I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite old magazines of all time is a dead-tree tome called Internet Underground that did a pretty good job of covering early internet culture thoughtfully, and perhaps with a little edge.
Of their many articles from back in the day, one that sticks with me is from their third issue, in which writer Alex Gordon highlighted the way that third-party “fringe” presidential candidates were using the Web to help draw attention to their unlikely-but-still-valid campaigns. The piece featured icons of the last-ditch presidential race, including Pat Paulsen and Lyndon Larouche. (Paulsen stated that someone visited his site from WhiteHouse.gov, which must have been a kick.)
It’s unusual to see folks mentioned in the piece, such as Russell Hirshon—then a 34-year-old bartender—still sticking with their unlikely presidential campaigns decades later, but fringe candidates function like that.
But recently, I learned of a political candidate who gives me hope for the future of fringe. His name is Christopher Carlson, and he’s a goddamn puppeteer! Carlson, who is running on the Green Party ticket, is one of 27 candidates taking place in the 2018 California gubernatorial campaign, the primaries for which are taking place today. He strikes an interesting pose. On his Ballotpedia page, he suggests the idea of “permaculture Burning Man cities for the homeless,” talks about how he’s working with the luthier for Queen’s Brian May to make a guitar that looks like the Voyager spacecraft, and says his favorite holiday is the birthday of naturalist John Muir. In a recent interview with Sacramento’s CBS affiliate, he made the case that California—not the U.S., California—should join the space race. He sounds more fun than most of our presidential candidates already.
And of course, we can’t not talk about his puppeteering skills, which he learned as a student at Sacramento State. In various clips on YouTube, Carlson is shown generally doing offbeat things with puppetry, including riding around a bike that doubles as a stage. Say what you will about Barack Obama, but he never tried to win over voters with a puppet.
Carlson is featured in a number of clips on YouTube with his puppet Cabbage, along with Libertarian candidate Nickolas Wildstar, who seems like a heck of a good sport, despite the seeming political differences their party labels might suggest. But offbeat candidate or not, Carlson’s got numerous issues he’s passionate about, including opposition to a multi-billion dollar water tunnel project that has proven controversial among environmentalists.
Carlson, who changed his shirt nearly as many times as Michael Stipe while speaking in front of the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s board last month, did not show himself to be a target of ridicule when talking about the issues.
“No matter what party all of the governor’s candidates are from, including Gavin Newsom, all of the governor’s candidates oppose the twin tunnel project, every single one of us,” Carlson said during the meeting. “We take our candidacy very seriously, we hear the things you’re saying.”
Maybe he doesn’t have a real shot against Newsom or the other top-tier candidates, but considering the topsy-turvy political era we’re in, screw it: We need more puppeteers as political candidates.
Russell Hirshon, if you’re reading this, show this guy the ropes when he inevitably launches his presidential run.