BY BEN JOHNSON
In November, Independent candidate for Kentucky governor Drew Curtis saw his campaign end miserably after garnering under four percent of the vote.
Now that he has had time to reflect on the loss over the past months, the founder of humorous news aggregating website Fark.com has some interesting conclusions about the political process.
Curtis’ biggest surprise looking back was how both parties exercise complete control over the whole process.
The main example is requiring 5,000 valid ballot signatures to run as an Independent, which took Curtis and his campaign from January until August to accomplish, as compared to the two signatures required of those running as a Democrat or Republican. Curtis said electronic signatures are not allowed as well.
“The only real purpose for this rule is to allow the two parties to capture all outsiders capable of winning (like Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin) and prevent individuals from making successful independent runs,” Curtis said.
Curtis also said being locked out of debates based on polling criteria was his biggest hurdle — one he says he wasn’t able to overcome — and the parties will regret locking out viable alternative candidates in the future because they are sowing the seeds of their own demise.
“We’re seeing it right now in the 2016 presidential election,” Curtis said. “The difference is that instead of running as Independents, outsiders are hijacking the parties themselves. In both parties.”
Many voters Curtis talked to after the election said they voted for the lesser of two evils and were unhappy with the quality of both Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Bevin. Curtis believes he lost many votes — especially from Conway supporters — because they feared what the other candidate’s governorship might look like.
Coming from the entrepreneurial world, the supposed rules to how to run an effective campaign were foreign to Curtis.
“The conventional wisdom of How To Run a Campaign looks a lot like Feng Shui — there are a set of rules that seem like they should work but at the end of the day no one can really prove objectively that they work,” Curtis said.
Curtis caught plenty of flak for his campaign strategy, which Philip Bump of the Washington Post called “terrible.”
In particular, Curtis was criticized for not running on a party ticket and not having a clearly defined set of policies.
Curtis said this wasn’t a strategy per se, but a set of qualities that he brings to the table.
“As the only candidate who was unencumbered by a pre-existing policy platform, I spent a lot of time digging into issues that actually mattered but I also weighed them in terms of which solutions were easiest to implement,” Curtis said. “This is why fixing pensions and Class D Felony expungement were at the top of the to-do list — fixing these problems does the greatest amount of good for the least amount of work.”
Party candidates, he argued, weight issue priority based on what will garner the most votes and campaign contributions — something which can be completely unrelated to the general public’s interests.
Curtis’ unique campaign sought to listen to ideas based on merit regardless of party origin.
“Usually we have to pick between two pre-set lists of policy issues, hold our noses and pick one of them,” Curtis said. “I offered a third path — bring your ideas, prove they have worked elsewhere, and we’ll see if we can run a successful test here as well.”
He did concede the benefits of branding oneself under a political label rather than Independent and non-ideological, but thinks the beliefs and principles of the two parties offer too little range of thought.
Curtis said it is possible his strategy choices were irrelevant in the governor’s race owing to entrenched party adherence among older voters and the monetary and party influence working to drown out his voice.
Looking at the political process in general, Curtis said the number one issue to fix is campaign finance.
“It’s impossible for any candidate to raise campaign funds without selling influence,” Curtis said. “No one else donates to campaigns. As a result, politicians concentrate first and foremost on how much money they can raise, and only get around to examining solutions they were paid for during their campaigns.”
Curtis also said politicians, including himself, struggle prioritizing because they are disconnected from the common everyday lives and problems of the electorate.
“I would also include myself in that bubble,” Curtis said. “I like to think I’m more in touch than most people, and I did grow up in Kentucky. But I didn’t grow up as a minority. Or female. Or live outside an urban area.”
Initially in the campaign, Curtis said the media did not take him seriously as a candidate but eventually came around.
“It’s totally understandable — everyone in media knows me as the Fark guy, and Fark certainly isn’t a serious website,” Curtis said. “What are the odds that someone could both run a humorous news website and command a working knowledge of public policy? I would have had the same reaction myself.”
Curtis said his candidacy was also hindered by a pervasive “we like him, but he can’t win” narrative from the media that prevented a lot of support from materializing.
The media’s biggest problem in Curtis’ mind is its failure to challenge the established parties and conventional wisdom in politics.
“It’s perfectly fine to report opposing opinions by giving them equal time, but not when one of the opposing opinions is a complete falsehood,” Curtis said. “Media needs to call these out as such. In a headline preferably.”
Curtis said it is possible he may run for office again in the future even if it is just to raise issues the two parties normally would not talk about.
“If I hadn’t been in the race, no one would have talked about the important issues,” Curtis said. “When one candidate answers questions with specific answers, that forces the other candidates to do so as well. I think that outcome benefits everyone.”
As for now though, Curtis is focused on other business ventures and writing a book about a half dozen impending technological disruptions.
Curtis predicts the November presidential election will spur a reaction of outrage and disgust regardless of who wins leading non-voters to take the reigns and search for alternatives to the political status quo.
“If the parties don’t retain power, they don’t raise money,” Curtis said. “And it’s ‘game over’ for them.”