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September 03, 2010

Fringe Friday: Johenry Nunes

For week five of "Fringe Friday," we feature independent candidate for U.S. Senate Johenry Nunes, a retired corrections officer and Vermont National Guardsman from Isle LaMotte who says Vermont needs "a hero" — and that it's him.

Every Friday, Seven Days is profiling  a "fringe" candidate seeking statewide office. Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third-party candidates — and their radical ideas — on the ballot. The reality is, these candidates seldom win more than 1 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.

Candidate: Johenry Nunes

Party: Independent

Office Sought: U.S. Senator

Age: 49

Hometown: Isle LaMotte

Education: St. Michael's College (BA in History, 2005)

Occupation: Retired corrections officer (2001) for Vermont Department of Corrections. E-7 Master Sergeant with the Vermont Air National Guard (24 years).

Family: Nunes was born on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal. At age 6, his family emigrated to Montreal and later moved to California, where Nunes' grandfather was a dairy farmer. His parents worked as dairy farmers, as did Nunes when he was young. To escape poverty, he says, he enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Plattsburgh Air Force Base. He later joined the Vermont Guard and moved to Isle LaMotte. Nunes has two sons: Herbie, 23; and Joseph, 19.

Campaign Website: Johenry 2010 Facebook page

Platform: Nunes is running to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and divert defense spending into deficit reduction.

We caught up with Nunes at his home, down a dead-end dirt road in Isle LaMotte.

Seven Days: You're running for U.S. Senate.

Johenry Nunes: A lot of my life has led up to running for political office. I've never run for political office but I was in Arizona this winter with a professor friend of mine from St. Mike's. It was rainy, so we're watching Billy Jack Goes to Washington, from the 1970s. The thing is, we've become a society of greed and even that movie was made in 1970, you're basically talking about poverty, alienation of the poor or scapegoating of the poor; the war — there it was Vietnam, now it's the two wars we're fighting; and also this American phenomenon of discrimination. It's evolved since then. I would argue we [discriminate against] the poor in Vermont. One thing I've noticed is, like, when my kids went to school is Isle LaMotte, it's a school of like 34 kids, they're all white. You would think that these kids would be all buddy buddies and support one another. And what do you think that he kids in Isle LaMotte discriminate against? You live in a trailer, and I live on the lake. I don't think we have ever really dealt with this thing of greed. And in a lot of ways, I think it's [analogous] to this campaign. I believe the media ignores me because I'm a nobody. I'm running a $5000 campaign. You're not going to be running any commercials on my station, so why should I pay attention to you? I care about this $3.4 million that Leahy has and how much of it is he going to [use to] run commercials on my station?

SD: You just described a David and Goliath scenario. Why put yourself out there as the David to go up against someone like Patrick Leahy?

DSC07493 JN: I don't really want to get into the David and Goliath. It should be that there are things in this country that should be said. And it's going to take a hero to say them, because they're very uncomfortable things to say. Things like 'unethical,' 'greed.' I would even say, 'social corruption.'

SD: So are you running against Pat Leahy and his record, or against what you see as the societal ills of America?

JN: I think that I'm running against an idea of what I believe America should be. America should be a nation that doesn't solve its problems through violence. I believe my nation should be a nation that solves its problems through intelligence and not being in denial that these things aren't happening. In a way, I think Pat Leahy is a lot like our generals. They knew that things were going wrong in Iraq — whether they didn't have the property equipment, dah dah dah. But they didn't say anything because they wanted to retire or get another star and get their pension over $100,000 a year, and then write a book and get a $1 million front for it. All that is unethical to me. Leahy is 70 years old, he has millions of dollars. I would argue that he's just as greedy as any of those generals because, haven't you had enough? Don't you have enough?

SD: Do you picture yourself like a Billy Jack?

JN: Billy Jack — he wanted to be the conscience of America. If anything, I want to be the conscience of  America who says, I don't care who you sleep with. I don't care if you have an abortion. What I care about is that you have a safe place to live, that you have a job, that you have a pension, that you have health care. That's really what I think the American dream is. Not about I live on the lake and you live in a trailer. One thing I saw that shocked me about the media in our culture was — whether or not it was Paris Hilton's cocaine, to me, is not really the issue. The big issues it that that cocaine that found its way into her purse is responsible for mass graves of people in Mexico, people living in complete fear and chaos on the Mexican side of the border. And how ethical is it to stick cocaine up your nose knowing that people are dying because you have the money to buy cocaine.

SD: What would you want to do if you got to Washington?

