates on the Feb. 28 Arizona presidential-primary ballot.
They are the ones we have been waiting for.
With a few brave and notable exceptions, the mainstream media haven't rushed to give these candidates the microphone. They don't have name ID. They don't have experience in running a government. They don't have super PACs trying to seek out and destroy their opponents.
All they have is a dream—a dream of making America a better place. And we were there to help by encouraging them to fill out a two-page form and get their name on the presidential primary ballot.
We're certainly disappointed that Secretary of State Ken Bennett's staff knocked a number of would-be candidates off the ballot for a variety of technicalities.
As a result, there are many candidates who you won't get a chance to vote for in February. You won't be seeing Jimmy "The Rent Is Too Damn High" McMillan on the ballot. We had a couple of conversations with McMillan, but he was disqualified because he didn't have an Arizona committee. The hurdles, alas, are too damn high.
It also appears that this year (unlike in 2008), you actually have to be a Republican to seek the Republican nomination. Some of our potential contestants simply couldn't bring themselves to change their party registration. Legendary local adman Earl Wettstein, for example, hammered together a solid platform, but he stopped short of registering as a Republican. "I just couldn't do it," says Wettstein, who is on the verge of publishing his new book, 43 Reasons to Be a Democrat.
When a guy like that is kept off the GOP ballot, what is the world coming to?
Despite all that, we're happy to say that a full dozen of the 23 Republicans on the ballot are participating in Project White House—and our door is always open to more. (We're looking your way, Buddy Roemer.)
On top of that, we've got half of the Green Party candidates, and we're hoping for more.
As part of Project White House, these candidates will compete in a variety of campaign challenges over the next few weeks in an effort to win the hearts and minds of Arizona voters—as well as the coveted Tucson Weekly endorsement.
You'll find brief bios of our candidates this week, as well as a few charts and graphs to give you a better idea of what they stand for.
If you want to know even more about these courageous men and women, roll over to ProjectWhiteHouse2012.com to learn about their platforms. Watch in the days and weeks to come as they compete to win your vote.
A final note before you dig in: In order to vote in this year's presidential primaries, you've got to be a registered Republican or a registered Green Party member.
Without further ado, we present the men and women of Project White House 2012!
(In Ballot Order)
Donald Benjamin, an academic adviser at Phoenix College and a freelance cartoonist, is the very first name on the GOP ballot, thanks to a random drawing that put him at the top of the list. He has an ambitious agenda that begins with replacing Congress with a junta of sixth-graders. He also promises to simplify government forms and improve the organization of grocery stores.
Jim Terr, a New Mexico singer, songwriter, satirist and actor, promises to "take America Back from the Obamas, from the Lockheeds, from the Wall Streets, from the Bushes, the Rockefellers, the Illuminati and the Bilderbergs. Let's return it to the Garcias, the Terrs, the Joneses." He says he's running for a simple reason: "I have nothing better to do between now and November."
Peter "Simon" Bollander
Peter "Simon" Bollander, who captured 154 votes as a Democratic candidate in 2008, is running this year as a Republican. Since he wrapped up his campaign four years ago, Bollander has formed a new group, the World Masterminds. (Full disclosure: Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel was offered the position of World Mastermind of Media, but he declined to accept.)
Bollander, who describes himself as a "one-in-a-billion-type person who comes up with ideas, concepts and programming," has developed a 10-star program, which includes a plan to balance the federal budget with an international sweepstakes, free health care and a penal system that involves placing all currently incarcerated convicts on an island with social workers in the place of guards.
Al "Dick" Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has dropped out of the race, but Tucson singer-songwriter Al "Dick" Perry is in it to win it. He's already beaten Rick Perry in the lottery to determine ballot order in the Feb. 28 primary, triggering a number of national news stories about how "Dick" will be No. 4 on the ballot, while the "Oops" candidate is way down at No. 17.
Perry is fed up with politicians of every stripe—"I don't agree with them on even one thing, hardly—Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, whatever"—and he promises big reforms, starting with campaign-finance reform and bringing jobs back to America through corporate-law reform. Just promise us a Telecaster in every pot, Al, and you have our vote.
Tucson attorney Ronald Zack has kept his platform simple: "My main purpose in running is to enrich myself and some of my friends, legally through collateral benefits of the office, and to have the opportunity for unlimited travel with members of my extended family." He also promises to run his campaign and his administration "with total honesty, openness and transparency."
