For week eight of "Fringe Friday," we feature independent candidate for Congress, August "Gus" Jaccaci, a self-described "visionary" who wants to give U.S. Rep. Peter Welch a "two-year sabbatical."
We mean no offense by "fringe." Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third-party candidates — and their radical ideas — on the ballot. The reality is, these candidates seldom win more than 4 to 5 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
For more Seven Days fringe proflies, click here.
Candidate: August "Gus" Jaccaci
Office Sought: U.S. Representative
Education: Harvard College (BA in English, 1960); Harvard Graduate School of Education (MAT, 1964); Rhode Island School of Design (MFA in Painting, 1965)
Occupation: Artist, Philosopher, Writer, Performer (Fun fact: Jaccaci has twice donned a colonialist costume to play Ira Allen on the Channel 17 show "Visionary Vermont" — see clip below.)
Family: Jaccaci grew up in Madison, Conn., Hartwell, Vt., and Santa Fe, N.M. His father was a vice president at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency in New York City who handled the Eastman Kodak account. His wife, Joanne Jaccaci, is an adult educator and a "mystic" who resides in Maine. Gus Jaccaci has two sons and four grandkids.
Platform: 1. "Abolish war." 2. "Build community." 3. "Learn love."
We recently caught up with August "Gus" Jaccaci for an interview at the appropriately named August First bakery and cafe in Burlington
Seven Days: Have you run for office before?
Gus Jaccaci: I ran for governor here in Vermont in 1992 and 1994, twice against Howard Dean.
SD: How'd you do in those races?
GJ: The second time, if you added up all five independents that were running, we got about 4 percent of the vote, which tells you we didn't even make a blip on the radar. I'm running now because I promised myself back in 1994 that I would have three runs of service for the state of Vermont, and I've been over in Maine trying to learn to speak English for over a decade. And I came back to Vermont because the clock is ticking on me and if I was going to make good on my promise for national service and Vermont service, I had to do it. Plus, my wife looked at me and said to me one day, You need to get out of this house and go do something with your life. So I said, Yes dear, and I left Maine and came to Vermont.
SD: Why Congress?
GJ: Because we have enough people running for governor and they're young and vigorous. I'm running for Congress because I believe that — here's the line — Vermont is the state to reinvent the United States. That sentence was spoken by a woman who lived to 100 years and two months from Rochester, Vermont named Marion Leonard. She and her husband were teachers at Putney and when they retired she moved to Rochester. And she ran a small organization, a kind of mom-and-pop thing called Save the Earth Vermont. One day at the Vermont Law School, a German green operative came to tell us about green taxation in Germany. When he got done everyone clapped. And this little lady nobody knew stood up. She was about 4-foot- 9-inches. She said, "Vermont is the state to reinvent the United States" and she sat down. That's all she said. And everyone rose to their feet and gave her a standing ovation. What she had done was to find the pulse and the soul of Vermont with that sentence.
SD: How do you abolish war?
GJ: I think what you do is you ask all 251 towns in Vermont if they would like to write an article for the abolition of war. We abolished slavery in our constitution in 1777. It took England until 1834. It took [the United States] to the Civil War and then another 100 years to even get close. So Vermont has a tradition of having been visionary pioneers in terms of the spirit of our culture.
SD: So what do you propose, putting a town meeting question to every town in Vermont?
GJ: No. I just sent to about a dozen people an invitation to hold one-day, what I call, "Visionary Vermont: 'What If' Week" for two weeks, from Oct. 11 to Oct. 31. And we're starting at Killington. The head of Killington is giving whoever I invite a free dinner, a free room for the night, and then the next day, we're going up the gondola to the top and we're going write articles in the morning and we're going to vote them in the afternoon and it's going to be covered by all the media in the region. Then, I'm going to Burke [Mountain] the next day and Jay Peak the next. So I'm going to go to all the mountaintops, ski areas, and hold those one-day town meetings. And the difference between a regular town meeting and the one we're going to do is that we use a seven-point voting scale instead of yes/no. Those articles, I guarantee you, are going to show up all over Vermont at the March meetings.
SD: So the articles are going to call for what? Abolishing war?
GJ: I don't know. I'm not dictating any of the articles. The night before the town meeting, when we have dinner, I'm going to talk about the abolition of war. I'm going to talk about love as an emergent reality in the world culture. But I'll only do it to seed the operation.
SD: Usually in elections, people need a reason not to re-elect the incumbent. Are you saying Vermonters should not re-elect Peter Welch?
GJ: No, I'm saying I want to give him a two-year sabbatical. I've always voted for Peter Welch. Peter is a better inside player than we could have found. He can climb the inner political ladder like nobody I've ever seen. Am I trying to replace him? No. Here's my plan: I want to give him a two-year sabbatical. I want him to keep his office and his staff in Washington. I want to move in as a participant. And I want to have two representatives instead of one in Washington. I'll do the voting for two years, but he can do the teaching and the guiding and the research and the whole thing. I think we need at least two. We need one visionary and one hard-nosed realist, and Peter's the man. To me, he's a career politician. And I don't want to screw up his career.
SD: Are you really running to get to Washington, or just to put some issues on the table?
GJ: I did that before, when I ran for governor in '92 and '94. This is to get there, because Washington is in such serious trouble and will be progressively more so, that there need to be voices of northern common sense to really help hold the psyche of the country from blowing up.
SD: Are you running a serious campaign?
GJ: Damn right.
SD: Are you raising money?
