For week five of "Fringe Friday," we feature independent candidate for U.S. Senate Johenry Nunes, a retired corrections officer and Vermont National Guardsman from Isle LaMotte who says Vermont needs "a hero" — and that it's him.
Every Friday, Seven Days is profiling a "fringe" candidate seeking statewide office. 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 1 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
Candidate: Johenry Nunes
Office Sought: U.S. Senator
Hometown: Isle LaMotte
Education: St. Michael's College (BA in History, 2005)
Occupation: Retired corrections officer (2001) for Vermont Department of Corrections. E-7 Master Sergeant with the Vermont Air National Guard (24 years).
Family: Nunes was born on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal. At age 6, his family emigrated to Montreal and later moved to California, where Nunes' grandfather was a dairy farmer. His parents worked as dairy farmers, as did Nunes when he was young. To escape poverty, he says, he enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Plattsburgh Air Force Base. He later joined the Vermont Guard and moved to Isle LaMotte. Nunes has two sons: Herbie, 23; and Joseph, 19.
Campaign Website: Johenry 2010 Facebook page
Platform: Nunes is running to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and divert defense spending into deficit reduction.
We caught up with Nunes at his home, down a dead-end dirt road in Isle LaMotte.
Seven Days: You're running for U.S. Senate.
Johenry Nunes: A lot of my life has led up to running for political office. I've never run for political office but I was in Arizona this winter with a professor friend of mine from St. Mike's. It was rainy, so we're watching Billy Jack Goes to Washington, from the 1970s. The thing is, we've become a society of greed and even that movie was made in 1970, you're basically talking about poverty, alienation of the poor or scapegoating of the poor; the war — there it was Vietnam, now it's the two wars we're fighting; and also this American phenomenon of discrimination. It's evolved since then. I would argue we [discriminate against] the poor in Vermont. One thing I've noticed is, like, when my kids went to school is Isle LaMotte, it's a school of like 34 kids, they're all white. You would think that these kids would be all buddy buddies and support one another. And what do you think that he kids in Isle LaMotte discriminate against? You live in a trailer, and I live on the lake. I don't think we have ever really dealt with this thing of greed. And in a lot of ways, I think it's [analogous] to this campaign. I believe the media ignores me because I'm a nobody. I'm running a $5000 campaign. You're not going to be running any commercials on my station, so why should I pay attention to you? I care about this $3.4 million that Leahy has and how much of it is he going to [use to] run commercials on my station?
SD: You just described a David and Goliath scenario. Why put yourself out there as the David to go up against someone like Patrick Leahy?
JN: I don't really want to get into the David and Goliath. It should be that there are things in this country that should be said. And it's going to take a hero to say them, because they're very uncomfortable things to say. Things like 'unethical,' 'greed.' I would even say, 'social corruption.'
SD: So are you running against Pat Leahy and his record, or against what you see as the societal ills of America?
JN: I think that I'm running against an idea of what I believe America should be. America should be a nation that doesn't solve its problems through violence. I believe my nation should be a nation that solves its problems through intelligence and not being in denial that these things aren't happening. In a way, I think Pat Leahy is a lot like our generals. They knew that things were going wrong in Iraq — whether they didn't have the property equipment, dah dah dah. But they didn't say anything because they wanted to retire or get another star and get their pension over $100,000 a year, and then write a book and get a $1 million front for it. All that is unethical to me. Leahy is 70 years old, he has millions of dollars. I would argue that he's just as greedy as any of those generals because, haven't you had enough? Don't you have enough?
SD: Do you picture yourself like a Billy Jack?