Charlie Hardy: The Bernie-Like Candidate Running in Wyoming

August 13, 2016

Democratic candidate Charlie Hardy and filmmaker Reed Lindsay discuss Hardy's campaign challenge to the dominant political tendencies in the state of Wyoming

Democratic candidate Charlie Hardy and filmmaker Reed Lindsay discuss Hardy's campaign challenge to the dominant political tendencies in the state of Wyoming



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Wyoming is one of the nine states who has consistently voted for Republican presidential candidates in the last ten elections. According to the latest polls, Republican candidate Donald Trump is expected to win by 35 percent over Hillary Clinton in Wyoming. But there is a progressive Democratic candidate running in Wyoming challenging the dominant political tendencies. His story has been so inspiring that filmmaker Reed Lindsay has created a documentary on the campaign titled Charlie Vs Goliath. We are going to show you a short vignette from the documentary. Let’s have a look.

Joining us now from Wyoming is Charlie Hardy, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Charlie ran for the U.S. Senate seat in 2012, but lost. Charlie is a former Catholic priest who spent eight years living in a cardboard shack in a poor neighborhood in Caracas. Also joining us is Reed Lindsay. He is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who has spent two years making feature-length documentary about Charlie and his inspiring campaign called Charlie Vs Goliath. I thank you both for joining us.

CHARLIE HARDY: It’s a pleasure to [inaud.].

REED LINDSAY: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: So, Charlie, it’s been a long time since we once met in Venezuela, and much has happened in your life, and entering a political career. Why are you running in a state, state of Wyoming, where someone with your political and social justice credentials would not have such good odds?

HARDY: The reason I became involved in politics at all was my concern for foreign affairs. I realize that all politics are local. And when I came back to Wyoming after living out of the country for several years, I became aware of situations here in Wyoming. But it was foreign affairs that originally motivated me to get involved.

Since 9/11, I think we have made more enemies around the world than friends. And there’s two reasons for that that I see. One is that the solution to any foreign problem seems to be military reaction to it. And the other thing is this whole idea of regime change, that we have the right to decide for other countries who is going to be their leader. And for me, the reason for foreign policy is to make friends around the world, not enemies. We have military bases in over 150 countries around the world. But what about peace bases?

I like to teach junior high kids and high school students. It’s a fantastic experience. And sometimes I will ask them, how many of you know someone who is in the military, or who has been in the military? Everyone raises their hands here in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And when I ask, how many of you know someone who was in the Peace Corps, or is in the Peace Corps, usually no one raises their hands, and there’s almost always the question, what’s that? I think John Kennedy would cry if he could see that. And I think that’s what’s causing our problems. It affects us, even here in Wyoming, though people are not aware of that.

It’s a thing called blowback. Blowback. There was a book way back in 2000, before anything happened in 9/11, by Chalmers Johnson. And Ron Paul has spoken about that. What we’re suffering today is we have made enemies around the world instead of friends. And I really think we have to go to work on that.

And why do, why are we so involved with military actions? It’s good for money. If, for example, we go and blow up a road somewhere around the world, then Halliburton can go back in and rebuild it and make money. We’ve got to get this whole thing of money out of politics, which also involves the whole question of our foreign affairs and what we’re trying to do.

PERIES: And Reed, what drove you to Charlie Hardy and his campaign?

LINDSAY: I’ve known Charlie for a long time. I used to do a lot of reporting in Latin America, and that’s how we met. He just struck me as such an unusual person. He lived in a cardboard shack for eight years, voluntarily. Not a lot of people decide to do that. And he just seemed to be one of the most humble, selfless, giving, generous people that I had ever met.

And we stayed in touch, and he called me a couple years ago and told me he was running for the U.S. Senate. And I said, Charlie, you’re crazy. He’s not a politician, he’s actually the exact opposite of what a politician needs to be to win an election. But somehow he convinced me to come out to Wyoming to check it out. I had no intention of making a documentary. And when I got out here people around him and close to him were telling him that he was tilting at windmills. It’s actually a reference to Don Quixote, but seems to be a common expression here where it’s very windy, Wyoming. And there are many windmills, though maybe not as many as there should be.