Mark Callahan of Oregon says he's just an "average American" who realized, with the birth of his daughter, that he would "make the world, and our great nation, a better place for her to grow up in." He worries that the nation's current path "will continue to lead us to the precipice of tyranny, of despair, as well as to the economic and moral collapse of our great nation," and he hopes to prevent that by winning the White House. He promises to deliver accountability, campaign-finance transparency, an open mind and the same leadership skills that made him an Eagle Scout.
Truck-driver Cesar Cisneros started running for president a year ago, long before he had heard about Project White House 2012. But when we caught up with him in Iowa (where he didn't do so well) and told him how he could get on the ballot in Arizona, Cisneros got his paperwork in order and delivered it to the Arizona secretary of state—which is more than we can say for Jon Huntsman.
Cisneros promises to secure the borders, lower income taxes, eliminate waste in government jobs and, in order to reduce gas prices, "drill for oil in all 49 states and the Gulf of Mexico."
Charles Skelley, who got 50 votes in his GOP presidential bid in 2008, is back again with an economic plan that he says will solve the nation's problems. The semi-retired engineer promises to sharply reduce federal spending and restore manufacturing in America through his "Won-2-3 Plan," which he says is based on the writings of economist Adam Smith.
The only woman on the GOP ballot, Sarah Gonzales is a writer who is, shall we say, between gigs. While looking for a new job, she noticed the advertisement for Project White House and "figured I better not pass up the opportunity. ... After seeing who else applied from the Republican Party, I think I have a shot."
Gonzales promises to end all wars, transfer money now spent on the military to health care and education, crack down on white-collar crime, end the death penalty, and tear down the border wall. She tells Project White House: "These ideas might be too specific, and some of them might be under state/local government control, but I'm pretty sure it makes more sense than 9-9-9."
Gonzales can "sing, dance and slam poetry, so if there is a talent portion to the POTUS process, I will be super-excited. I think there is room for at least some karaoke or Just Dance with the Kinect."
Matt Welch describes his job as "making other people's dreams come true." He's on assignment in an undisclosed location with limited Internet access, so we don't know how much of him we'll see during the campaign season. But he has set up a Facebook page and filled out his questionnaire, and he remains a part of Project White House.
A budget manager for a Phoenix nonprofit hospital system, Kip Dean made the decision to run for president in just one day, so he's still assembling his campaign machinery. He says he was inspired to run by the failures of our current political system.
"I could have left this election alone, and then the next election, and the ones that follow—each time hoping someone will dig us out of this mess or do the work for me," Dean tells Project White House. "The billions of dollars spent on your vote in 2012 by mainstream candidates means a small man like me with a platform that speaks out against lobbying and corporations has no chance. What I am hoping to do, though, is to inspire you to vote and get involved."
Michael Levinson says he's running for president in the hopes of making a speech on television. As he explains it: "I bring to our political table The Book ov Lev It a Kiss, a magnum-opus 112-page double-column Television Scripture lettered in 1969, to be spoken live whirled wide, on all TV channels, for all the world's peoples to participate in together, all at once. My art from the heart, inspired ahead of its time, is to change the course of human history on our water planet. I only held the pen. That is why I am a candidate for president, to set the stage for a whirled wide cultural event that will kick off World Peace."
He's been pressing a legal case based on federal law that he believes gives him the right to TV airtime, although he has not had much success in persuading the federal courts that he's right about that. (He declined to respond to our survey for the chart below.)
(In Ballot Order)
Gary Swing has previously run for Congress on the Green Party ticket in Colorado. He talks a lot about proportionate voting, campaign-finance reform and other stuff you can read about online. He's an avid outdoorsman and has a thing for cinnamon rolls.
Swing's mother lives in Tucson, allowing him to claim the title of Arizona's favorite son, and forcing fellow Green Party candidate Richard Grayson to settle for the title of Arizona's favorite stepson.
IT guy Michael Oatman, who won 192 votes in the 2008 Democratic primary, is running as a Green Party candidate this year. He hopes to dig deeply into policy matters as his campaign unfolds, but here's a key point: The American people "ought to truly and finally set aside their differences and do come together in order to be completely themselves. It would be a marvelous day when we can all say that we fully know who we are, and who each other are, and have understanding and show respect for this; this which is not exactly the current state of affairs."
Richard Grayson, a college professor, writer and attorney, first ran for president in 1984 in an unsuccessful bid to unseat President Ronald Reagan. He's since run for Congress in Florida—keeping a diary of his campaign at the McSweeney's website—and in Arizona, where he was the Green Party challenger to U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake in 2010.
"Like most presidential candidates, I am a megalomaniac who is greedy for power," he told Phoenix TV station KNXV Channel 15 when he launched his campaign.Dave Maass contributed to this project.