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On the cover: The other candidate

 by James Kindle
 published on Thursday, September 28, 2006

/issues/arts/697955
Christopher Atwood / THE STATE PRESS
 
Instead of traditional campaign posters, Barry Hess encourages supporters to print their own propaganda from his Web site./issues/arts/697955
Katie E. Lehman / THE STATE PRESS
Instead of traditional campaign posters, Barry Hess encourages supporters to print their own propaganda from his Web site.
 

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On Nov. 7, millions of Arizonans will head to the polls to choose between current Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican challenger Len Munsil. Oh yeah, that Libertarian guy's on the ballot, too. And he just so happens to be planning the largest upset in Arizona's political history.



If you feel like talking to Gov. Janet Napolitano, you can call up her campaign offices, talk to Noah, her campaign manager, get directed to Janine, her communications director, and set up an interview.

To get a word in with Republican gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil, first speak with Daniel, who'll give you the phone number of Vernon, the media director, and you'll be speaking with the candidate in a few days.

If you want to talk to Barry Hess, he'll answer the phone.

"I do that because it freaks people out," Hess says. "It gives me the opportunity to actually talk to people."

With more than $5,000 in the bank and nearly nonexistent press coverage, Hess is out to do what, in many people's minds, is the impossible. Hess, 49, aims to win the governorship of Arizona.

Oh, and he's a Libertarian.

In a campaign awash with big names using big money to advertise big issues, Hess is noticeably smaller, and, some people say, insignificant.

"People, when they think of politics, when they think of a race ... they think in terms of red and blue, right and left, liberal and conservative," says Shane Cory, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee.



The underdog

So what's it like running a campaign that almost no one thinks you can win?

"[It's] kinda fun," Hess says, eating a hot dog after a morning spent picking up trash with Phoenix school children on Saturday.

His light, thinning hair and the wrinkles spiderwebbing from the corners of his eyes contrast with his young, tanned face and vibrant blue and yellow-ringed eyes. His movements are quick; his speech is precise.

"Part of the true essence of America has always been rooting for the underdog, and we are the underdog," Hess says.

Hess proudly wears this label, advertising that by dividing the amount of money that the Republican and Democratic candidates spent in the 2002 election by the number of votes they received, they spent $4.80 and $5.60 per vote, respectively. Hess, who also ran for governor in 2002 (and lost), says his campaign spent less than four cents on each of his 20,356 votes.

That year, Napolitano received 46 percent of the vote with 566,284, Republican candidate Matt Salmon received 554,465 votes to put him at 45 percent and independent candidate Richard Mahoney took 84,947 votes, or 7 percent of the total electorate. Hess received 1.7 percent.

But despite this admission, Hess expresses full confidence that he will come out on top Nov. 7, with only the occasional "if" intruding into his vernacular of electoral "whens."

Hess says that elections usually have two contending parties, and this year, "we are one of those. I'm prepared to win."

After spending only a few minutes with Hess, there's a good chance his infectious enthusiasm could sway the average voter into thinking he does have a good shot.

But survey numbers and recent electoral history tell a different story.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Eight/KAET-TV released a poll of likely voters on Monday, conducted Sept. 21 - 24. When asked whom they would pick if the election were held, Hess ranks last. His 2 percent stands a good distance behind Munsil's 28 percent and leagues behind Napolitano's 64 percent. Six percent were undecided.

But Hess's campaign contends that their internal polling last week shows him running even with Munsil and only "not too far behind" Napolitano.

Hess is also no stranger to losing. In addition to his unsuccessful 2002 governor bid, he received only 5 percent of the vote when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000, which Hess calls a "get-acquainted tour."

"I wanted to have someone stand up to [Republican] Jon Kyl," Hess says, referring to the incumbent candidate who took 79 percent of the vote.

In fact, no Libertarian candidate has ever been elected to a national office or governorship.

But Hess says he sees a change in the population this time around.

"People are frustrated. I sense it. I see it," he added. "My hope is that we'll see a groundswell, and we're seeing that."



The path less traveled

Part of that groundswell could be due to students like Duncan Carey.

Carey, a marketing freshman, says he was raised Republican but registered as a Libertarian when he could vote.

"I found a big distaste with both [major political] parties," he says. "Taking [an] economics class, we learned the process of free markets. If [the] government doesn't intervene, [it] works perfectly," he says.

Carey is in the process of transforming his 209-member Facebook.com group "Center Complex Libertarians" into a campus organization. The Hess campaign has contacted him about volunteering.

Hess's platform could resonate strongly with Arizonans and young people, Carey says.

"It's kind of a melting pot," Carey says. "There's such a variety of different ideas."

Hess took a longer time than Carey to join the Libertarian ranks. He was raised Republican and was a part of a college Republican group.

It wasn't until he volunteered for Ronald Reagan that Reagan told Hess that he had ideals closer to libertarianism.

"He says, 'You're a libertarian,' [and] I thought he was calling me names," Hess says.

Hess says he rejected Reagan's advice until he officially switched parties in 1987.

"It was hard," he said. "It wasn't anything I took lightly or frivolously."

Hess said the birth of his son, Zelig, in 1983 played a big role in his decision to switch. Zelig Hess, now an ASU student, is interning with his father's campaign and says he "absolutely" can see his father winning the election.

"People shouldn't count him out because he's a third party," the political science senior said. "I'm fairly optimistic that if people gave him a chance and listened to his message, they'd see that it's not just a two-party system anymore."

Now, Hess's platform is structured tightly around libertarianism's small-government and personal-freedoms philosophy.