In any case, Charlie said that–he wouldn’t listen to these people. He said he was determined to win. He thought he could win, despite the impossible odds. And I was at a point in my life where I was feeling a bit cynical. I think it’s difficult for those of us who through our work are trying to make the world a better place. It can often feel like an uphill challenge, and it can feel very overwhelming. And being around somebody who is so optimistic about making a difference, even though the odds seem so against him, was really inspiring. And I felt that if I could do a documentary that could relate this and could make other people inspired in the same way that I felt inspired by Charlie and his volunteers, then that would be important.

PERIES: Charlie, a lot of what Reed is saying here you could hear from Bernie Sanders supporters, especially the young ones, getting inspired by his candidacy. You have a lot of resonance with Bernie here. And the biggest issue between the two of you is really money out of politics, and you mention that in your first answer there. Tell me a little bit more about whether Bernie Sanders and your campaign gel, and of course, a little bit more about your campaign to get money out of politics and whether it has any resonance in Wyoming.

HARDY: Some people have said I’m the Bernie Sanders of Wyoming. I like to think that Bernie Sanders is the Charlie Hardy of the United States. Without knowing it, when I began getting involved in politics four years ago, we were talking about the same thing. I really wasn’t that aware of Bernie Sanders. Getting money out of politics, the whole thing of universal healthcare. Education, the right to education or training after high school. Getting money out of politics.

We were talking about the same things. And it’s just, it’s been inspiring. When I first decided to run for office four years ago, I tried as an independent, the first question was, where are you going to get a million dollars? And I said, you know, I don’t want to start a business, I want to run for office. But right from the beginning, I don’t believe that should be the criteria for why someone gets elected. When I was a young man it was who has the best ideas, who do we know, and now often in the newspaper it’s who has raised the most money. And that’s really–it’s sick, it’s really sick. It shouldn’t be that way.

PERIES: Charlie, give me a few more headlines in terms of your platform, your position you’re articulating in your campaign.

HARDY: One of my big concerns is the minimum wage. There’s two things–I’ve always been in touch with people. And there’s two things that I feel are tearing our families apart in the United States: the minimum wage and part-time jobs. People are working two, three jobs out here. In Cheyenne there was a front-page story that a single parent with just a couple of children would have to make $18 an hour just to take care of basic necessities. That’s–. And so people are having to work overtime, two jobs, and so on.

You know, my father worked 40 hours a week as a machinist on the railroad. He was able to support six kids, clothing, food, and buy a house. That’s not possible today. It should be possible today. The 40-hour work week should provide a living wage for anyone. What we have today from Walmart and Hobby Lobby and these other places are starvation wages, where the taxpayers have to pay money to help sustain the people because they’re not getting the wages they should be getting. That simply has to change.

Last year, a couple years ago, I remember someone saying to me if someone’s going to work at McDonald’s for the rest of their life then they’re going to draw the minimum wage. Look, working at McDonald’s is hard work. I see these people running here, running there, cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the tables, all that kind of stuff. And they’re providing a service. They’re serving food to people. Any 40-hour-a-week job should bring in sufficient income to raise a small family. And that’s not true today. It was true in past years. We’ve got to fight for that.

The $15 minimum wage that we talk about, that Bernie talked about, is not a goal. It is a starting point.

PERIES: And Reed, in spite of the gallant effort on the part of Bernie Sanders, he is not the Democratic Party candidate for president at this time. And you have a candidate you’re supporting who’s now going to be led by Hillary Clinton. How do you feel about that?

LINDSAY: Well, you know, I was here in April during the primary election in Wyoming. And I didn’t know what to expect, because after having been here in 2014, progressives seem to be few and far between in Wyoming. And I just kept thinking, you know, I was out of the country and traveling and working on other projects, and seeing on TV these huge crowds for Bernie Sanders, and I was wondering, what is it going to be like in Wyoming? Maybe you can pull this off in other states, but Wyoming, there’s no major cities here. The biggest city, Cheyenne and Casper, around 60,000-70,000 people.

So I was out here, I came out during the primary, and Charlie was volunteering for Bernie Sanders. And I was blown away. All of these people, and a lot of young people, came out of the woodwork, did an incredible campaign, and although Hillary Clinton ended up with more delegates because of the superdelgates, Bernie actually won, won the state.

