The Fringe, Part 1

In honor of

Stephen Colbert’s presidential run

and the

beginning of the filing period

for the New Hampshire primaries, Trailhead is introducing its firstregular feature: the Fringe. We’ll profile the über-long shots who havecome out of the woodwork armed with limited cash, delusions ofgrandeur, and blind faith to seek residency in the White House.

Our inaugural candidate is Dr. Jack Shepard , a dentist from Minnesota—no, not that Jack Shephard .He has lived in Rome for the past 25 years but still thinks he’s theRepublican who can protect America and bring peace to the Middle East.Oh, I almost forgot, he’s a convicted felon who is wanted on arsoncharges back home.

Shepard left the countryin 1982, after serving eight months in jail for possessing narcotics—hesays he was permitted to have them because of a license obtained forhis dentistry practice * —andafter Minnesota authorities claimed he burned down his house anddentistry office. Since moving to Italy, he says he routinely speakswith high-level Syrian, Iranian, and Hamas officials to assistAmerica’s foreign-policy efforts. He believes he is still serving inthe armed forces at the age of 60 because his ID card doesn’t have an expiration date. He claims he can’t come home becausehe’s still serving his country abroad. When I asked for specifics, hesaid that was all he was allowed to tell me.

If Shepard’splatform has a fulcrum, it’s full diplomacy with leaders in the MiddleEast, especially Iran. When I asked him about Iranian President MahmoudAhmedinejad’s aggressive anti-Israel comments, he blamed them on amistranslation. He would section off Palestine within Israel (heoffered no specifics) and veto any pro-Israel bill that came across hisdesk. He also offered this: “The votes that I get will be votes frompeace people,” he said, “I’m curious how many people are actually aftera person who really has dialogue with the evil of axis, as it’scalled.” That was not a typo.

If Shepard sounds like he’s apeace-loving Democrat, that’s because he used to be. He became a”born-again Republican” in 2000 after a convoluted episode involving racial bias. Nevertheless, he wants the Rev. Jesse Jackson to be his ambassador to the United Nations.

Hewouldn’t tell me much about his domestic policy despite specificquestions on health care, abortion, and gay rights. But he did say hewanted to reform the prison system, using personal examples from hisown incarceration as evidence of its shortcomings.

To run forpresident, all Shepard had to do was send $1,000 check to NewHampshire’s secretary of state and sign some papers saying he wanted torun. In South Carolina, you have to pony up $2,500 or 3,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot. Nobody does a background check, and hecan’t get pulled off the ballot in New Hampshire unless somebody filesa complaint. This means Shepard will almost certainly remain adiplomatic vigilante.

Even if he were to garner a delegate, it’sdoubtful he’d be able to attend the GOP national convention inMinnesota, since that’s the state where he’s wanted for arson. Ever theoptimist, Shepard ended an e-mail he sent me with this: “It would bethe greatest and happiness moment of my life to return to St. Paul,Minnesota the city of my birth to get the Republican Nomination forPresident there.” After all, aren’t all politicians just talkativepeople looking for a little redemption?