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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

Green Party candidate has grass-roots dream

FERNDALE, Mich. - Doug Campbell, a rather droll engineer with a wickedly dry sense of humor, is running for governor. And he has an advantage over all the other candidates. They have to worry about the Aug. 6 primary.

He knows he'll be on the ballot in November. That's because he is the Green Party candidate, and so-called “minor” parties that qualify for the ballot don't have to run in primaries. Also, he intends to win. Well, hopes to win.

“If they nominate [Jim] Blanchard and [Dick] Posthumus, the two weakest candidates, and then we have a nuclear meltdown somewhere in the state the last week of the campaign, I'd say with a little luck, we could do it.”

However, nuclear meltdowns aside, the odds are slightly against him. Make that, big-time against him. Michigan voters don't often cotton to third-party candidates. Ralph Nader got barely 2 percent of the vote two years ago; the Green candidate for U.S. Senate polled a microscopic 37,542, less than 1 percent.

What makes Mr. Campbell think he can do any better?

“I have a different American dream. Mine is that regular people like you and I will challenge the idea that elected offices are reserved for the aristocracy. I dream that regular folk will get on the ballot, get elected, and implement truly representative government instead of the current system of kleptocracy for special interests.”

He thinks that corporate scandals like Enron and WorldCom are helping make voters more cynical about the system then they were in peaceful and prosperous 2000 ... and he may well be on to something there.

But Mr. Campbell's concern about elections and the environment are primarily what led him to take the plunge. That, and the fact that he's been laid off; times aren't great for free-lance automotive engineers right now. Indeed, if there is any such thing as a stereotypical engineer, or Green Party supporter, he doesn't seem to fit either mode. Tall (6 feet 4 inches), stocky, and balding, the 43-year-old candidate tops the scales at 250-plus pounds.

Though many of his fellow Greens are vegetarians or vegans, Mr. Campbell blithely proclaims “I'm an omnivore,” as he chomps into a chicken pita sandwich. But if he's not against meat, he's big on powering the farms on which it is raised by wind, which he sees as the fuel of the future. “My signature issue is proposing to establish a 100-megawatt municipally owned electricity generating wind farm. Not only would this be totally non-polluting, totally non-fuel-consuming, and totally sustainable, it will also prevent a California-style electric power crisis in the future.”

He wants to beef up standards at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and strengthen whistleblower protection, especially in environmental pollution cases. He'd limit trucks to 80,000 pounds to save roads, and put more money into rail. He'd reform campaign finance, and reform voting itself, perhaps to move to a two-round runoff system that would make people less reluctant to vote for the candidate they most believe in.

But he has to get noticed first. This has been frustrating; he's been allowed into very few of the multi-candidate forums or debates that have been held around the state. Even those that have claimed to be open to “all candidates” have frequently excluded him, often on the grounds that these were pre-primary affairs, and he didn't have to worry about surviving the primary.

Finally, he decided to crash one - the forum the Michigan League of Conservation Voters held in Brighton, about halfway between Detroit and Lansing. He went up on stage and took a seat. Managers had him ejected by the police, which got him more publicity than anything and everything else he's done so far.

“There have been a lot of rumors floating around that I have been seriously injured by the police. Let me put this to rest. About the worst is some broken ribs, which are exquisitely painful, but I've broken ribs before. I'll drink lots of hormone-free milk and they'll heal as good as new ... they smashed my head down on the floor pretty good, but the nausea and the dizziness spontaneously subsided within a few hours.”

Naturally, he got a wave of favorable publicity from the event, which he admits he fully intended. Afterwards, he wrote a half-mocking, half-issue-oriented “Letter from the Brighton Jail,” which his campaign has been busily distributing.

This fall, ribs healed, he intends to hit the trail full-time, campaigning, unlike the major-party candidates, on a shoestring and the issues. Michigan's major party primary winners each get $2 million to start. The Greens, if they are lucky, may scare up $150,000. That doesn't bother him, or his family, mainly because he hasn't got one, other than his 9-year-old setter mix, Xenon.

“Never been married,” he said. “Not because I am against it. I am coping with an engineer's personality here.” His eyes twinkle.

“You know if I did win, I'd be the most eligible bachelor in the state. That's not why I'm running, but that would be kind of a nice fringe benefit,” he said. Well, maybe ... at least until the eligible, voters and otherwise, learn that Mr. Campbell does have a skeleton in his closet. His degree is from ... Ohio State. Regardless of your politics, that may be a bit too much for Michigan voters to bear.



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