JN: My number one priority is to end the war. Here's a visual: We go to town meeting every year like every other Vermonter, and you'll have somebody at town meeting that will talk about 75 cents for 45 minutes. And then you'll a $150,000 expenditure that will pass in 15 minutes. No discussion. Done. I believe a lot of our waste is us, with the governors of Vermont, they talk about jobs and jobs. Jobs are 75 cents. The war is $10. You want to talk about 75 cents and do the whole Paris Hilton thing, go ahead.

SD: Do you favor immediate withdrawal of all troops immediately from Afghanistan?

JN: Absolutely. Because we're spending billions of dollars every day.

SD: Does the U.S. have a national interest in making sure Afghanistan becomes a stable county, if not a democracy?

JN: Maybe it's because of me being Portuguese and Portugal being a colonial power. We didn't become the eighth most spoken language in the world by osmosis. How did we do that, we instituted our language, our religions, our values on wherever we went. Because we didn't have these grandiose ideas that we were there to do nation building. They had resources, we were a little small country, and we wanted the stuff. People always do something for a reason. We didn't go to Afghanistan without a reason. But needless to say, has Osama bin Laden been caught? No. To me, it is better to say, I did this wrong, good luck, if you don't behave yourself we may have to come back and bomb you and do that, but not boots on the ground.

SD: Have you been called up to serve in the wars?

JN: In 2009, I was out in the desert for 120 days. In Qatar, which is our staging area for the theater. I volunteered to go. I'm an education and training manager. I help people get their degrees with the Guard, but the Air Force does it too. So that's what I did. I tested people and gave them all the information to their benefits and stuff. It was 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a U.S. base. You can't drink. Dust storms, all that kind of stuff.

SD: Let's talk about the economy. What does the next Congress need to do to get the American economy moving?

DSC07488 JN: To be honest, I don't think it can. And I'll tell you why. We had a no-tax for a weekend here in Vermont. You know, you could go buy stuff and you didn't have to pay tax. And I did that. I went to Best Buy and bought a camcorder, that's made in Japan. And I didn't have to pay the tax on it. But what I'd like to see is saying, the whole month of December, which is the biggest shopping month, you can go purchase something that's made in the U.S., and go through that little scanner on the bar code, it'll show that it's made in the U.S. and you won't have to pay tax.

SD: Where do you come down on cutting the federal deficit versus a second stimulus?

JN: I'm not in favor of a second stimulus at all, because it's porous. It's not going to be American-made stuff. If that highway sign paint isn't made in the U.S., if the post is actually made in Brazil.

SD: On immigration, there are a lot of conservatives talking about repealing or revisiting the 14th amendment. What do you think of that in the broader context of the national immigration debate?

JN: I don't think we're having a debate on immigration. We try to make these issues very simple. Immigration is a huge problem because it's very complex. One of them was under NAFTA, these countries were supposed to get a chunk of manufacturing. Unfortunately, because people are unethical and greedy, they go to China because they can control their workers so much better. And why pay $1.50 in Mexico when you can pay 75 cents in China?  You have to talk about jobs and where you buy stuff. Illegal aliens do jobs that Americans don't want to do. At 14 years old, my first job was working in the chicken processing plant, killing 76,000 chickens a day, just Portuguese and Mexicans. The only white people there were the USDA inspectors. Immigrants are very hard working. No one comes to America because they want to be poor. They want to get ahead.

SD: Who's your political hero?

JN: John F. Kennedy because he did kind of say, Ask not what your country can do for you — and that's basically where we're still at right now — but what you can do for your country.

SD: What are three skills you have that would make you an effective senator?

JN: I have a better than average way of telling people things, giving them a visual. But my biggest gift is, I speak Spanish, I speak French, I speak Portuguese. I wasn't born here. I have this other perspective that Americans don't. Americans look in their house through a window to the world. Immigrants look at it totally different. We're on the outside of your house looking through your window into your house.

SD: When did you get your citizenship?

JN: I applied on my 18th birthday, because you can't do it until you're 18. At the time there was a huge backlog, so I was 20. I was naturalized at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, where they have the Oscars in L.A. Richard Dawson from Family Feud was right behind me, because he was British. So I'll never forget that.

SD: What do you do for fun?

DSC07503 JN: I breed Yorkshire Terrier puppies. And I have a vineyard. It's three acres. Just a private vineyard, I never went commercial. It's called Black Swan vineyard. It's the oldest vineyard in Vermont. I planted it in 1986. I called it the 'vineyard of pain' at the beginning because it was mosquito bites and welts all over putting them in. The white wine is the better of the two, but the other one, I don't even like to drink it because it's just so dry and acidic. But to marinate meat? That's where it's awesome.

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