"Here in America, people own the government, not the reverse, and I think that's a big distinction," Hess said.

The No. 1 priority on that platform will be schools, Hess says, with special emphasis on parents' ability to choose which schools students attend and programs like loaning limited-use laptops to adults to encourage continued education.

"Our young people have to have a sense of dignity where they want to help their community," Hess says. "Janet [Napolitano] says she was going to fix [education]. She didn't."

Crime initiatives are also high on Hess's list of priorities. He's focusing on parental responsibility and pardoning Arizonans for non-violent, "victimless" crimes, saying this accounts about 70 percent of inmates.

"I don't care if you stay home and get stoned all day ... but if you come out on the public thoroughfare, that's when it's my responsibility," Hess says. "It's nobody's business what you do to your body; it's what you do with your body."

Hess also says he would cut business regulations and incentives, replace the income tax with a flat retail tax or some other means and eliminate the luxury tax.

"Anything that is not in the constitution [and] is not legitimate part of government is gone," he says. "[It's] not so much what I look to do as what I look to undo."

Hess summarizes his platform as no government interaction with citizen affairs except "when one person harms the person, property or rights of another."



The public eye

Another of Hess's major obstacles to overcome as a candidate, compounded by his refusal to participate in Clean Elections - an act passed by voters in 1998 that provides candidates with public funding through surcharges on civil fines and individual contributions on tax returns - is the fact that so few people know who he is.

Hess puts much of this blame on the mainstream media, particularly newspapers with "editors determining who was consequential and who was inconsequential."

Hess has publicly feuded with The Arizona Republic, publishing his conversations with a Republic editor in a blog entry on his Web site. He says the Republic omits him from campaign coverage.

For example, the newspaper's Sept. 17 Viewpoints section, featured "Janet 'The Governor' Napolitano vs. Len 'The Challenger' Munsil." Hess was not mentioned.

Hess says the Republic has contacted him since then and that the paper will be giving him more coverage in the future.

"They blinked," Hess says. "They realized they were cheating the people and they're not going to do that anymore."

But this disregard isn't limited to The Arizona Republic, Hess says. "All [Arizona newspapers] follow The Arizona Republic's lead, even the ASU newspaper," he says.



The spoiler candidate

But some people believe that focusing only on Napolitano and Munsil is appropriate. They feel Hess is nothing but a spoiler candidate.

Hess's opponents have expressed concern that he could draw fence-sitting voters to his third party in a close election.

"If you're going to vote for Barry Hess, that [might as well be a] vote for Gov. Napolitano," says political science junior T.J. Shope, president of ASU's College Republicans. "[Democrats] are probably very happy that there's a Libertarian candidate who gets on the ballot."

Joaquin Rios, also a political science junior and president of Young Democrats, conceded that Hess's candidacy could possibly be a boon for Democrats.

"If I had to bet, I'd say that it would help Governor Napolitano more than it would hurt her, but I wouldn't bet very much money."

This ability to affect votes has put Hess under the Napolitano campaign's eye.

"Having a Libertarian candidate will likely impact the vote total of both the governor and her Republican opponent," says Noah Kroloff, Napolitano's campaign manager. "He's a serious candidate."

The Munsil campaign said they were not concerned with Hess taking away votes.

"We're treating Barry Hess just like any other candidate," said Vernon Parker, Munsil's media director.

But Hess says he has seen animosity from Munsil, especially in regards to fears that he is a spoiler candidate.

After Munsil told Arizona voters that they have two candidates to choose from in a campaign stop in Tempe on Sept. 17, Hess says he told Channel 5 cameramen, "Any man who can't even count to three shouldn't be a candidate for governor."

When he talked with Munsil about the incident at the same forum, Hess says Munsil was defensive.

"He got all pissy and said, 'You're taking votes from me,'" Hess says. "[I asked him,] 'Have you ever thought you're taking votes from me?'"

Parker says he was not aware of Munsil ever expressing concerns about Hess taking away votes. Since then, relations with Munsil have improved, Hess says.



The road ahead

Hess will have more opportunities to interact with Munsil and Napolitano in at least three upcoming debates with the other candidates, the first of which will be held Oct. 5, at 5:30 p.m. in Eight's studios on the ASU Tempe campus.

Hess is already forecasting the gist of the other candidates' messages.

"The Democrat's going to say she knows how to run your life better than you can," Hess says. "The Republican's going to say he knows how to run your life better than the Democrat."

If history's any indication, Hess will barrel on through the election, regardless of the outcome.

"I'm in for the rest of my life in whatever way I can be effective," he says.

Perhaps it is this optimistic outlook that provides Hess's campaign the greatest change of victory in this election.

"We win no matter what the results," he says. "I hope to [pave the way] for someone behind me who will be unstoppable."



Campus Query: SPM asked these ASU students: What's a Libertarian?



"I don't know, [is it] like a librarian? It sounds similar."

-Heidi Schermer, elementary education sophomore



"Someone who believes in freedom of speech, freedom of choice. [They believe] someone can do whatever they want as long as they don't harm anyone else."

-Kara Kunz, pre-med microbiology freshman



"I know it's a political party [but] I don't know much about political parties."

-Cortney Hale, marketing senior



"One of those people that [thinks] anything goes. Everything's okay as long as everybody's happy. I think [they] kind of let anybody do their own thing."

-Jimmy Garcia, business management freshman



"Anti-authoritarian. No taxes, no government intervention. No government, that is the uniting factor."

-Nick Bennett, political science senior



Reach the reporter at james.kindle@asu.edu



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