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Independent Candidates Fight to be Heard in Utah

Utah has three independent candidates running for Congress this election.  But most voters haven’t seen a single ad or billboard about their campaigns.  For a candidate with no funds or party support, it’s an uphill battle to get a message out.  This story looks at what it means to be an independent candidate in Utah.

Joe Andrade is running for Congress, but he has no campaign headquarters.  He’s an emeritus professor at the University of Utah, so he uses a café on campus for his weekly strategy meetings.  Andrade doesn’t do TV or radio ads.  His signs are hand-made.  The only campaign merchandise he’s invested in are t-shirts featuring a map of the recently redrawn state districts, with his 2nd District highlighted in green.  Andrade says he wants no money in his campaign.

“I think money has totally corrupted the system. It’s not just the campaign issues and destructive and negative ads, but it’s the lobbyists purchasing access and even purchasing direct legislation,” Andrade told KUER,” Almost every Congressperson is largely bought, and it’s why we no longer have a level playing field of any kind.”

So the professor of bioengineering decided to make himself a test subject. 

“It’s really a big experiment and I’m convinced that my hypothesis is correct, that you can run a campaign without oodles of money and without selling your soul to large contributors,” he said.

With no funds for ads, the biggest challenge Andrade has is finding a platform to be heard.  He and other 3rd party and independent candidates are generally not invited to most debates.   Andrade requested to be included in a recent 2nd District debate on KUTV.  When the station said no, he showed up outside to protest, and managed to get some coverage.

In an effort to be heard, Andrade has even teamed up with one of his opponents, Charles Kimball, who is another independent candidate for the 2nd District.  The two of them worked together to pressure Southern Utah University’s Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service to include them in a debate… and they were successful. 

“There is a fundamental problem in this country with conversation, with expanding our political dialogue.  Both Republican and Democrats seem to talk over each other and just mimic whatever crowd they’re in front of wants to hear,” said Kimball,  “That’s bad for our country, I think.”

Kimball said it’s up to voters to demand something different.

“If the polling numbers are the Congress are any indication, America is dissatisfied with the status quo – 10 percent approval rating.  That is an indictment on our entire political system, and on us, the voters.  We’re the ones who put them there; they represent us.  If we’re dissatisfied with them, and we continue to vote them into office, we have nothing to say, obviously.  We cannot complain.”

While Kimball is running as an independent because he wants to open up a discussion with voters, U-S Senate candidate Bill Barron is using his race to start a conversation about an issue he believes is not being addressed by the two dominant political parties - climate change. To raise awareness, he toured the state on his bicycle.

Bill Barron raises awareness about his Senate race and his focus on climate change by riding his bicycle across Utah.

Barron is a self-described introvert, a soft-spoken carpenter who is perhaps an unlikely political candidate, but, Barron told KUER, it’s not really about him.

“For people who are disenchanted with the political system the way it is, and people who have enjoyed this beautiful, natural world that surrounds us, we really have an opportunity to make a difference together,” said Barron, “It’s not about me in particular.  Maybe I’m the messenger as a candidate, but we can all send a message.”

Barron is convinced that if got 10 percent of the vote, it would send a strong message to Washington.  That would mean about 75,000 votes across Utah, which he admits is unlikely given how little money he has and how hard it is for him to get exposure. 

Back at the University café, volunteer and student Shannon Kennelly admits that before she started working on Joe Andrade’s campaign, she had a narrow view of independent candidates.

“Spoilers – is what I’ve always considered independents and the Green Party.  But I think the message is really important now… and considering things outside the 2-party systems.  Definitely, working with Joe has opened up my mind to considering independent candidates.”

Utah’s independent candidates are hoping they can open up more minds by Nov. 6th.  They all admit they don’t expect to win, but they’re convinced that the fight is worth it.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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