By JOHN LYON
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — The political divide between Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and her Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. John Boozman, is nothing compared to the gulf between the independent and Green Party candidates in the race, but the outsider candidates are united in at least one thing: their disillusionment with the two major parties.
Trevor Drown, a Russellville businessman and military veteran, announced as an independent candidate for Lincoln’s senate seat last year. John Gray, a retired engineer and mayor of Greenland, was nominated July 24 as the Green Party of Arkansas’ Senate nominee. The two were interviewed separately Friday for this story.
Drown, 40, graduated from Russellville High School and has a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech University. During an 18-year military career he served in the Arkansas Army National Guard and the Arkansas Air National Guard and was deployed in Afghanistan in 2006 with the Army Special Forces.
He now owns a small business in Russellville, All American Vending and Office Coffee, and is a driver for UPS. He and his wife, Kara, have two children.
Drown said he doesn’t consider himself a Tea Party candidate, though it was his involvement with the Tea Party movement that led him to run for the Senate, the first political office he has sought.
"I gave a speech at a Tea Party (rally) in 2009, April 15, and the place erupted like a football stadium," he said. "People that I didn’t even know just started coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘We need you to run for office.’"
Drown eventually gave about 15 speeches at Tea Party events. He expressed disappointment with the movement, saying it has been "hijacked by the Republican Party."
He said he was not interested in running as a Republican because the party has left behind the values of Ronald Reagan and has moved increasingly toward "sticking its nose in states’ business."
If elected, Drown said he would revisit free-trade agreements and tariffs and find ways to help American producers such as Arkansas catfish farmers cope with foreign competition.
Citing concern about the growing national debt, Drown he said he would not have supported the federal stimulus or TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
He said he supports repealing the health care overhaul that passed this year or at least removing certain provisions, such as the universal mandate to buy health insurance, which he said is unconstitutional. Health care reform should happen at the state level, he said.
"They should have deregulated the insurance industry, at which point the state could come out and say, ‘Listen, if you want to do business in Arkansas, you’ve got to meet this criteria,’" he said.
Drown’s campaign reported last month that it had received just under $9,000 in total contributions. Meanwhile, Boozman’s campaign reported total contributions exceeding $1 million, and Lincoln’s were nearly $11 million.
Drown said Boozman and Lincoln need more money than he does.
"We have to put out who we are and what we stand for. They have to justify the last 10 and 18 years of what they’ve done in office, everything from voting for health care, voting for TARP, voting to increase the debt ceiling," he said.
Gray, 67, spent most of his childhood in Morrilton but graduated from North Little Rock High School. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in physics and mathematics, both from the University of Arkansas.
He spent his entire working life as an engineer, retiring in the late 1990s. He was elected mayor of Greenland in 2008. He is divorced.
Gray said the Green Party asked him to run for the Senate based on his record as mayor. He ran for mayor as an independent and has not been involved with the Green Party previously.
He said he has always been registered to vote as a Democrat, but he no longer identifies with that party.
"Most of the Democrats have become corporatists, just like the Republicans. There really is no distinguishing between them," he said.
If elected, Gray said he would work to get the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization, repeal free-trade agreements and return to a traditional tariff system.
"For a period of time we need to say, ‘If it ain’t made here, you don’t sell it here,’ because we’ve got to rebuild the industry that has been decimated by free trade," he said.
Gray said he wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to end corporate personhood, which he said gives corporations too much power.
He said he supports a universal government-run health care system, an idea he said is unpopular with Arkansans only because the public has been fed a diet of negative propaganda.
"The propaganda machine is so thorough and so pervasive here in Arkansas that people are persuaded year after year to vote against their own interests," he said.
Gray said he will not be able to match the major-party candidates in fundraising, and in the current money-driven political system, he doesn’t expect to win.
"She (Lincoln) will win the election because she has the biggest pot of money. It’s the American system," he said.
So why bother to run?
"Simply because these ideas need to be gotten out there," he said. "And I have this faint hope that the American system — the old American system — is not dead and that people still can have an impact if they understand what the realities are and what the truth is."
The general election will be Nov. 2.