Seeking party’s nomination
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
For what appears to be the first time since the late U.S. Congressman Mike Strang (R-Colo.) was elected to serve a single term, back in 1984, Carbondale is home to a candidate for national office — this time in the person of former Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi.
Menconi, 56 and divorced, moved to Carbondale last year to be close to his daughter and son as they attend school here. He recently declared that he plans on challenging incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in November as a candidate for the Green Party.
An official with the Colorado Green Party confirmed this week that Menconi is in the running for the party’s Senate nomination, and that he is so far the only candidate seeking to run in that capacity.
Bennet, who was superintendent of the Denver public schools before being thrust into national political office, was appointed by then Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009 to fill out the term of former Colorado Democrat Sen. Ken Salazar, when Salazar was named to serve as Obama’s secretary of the interior.
Bennet then was elected to the seat in 2010, narrowly winning a hotly contested race with GOP challenger Ken Buck.
This year will see Bennet’s second bid for re-election.
But Menconi feels Bennet has not done an adequate job representing Colorado and the nation’s interests, and that a new voice is needed to press such concerns as global warming, income inequality, social justice and other hot topics in today’s political climate.
“They’re not fighting for us,” Menconi said of Bennet and other Colorado representatives, including Cory Gardner, a Republican who ousted former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2014.
Ousted from his job
Menconi, who served as Eagle County Commissioner from 2000 to 2008, also was the executive director for more than 20 years of a non-profit youth empowerment and leadership organization, initially called Snowboard Outreach Society but later renamed SOS Outreach after merging with another, similar organization.
Menconi said he earned about $115,000 a year at that job, and that the organization “worked with almost 50,000 kids” after it was founded in 1993.
He lost that job last year, he said during a lengthy interview with The Sopris Sun, after he went to New York City, and got arrested while protesting on Wall Street against corporate activities that contribute to global warming. The protest, he said, was part of his growing concern over what he calls the “global corporate mafia” that he says is running the U.S. and, to some degree, much of the world.
He claimed he was ousted by the board of directors of SOS Outreach, as a result of pressure from Vail Resorts, owners of the Vail ski resort and numerous others, and a funding partner of SOS Outreach.
“They called and said, ‘Either he goes or we do,’”Menconi said, with the result that he found himself out of a job.
“We’re run by a global corporate mafia,” Menconi said about his views. “But a ‘mafia’ implies that they’re breaking the law. They’ve written the laws themselves.”
Menconi, who refers to himself as an “activist journalist” and maintains an active online presence through a website, blogs, YouTube and other outlets, said he was a young Republican in high school and college (he holds an undergraduate degree in communication from DePaul University in Chicago, where he is from, as well as an MBA from the University of Denver).
He first came to Colorado in the 1970s as a teenager on a family ski trip, and moved here in 1991 to take a job selling properties in the Beaver Creek resort.
Conservative to progressive
In between those segments of his life, Menconi spent a summer and fall studying in Europe, which contributed to what he called the “evolution” of his political views, away from conservative thinking toward his current status as a confirmed progressive. He now refers to himself as “a private citizen running for office” as opposed to a politician.
“We don’t have a democracy in the U.S.,” he said in the interview. “We have corporate totalitarianism,” in which corporations have used their wealth and power to control politics and the government, to the detriment of life for citizens in the middle class and below.
“The thing I’m trying to do is expose the lies,” he emphasized, mentioning Bennet’s support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade deal that has drawn sharp criticism from the left, and for the Keystone Pipeline, as examples of how Bennet and other politicians are doing what corporations want at the expense of the needs of ordinary citizens.
“You have a government that’s been taken hostage by oil companies, banks, big pharma, big ag. (agriculture), AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the NRA (National Rifle Association),” Menconi charged hotly.
He said his mission is to fight for “climate justice, economic justice and to end the endless wars,” a reference to this country’s involvement in wars in the Middle East for the past 15 years.
Menconi did not categorically deny that he might be viewed by some as a “spoiler” in the election, taking votes away from Bennet and making it possible for a Republican to win the seat.
Instead, he said, voters must ask themselves, “Do they think the most important issues are being represented” in the campaign debates and ads?
He said he does not feel being tagged as a spoiler “is a realistic possibility at this stage.”
He said it is important to see how engaged the Colorado electorate is in the election process, and he hopes to do that by concentrating on big-picture issues similar to the ones being raised by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is running as a Democrat but who historically has called himself a democratic socialist.
Asked if his candidacy is inspired by, or similar to that of Sanders, and capitalizes on voter anger and frustration with the political status quo in the U.S., Menconi responded simply, “Yes. Or, I hope so. Otherwise I wouldn’t have jumped into this race.”
Asked to characterize himself, he remarked, “I’m somebody that is trying, as a citizen, to get our democracy back. I’m the kind of guy who stands up and makes noise.”
Published in The Sopris Sun on January 28, 2016.