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A different kind of candidate

Bryan, Lendall talk about issues that others won’t.

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OUTSIDERS: Bryan and Lendall.
  • OUTSIDERS: Bryan and Lendall.

Both of the long-shot candidates for governor talk about “sustainability,” with the occasional “paradigm” and “holistic“ thrown in. One of them had to sue to get a place on the ballot; the other collected most of the signatures he needed at a neighborhood tavern. One is a former rock musician who now works in a sandwich shop; the other is a nurse. These are not your father’s gubernatorial candidates.

Rod Bryan

He’s running as an independent, which required him to collect 10,000 signatures to win a place on the ballot. He collected most of the signatures himself, visiting cities like Conway and Fayetteville in the process, “but the biggest source was the Oyster Bar,” in Little Rock’s Stifft Station neighborhood. He rides a bicycle around town, and thinks everybody should, saving his car for long trips between cities, although he once rode the bike from Little Rock to Dumas — 86 miles — “Just to see if I could.” When he drives, he drives an ’84 diesel Mercedes that runs on vegetable oil. He bought the car for $1,200 and spent $200 to fix it up. He notes that the major candidates — Mike Beebe, Democrat, and Asa Hutchinson, Republican — spend large sums to lease vehicles for the campaign.

He is, incidentally, deeply unimpressed by Beebe and Hutchinson, “They’re not politicians, they’re brokers. They only serve the people who financed them.” Acknowledging his underdog status, he said in an interview, “I want more people to run who have a better chance of winning than I do. I don’t think we’ve had intelligent people running for office. I don’t think Hutchinson and Beebe are intelligent. Studying case law doesn’t make you intelligent.” Beebe and Hutchinson are lawyers.

Though Jim Lendall is the Green Party candidate, it’s hard to imagine anyone greener than Bryan. “We need a holistic understanding of what’s good for the planet and the people who live on it,” he said. One of the things that’s good for them is using bicycles instead of vehicles that burn fossil fuels. “Cities could be built where people wouldn’t go anywhere that they couldn’t get back from on a bike.” The bicycle should be used as horses once were. “If you go to the grocery store, don’t bring back more than you can carry on the bike.”

Asked what “sustainability” means, Bryan gives an example: “If you’re stuck in the woods with only a box of crackers to eat, you don’t eat all the crackers on the first day.” He believes that people should provide their food and water locally, and expand outward only for those things they can’t get locally.

“We should depend on something that grows naturally, like industrial hemp,” he said. “I think that’s the only thing that can save the country. It could make the economy better and people healthier.” Hemp is used for food and other purposes, including the making of rope and coarse fabrics. Hemp products from Canada can be bought legally in the USA, but the federal government prohibits the growing of hemp, because hemp comes from the same family, cannabis, as marijuana. Hemp lacks the substance that gives marijuana its buzz, Bryan said.

For fuel, “We should use the equipment we have to create solar cells, an unlimited source of power, instead of relying on petroleum.”

People like to know where a candidate sits on the liberal-to-conservative scale. In Bryan’s case, it’s not easy to say. Many of the issues he talks about don’t fit under the conventional liberal and conservative labels. He seems to see the Democrats as a lesser evil than the Republicans, but not much lesser.

“I voted for Kerry in 2004 and immediately wished I hadn’t,” Bryan said. The Democrats have erred, he said, in following the Republicans to the right. Now both parties appeal to right-wing voters, ignoring the 80 percent of voters who are not. “That’s where I’m looking.”

He worked, “but not a lot,” in Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000. Some blame Nader for taking votes from Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, and thus tipping the election to George W. Bush. Like other Nader supporters, Bryan will have none of it. Gore should have run a better campaign instead of imitating Republicans, he said.

“If Beebe loses to Hutchinson, it’ll be his fault. Not Nader, not Jim Lendall, not me. Hutchinson is as bad a candidate for governor as you can get. Both of them have shown that a person can keep a job in government without doing anything.”

Bryan is running a low-budget campaign. (There’s never been an independent candidate who ran a high-budget one.) The campaign cards he hands out were cut from cereal boxes. He worries about paying the rent on his campaign headquarters.

Like all political underdogs, Bryan sees much in the campaign that displeases him. He thinks it unfair that he’s been shut out of debates held in state facilities, such as one on the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The debates were limited to “the two corporate candidates,” he said, because, “The big dollars that go through campaigns come from the same places as those that go through universities.” He’s unhappy with the coverage of the governor’s race by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper. The D-G identifies him as “a sandwich shop operator” or “a former record store owner” and says nothing else about his candidacy, he complained.