It was really a remarkable thing to see, and energized a lot of people. And Charlie now has, with his campaign, really tapped into that energy. Because people–it’s not all about one candidate. I think everybody recognizes that, whether it’s Bernie or Charlie. But it’s about really fighting for change, and I think people are now thinking toward the future. There’s a movement for bringing in a new Congress two years from now. Well, Charlie’s a little ahead of it. He’s sort of a Bernie-like candidate right now, and of all places Wyoming.

And it’s been really inspiring to see that campaign. You know, in 2014 Charlie lost, and he lost by a wide margin to Senator Enzi. And a lot of people ask me, you know, what was the point of this campaign? Sure it was fun, and he had this bus and they drove all around the country, and he said all of these things, he stood on principle, and he didn’t take money from PACs, but in the end he lost, so what was the point?

And it’s not an easy question to answer, but the way I answer it is by pointing at individuals, young people, especially, who are inspired by Charlie. Who made tremendous sacrifices to come here from out of state, and also to volunteer here in-state, Wyomingites, who gave up a lot and believed in him and believed in working toward a better future. And I felt like there was a value in that, even though it didn’t, you couldn’t really see it in the numbers, in the results.

And now, two years later, I think that idea is really validated, because Charlie’s campaign is far bigger than it was two years ago. He’s got an incredible group of volunteers, as he said. Not a single staff person. Nobody is getting paid anything. They are all volunteers, some part-time and some full-time, which is really remarkable. It’s still underfunded. I think it just came out in the newspaper that is, I think he’s raised around $10,000. Cheney has raised $1.2 million, perhaps more to this point. So it’s still very bare bones. But it is very inspiring. And you wonder, you know, if he started with just a few people two years ago, and now there are maybe a couple dozen, or a few dozen, people this time, who knows where things could be two years from now, whether Charlie’s the candidate or someone else is?

PERIES: And Charlie, you’re running against Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney. How is that challenge? I mean, she must be enormously supported by the Republicans and a lot of Republican money. And you running against her with such little money, how is that working out in terms of your campaign?

HARDY: Well, there is division within the Republican Party in the state of Wyoming. Just the fact that there are, I think, nine candidates running. But I–and some people are critical of her because she moved back to Wyoming a couple years ago, and things like that.

But we really want to keep this campaign as positive as possible. We’re talking about issues. She would want to maintain the minimum wage at $7.25, for example. She would see coal as the only answer to our problems within Wyoming we want to diversify our–we want to diversify our economy here.

But the point is, right now, we don’t know yet whether we will be running against Liz Cheney or not. I’m running against another Democrat. And that’s where differences show up. He would be in favor of $10 an hour, for example. Well, that isn’t going to solve problems.

PERIES: And who is your key opponent on the Democratic side?

HARDY: The key opponent is a young man, about 34, I believe, who is by the name of Ryan Greene. He has lived in the southwestern part of the state of Wyoming. He has only been involved in the energy industry. And I think that kind of points to the big difference. I like to laugh that I’m the youngest candidate in this campaign this year. I have 75 years of accumulated youth and experience. I’ve never been in a hospital a day in my life. I was born in the house where I’m talking. Right now I run every day.

But I’ve had the privilege of traveling the whole state of Wyoming, all 23 counties, for years. Been in all 50 states of the United States. Been in over 30 countries around the world. Studied 11 languages. Not to be a smart person, but it’s to make friends.

And so when it comes to experience, we’re talking about two people from totally, with totally different experiences. It’s one of those things–I sometimes say I feel it as a burden, but it’s a privilege, really. So many people have touched me with their lives. I am not a self-made person. I am not a self-made person. I am the result of parents, family, friends, people who I carry with me in my heart, with their wisdom and with their dreams.

So we’re talking about a person who has had a fantastic, privileged life throughout the whole world, and another person whose experience is really limited to one part of the state of Wyoming. And yet, I would be the Bernie Sanders of Wyoming as far as the Democratic Party goes, too. I would not be the beloved candidate of many local Democratic committees, and even some people on the state level. That’s just one of the realities.

Charlie Hardy is something of an outsider, I guess, probably because I’m like Bernie Sanders.

PERIES: Outsider, insider in Wyoming. I thank you so much for joining us, Charlie, and Reed Lindsay. Thank you so much. We appreciate having you on, and all the best with the campaign.

HARDY: And thank you, Sharmini. It was a privilege to be able to speak with you once again.

REED: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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