Sharp focus, few votes for Cannabis, Libertarian governor hopefuls

Chris Wright, Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party
Chris Wright, Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party
Tom Scheck / MPR News

When you're the Grassroots/Legalize Cannabis Party's candidate for governor, your priorities are pretty clear.

Chris Wright backs a single-payer health care system and cuts in greenhouse gases, but legalizing marijuana is his main concern. He turned up recently a distant fourth on a KSTP poll with 1 percent of the vote. He was happy to show up at all.

Libertarian Chris Holbrook, the other minority party candidate in the race, also supports legalizing pot. Like Wright, Holbrook had to gather 2,000 signatures in a two-week filing period this spring to make it on the ballot, an effort that got him arrested at Lake Calhoun. (Minneapolis Park Police later apologized.)

Such is life for the lesser-known candidates for governor. The three major party hopefuls — DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican Jeff Johnson and the Independence Party's Hannah Nicollet — have received lots of attention this campaign season.

More: Election 2014 | Select a Candidate | Policast podcast | Capitol View

Holbrook and Wright? Not so much. Their odds of winning are beyond long. But they're undeterred. And they are focused. Holbrook said his main goal this year is to grow the Libertarian Party in Minnesota. For Wright, it's pot.

"A lot of people think that that's a mere single issue, but of course it affects crime and punishment," Wright said. "It affects civil rights. It affects farm issues. It's regular freedom."

Wright lives in Edina and owns a computer shop in Bloomington. In his back office, posters documenting marijuana rallies from the 1980s and 1990s hang on the walls. In 2010, 7,516 people voted for Wright for governor. He also ran for governor in 1998 and for Congress in 1988 pushing for legalization.

"When we started the Grassroots Party in 1986, virtually no one was out there for legalization," he noted. "People would come up to us at the State Fair and say things like, 'You ought to be shot.' Now people's attitudes are changing."

Wright believes marijuana will soon be legalized. He said state policy leaders won't be able to ignore the tax revenue it generates. "It might take until the next election to know if I won," Wright added. "They may say, 'Gosh we need to get those votes.' Once we crack the two-party tyranny, then we know we won."

Chris Holbrook, Libertarian Party candidate
Chris Holbrook, Libertarian Party candidate
Tom Scheck / MPR News

Holbrook wants to get government out of nearly every aspect of life, a campaign theme reinforced when he was forcefully arrested at Lake Calhoun in late May when police on the scene believed he needed a permit.

On cell phone video of his arrest Holbrook can be heard saying, "I am sick of sitting back and watching my rights taken from me, watching people's rights taken from them."

The St. Paul resident wants to eliminate the corporate and personal income taxes and replace them with a flat sales tax. He also doesn't think abortion, same-sex marriage and other social issues are the government's business.

"I'm sick of the government telling me that I can't smoke marijuana if I want to, I can't buy fireworks if I want to, I can't buy beer on Sundays if I want to. I'm sick of those things," he said. "I'm sick of the government taking my money, taking my income and giving it to other people. I love giving my money to people, but I want to be the one to make that choice."

Like Wright, Holbrook has no illusions that he will one day reside in the governor's mansion.

"There's a 99.999 percent chance that we won't win," he said, but added that "anything is possible."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.