GJ: I don't believe in it. I accept no monetary contributions. Why? Because every day I can feel somebody wants to buy a little piece of me and I just refuse to do it.
SD: It takes money to run.
GJ: No it doesn't. You, my friend, just bought me a cup [of hot water with lemon] and a cookie. I'm running on the kindness of friends.
SD: Well, name me a politician who's won a congressional seat with no money.
GJ: Well, I won't know until I do it.
SD: You think it could happen?
GJ: Absolutely. It is happening. I've been on three radio programs before talking to you and people are calling in saying, "Go. How do I help you? What's your address?" and so forth. One woman today had a great idea. She said we should get money out of all the communication and the state should give everybody free, equal access to all media — television, newspaper, radio — and we should be the first state in the nation, says I, to have free and equal communication that has nothing to do with buying time and coverage. My hunch is that if we dream up a good internet approach, that I am a very viable candidate and I absolutely mean to win. The first time, in '92 and '94, you could argue they were charades. This is not a charade.
SD: How would describe your politics on a seven-point scale, with 1 being super-duper liberal and 7 being super-duper conservative?
GJ: I am a 1 and a 7 and I'll tell you why. Because I'm a professional facilitator. I can get between people who hate each other's guts and facilitate their [disagreements]. I've been a candidate in the Republican Party. I've been a candidate in the Democratic Party. I've been in most independent parties. I even made one of my own called People Of Vermont.
SD: The Bush tax cuts are a big debate in Congress right now. Would you let them expire, vote to extend them or what?
GJ: Let 'em go. Let 'em expire. We need to rethink the entire taxation system of the country and it may be that a flat tax or some other invention that breaks up the incredible differentiation between the haves and the have-nots ... The bosses are making $3 million, $4 million, $5 million while the people are making $8 an hour. Don't forget that if the dollar is falling off the table, and people can't pay their taxes, the only way we're going to collect taxes is if they go buy Cheerios, they pay a little bit of tax on anything they buy. We may be able to keep the government alive that way. If the dollar falls off the table, nobody's going to pay taxes. They're just going to say, sorry I can do it.
SD: Do you think we should tax the wealthy at a higher rate?
GJ: That presumes that the tax structure is still in place and I'm suggesting to you that rather than tinker with it once again — and there's some good proposals that we go up not more than 1 or 2 percent on the middle class and go up 6 percent on the wealthy — but they don't make sense in a recession-becoming-depression economy. It's deck chairs on the Titanic. So I appreciate your question, but I think we've got to look at the bigger picture. So many people are losing their houses. So many people are losing their jobs. It's my job to know everybody's ideology and help them cook a new culture.
SD: But what is your personal ideology? When you got into the voting booth, you can't vote for the most conservative candidate and the most liberal one for the same office. You can only pick one. How do you tend to vote?
GJ: I think we have two of the best senators we could possibly have. One is a tough shin-kicker and the other is a statesman extraordinaire.
SD: Both of those guys are liberal. So are you?
GJ: Yeah, except that I have run in the Republican Party to find out what it was about and one of my mentors is John McLaughry, who is thought to be the leading [conservative] thinker. So it may be hard for you to get your hands around this, but I believe I owe my creative leadership to everybody along the whole spectrum. I refuse to define myself as this, that or the other.
SD: Fair enough. What do you make of the Tea Party movement?
GJ: I think they have the right anger and the wrong approach. I think they have every reason — and so do all kinds of people — to be furious for all kinds of reasons. The difficulty is, it's pure destruction if they don't have something they're trying to create. It's just kicking the tires and shins of everything and it's going to take a whole lot of people on a whole lot of sleigh rides. There needs to be someone like me to put the transformation theory on the table and say, Now look. While you're busy disemboweling the parties and the country, what are we going to put back together?
SD: You mentioned John McLaughry as a mentor. Who are some other mentors or folks that have influenced your thinking?
GJ: Well, most of them have gone yonder. But I was a colleague of Buckminster Fuller. I gave him an honorary degree at Boston College when I was assistant to the president there. He has been a mentor of mine. Margaret Mead was a good working colleague. She's been a mentor. I could name a lot of other people but they are scientists and inventors who most people don't know.
SD: Today, the U.S. Senate is voting on a defense appropriations bill that would repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. What's your position on that?
GJ: It's just like the marriage thing that we have worked through in this state. Civil unions and then marriage. In the end, the country has to get to the place where it accepts and even celebrates difference, whether it's in the military, education, medical, business, whatever. I can understand military officers of the old school being angry about it. When that age group of complainers is gone, we'll have a new world. If [soldiers are] over there now taking shots — if they're serving and getting killed — why would I say, Oh, you forgot to brush your teeth, or, You forgot to be sexually oriented the way I think you should be. How stupid is that? You're willing to send someone to their death but you're not willing to let them be who they are? Get over it America!
SD: What was your first job?
GJ: One of my first jobs was a shelf-stocker and a bag boy in a supermarket for the summer. But then I did roofing. I did carpentry construction. I did highway construction in Brattleboro. I did all kinds of physical labor, including clearing ski trains in New Mexico. With a Harvard degree and all of my colleagues being fat cats who never did a lick of work in their life, I'm proud of the fact I know what it is to be a workman.
SD: What's your favorite season in Vermont?
GJ: Up until now, it's been winter because I've been a ski coach. I coached at the world championships. I started the cross country program at Burke Mountain Academy. But right now, having had the first successful garden of my life, I would say spring, because it's regenerative.