Sandwich shop employee and record store owner are only two of many vocations that Bryan, 37, has pursued. He’s probably best known around Little Rock as the former bass player in a band called Ho-Hum. (Once a football player at Ouachita Baptist University, he said that how to play the bass was one of two things he learned in college. The other was “the leech block.”) He’s been a waiter “in at least 15 different restaurants,” a grocery clerk, a “manual weed extractor” (cotton chopper), a construction laborer and a farmhand, among other pursuits. He was raised at Bradley (Lafayette County).

Bryan now works for Boulevard Bread Co. in Little Rock, where, he said, the owner was conscientious about buying food locally. If he’s not elected governor, he’ll manage a new Boulevard Bread outlet in the River Market area. If he is elected, he’ll work at the sandwich shop only a couple of days a week.

Jim Lendall

After serving in the Army, Jim Lendall directed a telephone hotline/crisis intervention center in Little Rock. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UALR, worked as a restoration carpenter, and earned another bachelor’s degree as a registered nurse/nurse practitioner from UAMS. Since 1985, he’s worked as a registered nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. He’s taking six weeks off from ACH, without pay, to run for governor. He’s 59.

For eight years, Lendall was a member of the state House of Representatives, a part-time job.

Journalists remember Representative Lendall as someone who sponsored a lot of progressive bills and couldn’t pass them. “I passed a few,” he says now, but he adds that his major role was “asking tough questions in committee, bringing up issues that otherwise wouldn’t have been brought up,” such as “defending a woman’s right to choose.”

Many of his legislative colleagues regarded him with suspicion, not only for his politics but for his appearance too. (And probably for his profession.) He had, and still has, a long beard and long hair. Once, a question was raised as to whether Lendall was complying with a rule requiring neckties in the House chamber. He parted his beard to show that he was.

(His appearance may be something of an advantage now. He’s been campaigning at county fairs around the state, and he’s surprised to find that many people recognize him — probably from seeing him and his facial hair on television. At Searcy recently, a woman told him that he should cut his hair and beard. He replied that without them, she wouldn’t have known him.)

After being term-limited out of the legislature (term limits are “a big-time bad idea,” he says), he planned to spend his time working in his garden. Then the Green Party asked him to be its gubernatorial candidate, and he agreed. He was the first candidate to announce and the last to qualify, getting on the ballot only after he won a lawsuit challenging the state’s petition requirement for third-party candidates.

On the subject of public schools, Lendall says, “We should continue on the course we’re on in setting standards. Any change would be a step backward. I hope the rhetoric of the major candidates calling for lower standards won’t put us back.” Hutchinson says the state has gone too far in imposing standards that require the consolidation of small rural schools. Beebe says it’s gone far enough.

“School consolidation has been blamed for the demise of small towns, when really it’s technology and the economy” — such as a reduced need for agricultural workers — Lendall says. “Many of these towns are in the process of shrinking anyway. We shouldn’t let schools continue in existence if they don’t provide quality education.”

Lendall sponsored a bill to remove the state sales tax on groceries. He said that Beebe, a longtime state senator, never sponsored such a bill. Beebe says now that the tax should be removed but only if state revenues permit. Hutchinson says the tax should be repealed immediately, with no qualifications.

Continuing on the subject of tax reform, Lendall says, “We should back off on tax breaks for corporations. Forty percent of the state’s tax revenue used to come from corporations. Now it’s 12 or 13 percent because of tax breaks.”

Of course the Green Party is concerned about the environment. New dams destroy a resource for the future, Lendall says. “If we don’t change our water policies, Southeast Arkansas will be a desert. When they can’t drill any deeper, where will they go?” Farmers must plant different, less water-intensive crops, he says.

Lendall wants to make sure that Arkansas environmental laws are at least as strict as federal laws. Under the Bush administration, there’s no danger that the federal laws will be too strict, he says.

Lendall ran for the House as an independent the first time, and as a Democrat the other three times, but he says he became disenchanted with Democrats fairly quickly. The party has abandoned its core groups — labor, minorities, environmentalists — “to pursue white, middle-class soccer moms.”

He said he’s heard from former Democratic colleagues who are disappointed that he’s running against the Democratic nominee, but “a lot of the progressive ideas I proposed were torpedoed by Democrats.” Rather than drop his Green affiliation to please Democratic friends, he’ll try to persuade them to join him. “Next election, I hope some of them are running as Green Party candidates.”

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