Oct 172006
Authors: J. David McSwane

From his campaign office in Parker, Paul Fiorino runs through his campaign expenditures, pausing occasionally to wipe fatigue from his eyes.

After 9 p.m., everyone has left the office but him.

The former CSU dance instructor and entrepreneur is running without any political party affiliation. Much more often than not, unaffiliated candidates don’t make it to office.

By late evening, Fiorino has had some time to billow a little frustration. He discovered that the League of Women Voters, a historically substantial political group, was not aware he was on the ballot.

“It makes me feel as though I’m being disregarded, ignored and possibly discriminated against,” Fiorino told the Collegian in a phone interview Monday. “It’s very disconcerting to know that this may just be the tip of the iceberg.”

Fiorino knows this race will be an uphill battle for him. But he’s no stranger to adversity.

“Being a male dancer, I’ve been on the edge of extinction for 35 years,” he said.

Fiorino has left his mark throughout the state for the past three decades, directing, producing and performing in plays and musicals. He has been instrumental, he says, in the Colorado performing arts scene – pun intended.

“I play the guitar too,” he said. “I have about 100 songs in the Library of Congress.”

Fiorino, who has never held a significant political office, touts his clout in the world of song and dance. But his skills’ utility in the realm of political decision-making and agenda setting has yet to be seen.

But he sees no problem with this – he wants to offer something a little different than the usual political fare.

“The arts relate to creativity, innovative thinking as well as helping someone with imaginative thought and inspiration,” Fiorino said. “I plan to bring creativity back into policy-making. And that involves bringing the best of talent together to work out real and practical solutions to our problems.”

Fiorino says the key to solving state issues such as education and renewable energy legislation lies in such a creative process.

His opponents’ political experience trumps his own, by far.

Democratic candidate Bill Ritter served as Denver’s district attorney for 12 years, leaving only because of a term limit. And Republican candidate Bob Beauprez has served as Colorado’s 7th Congressional District representative for the past four years.

But Fiorino defends his political competence.

“My opponents who are attached to a party will represent the party first and then consider what the people have to say, if at all,” he said.

“As an unaffiliated, I am not attached to a party, but as an individual – as a Colorado citizen – I represent the citizens of Colorado, not a party,” he added. “I feel as governor I will uphold what the citizens of Colorado deem most important.”

Fiorino’s involvement in the community as a performer, philanthropist and vanguard for liberal arts programs has illustrated his commitment to the community, he said.

“We need leadership at every level,” he said. “That is, I believe, what my campaign represents.”

Although Fiorino entered the race with only 1,000 signatures, he feels his eccentric and unorthodox approach to policymaking can attract Colorado’s 986,000 voters who do not subscribe to either the Democratic or Republican parties.

“I believe that there’s a middle ground here, and I’m it,” he said.

Breaking the trend of partisan campaigning, he says, is the best way to progress as a state.

“I understand that we really need to kind of break this party system that is so overbearing and so polarizing if we’re going to get anything done with legislation,” Fiorino said. “I think we can move Colorado forward, but only in that way.”

The struggle remains, however, to compete with dollars given to candidates who walk the party line. And for this candidate, a success on Nov. 7 would be a story reminiscent of David and Goliath.

CSU professor John Straayer says unaffiliated candidates like Fiorino usually go unnoticed on Election Day.

“Unless a third-party candidate can draw enough votes to tilt an otherwise tight race one way or the other, they’ll receive very little attention,” he said.

And Fiorino hasn’t phased the competition.

“I haven’t met him,” said Beauprez Campaign Manger John Marshall. “I haven’t seen him on the campaign trail at all.”

Fiorino says the biggest struggle for an unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate is educating voters without pouring thousands of dollars into political advertisements and billboards. He says this is a shortcoming of the American press.

“The third parties are not getting in the press because (the media) just don’t want to educate the public to the fact that we are talking about issues,” he said.

And Fiorino is talking about the same issues his high-profile competitors are – immigration, abortion, pot, higher education and gay marriage, to name a few.

As far as immigration is concerned, Fiorino says the problem has already been dealt with on a state level.

“We’ve passed legislation that is probably the toughest legislation in the country on immigration,” he said. “On the state level, we’ve already taken care of it.”

But Fiorino’s stance on the abortion debate isn’t described with such ease.

“I still acknowledge the fact that abortion is murder,” he said. “But I still acknowledge that women have the right and rights to her own body. Does that make me pro-choice or pro-life? No. It just makes me the man who is more in tune with what’s going on.”

Despite his personal beliefs on the abortion debate, Fiorino says he will advocate for every individual’s rights, no matter what. He carries this philosophy with him into the debate of Referendum I – more rights for same sex unions.

“I believe that they have a right to do what they want to do,” Fiorino said. “The government really needs to stay out of the church and out of the bedroom.”

Being a proponent of the legalization of marijuana in small amounts, Fiorino sets himself apart from Ritter and Beauprez.

“The legalization of marijuana is something that needs to happen,” he said. “I believe we’ve wasted a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of lives in regards to a weed.”

His stance on marijuana will likely attract some of the college student demographic.

Fiorino, being a former instructor at both CSU and Colorado College, was a supporter of last year’s controversial Referendum C, which he says voters were smart to vote for.

“That’s what I’m banking on right now, that they will vote me in so that I can continue to fight for higher education,” he said.

This unaffiliated candidate does believe he has a chance at winning the popular vote, but with only 20 days left, he knows this will be no easy task.

Fiorino says the battles that have riddled his life have prepared him for anything.

His biggest punch came 13 years ago when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a viral condition that put him a state of paralysis. It took several months of rehabilitation therapy for the lifelong dancer to hit the stage again.

“That’s what my campaign is all about,” he said. “Determination.”

Staff writer J. David McSwane can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Editor’s Note: Read the Collegian for more about other gubernatorial candidates in the coming days and weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

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