Clifford Thornton Jr. doesn't mince words -- he knows his Connecticut Green Party candidacy for governor has little chance.
But Thornton, 61, hopes his campaign will spur discussion on the war, on drugs and on related issues of race and class.
"There's no one out there who is speaking to these issues," said Thornton, who was nominated last month as the Green Party candidate at a convention in New Haven. "No one is talking about the war on drugs. No one is talking about education and how it relates to the drug war. No one is talking about the failure of our infrastructure."
After major party conventions earlier this month chose gubernatorial nominees Dannel Malloy, Stamford's Democratic mayor, and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Thornton said he deserves his share of the media spotlight as an officially recognized candidate who is raising money and attempting to get his message out.
"I want to get these people to talk about the issues," the Glastonbury man said. "How many people are talking about the war in Iraq? How many people are talking about the war right here? How many people are talking about the race issue?"
Thornton is the first black man to run for governor from an established party in Connecticut.
"If I inspire minorities, it's great. But it's not what I deem really important," he said.
Thornton, whose mother died of a heroin overdose when he was 18, said his concentration on the drug trade does not make him a one-issue candidate.
The drug trade is "two degrees from everything" and the "so-called war on drugs" promotes racism and wastes large amounts of money, he said.
The 2004 report of the state Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System ranked Connecticut highest nationwide for disparity in rates of incarceration of whites, blacks and Hispanics, who mostly are arrested on drug charges.
In 2000, the incarceration rate for black men was 18 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white men. One in 11 black men ages 18 to 64 in Connecticut was in prison or jail in 2000, according to the report.
Thornton said marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol. Hemp, a form of the marijuana plant that is not psycho-active and can be used to make clothing, automobile parts and other items, also should be legalized, he said.
Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine should be "medicalized," meaning users would come under a doctor's care, Thornton said. Other drugs, mostly hallucinogens, should be decriminalized but studied honestly, without researchers bent on finding reasons to make them illegal, he said. Their use would depend on the outcome of such studies, he said.
Thornton said he uses marijuana less than once a year, but no other drugs.
Ending the drug war would save billions of dollars in the cost of maintaining police departments and the criminal justice system, he said. The money could be used to pay for better schools, improved transportation infrastructure and universal health care, Thornton said. Getting addicts health care could prevent deaths like that of his mother, he said.
Children would benefit by breaking the cycle of addiction, Thornton said. In the 40 years of the national war on drugs, 20 million children have been "orphaned" because one or more of their parents served prison time for drug offenses, he said. Those children are most likely to act out and be suspended or expelled from school, which puts them on the street, where they invariably get in trouble, usually with drugs, he said.
"It's the culture," Thornton said. "We started with it. We have to pay for it."
Asked to comment about the positions of his opponents, Thornton reiterated that they miss the point on fundamental issues.
Malloy "has said it's one of the safest cities to live in, and he won't admit to the drug problem that they have in Stamford," Thornton said. "You can quote me when I call them cowards on the drug wars . . . because I want to draw them into a fight any way."
Other than the drug issue and differences with Malloy's universal health-care plan, Thornton said he has no specific differences with candidates, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is expected to challenge Malloy's nomination in an Aug. 8 primary.
Thornton said he is on the side of the plaintiffs and not "the business or status quo politicians" in the New London eminent domain case, Kelo v. New London Development Corp., in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that municipal governments can hand over private residences to businesses to redevelop for profit. Thornton favors campaign finance reform, which will take effect in Connecticut in 2008 and provide partial public funding of campaigns.
Third-party candidacies have succeeded in Connecticut, most notably the victory of A Connecticut Party gubernatorial candidate Lowell Weicker Jr. of Greenwich in 1990 in a three-way race. But political experts say third parties in Connecticut are successful statewide if they have a well-known figure, such as Weicker, who was a Republican U.S. senator before running for governor.
"While the Green Party is stronger in Connecticut than it is in any state, it's really on the local level," said William Salka, associate professor of political science at Eastern Connecticut State University. "In this year's gubernatorial election, the candidate doesn't strike me as particularly strong, and strong enough to get enough media attention to pull votes away from the Democratic candidate, whoever that may be. You really need a big name to start to get the attention."
The major parties have an unfair monopoly on the political system, Thornton said. The Quinnipiac University Poll, for example, will not include his name among gubernatorial candidates, he said.
Poll Director Douglas Schwartz said many factors decide whether third-party and petition candidates are included in gubernatorial polls.
"Our policy is that a third-party candidate has to show that they can significantly affect the outcome of the election," Schwartz said. "We look at such things as media coverage, fundraising, inclusion in other polls."
Thornton said his candidacy is about supporting the pillars of the Green Party -- grassroots democracy, social justice, non-violence and ecological wisdom.
"My goal is to, first of all, make the Green Party a viable strong third party, reach the tens of thousands of people in this state that no longer think they have a voice or they can't make a difference and show them that they do have a voice," Thornton said.
Thornton, a retired businessman, lives with his wife, Margaret Thornton. Between them they have five daughters, ages 24 to 43.
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