Friends in High Places

Wisconsin’s Ralph Nader—Will Hari Trivedi Save Scott Walker?

With every vote critical in the tight Wisconsin recall fight, Trivedi’s third-party bid appears to be draining votes from Democrat Tom Barrett. Caitlin Dickson reports.

Tom Barrett is up against a lot today. Having lost Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election to Scott Walker in 2010, Tuesday’s recall election is his chance for a do-over. But while he was able to soar past labor favorite Kathleen Falk in the state’s Democratic primary last month, the biggest obstacles to reaching the Governor’s Mansion are still ahead of him. Monday night, Barrett supporters received a mysterious phone call telling them that if they’d already signed the recall petition, they don’t have to vote.” Barrett countered this attempt to suppress voters with a reactionary robo-call of his own, but now he’s faced with what may be his biggest challenge to ousting contentious Governor Walker yet: a pro-pot, libertarian-leaning third-party candidate named Hariprasad “Hari” Trivedi.

Trivedi wasn’t invited to the last two debates between Walker and Barrett, and he wasn’t even included in the most recent survey by Public Policy Polling, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play a key role in today’s recall election. Before dropping Trivedi from their polling options, the third-party candidate had about 2 percent support, a small margin that could have a big impact. “Very few voters are supporting independent Hari Trivedi,” wrote PPP’s analysts, “but among those who are, their second choice is overwhelmingly Barrett, suggesting that Trivedi is pulling votes away from the Democrat. In a tight race, that could be a difference maker.”

So who, exactly, is this virtually unknown candidate taking votes away from the Democrat?

Reached by phone Wednesday shortly after the article was first posted, Trivedi, who ran a two-week write-in campaign in 2010 that he said “saw an extraordinary response,” contested the idea that his bid could wound Barrett. “I don’t agree with that. I have gotten emails from Republicans and Democrats. The public response is from a lot of independents. I don’t think I’m going to take Barrett’s vote. I think I’m going to take both opponents’ votes.”

Some voters got to know Trivedi, who lives in Brookfield with his wife of 23 years and three sons, from the local TV ads the professed sports buff ran before and after the Super Bowl in a few markets as part of a $17,000 ad buy. He is a doctor specializing in kidney disease, and a “die-hard” Packers, Brewers, and Bucks fan.

And he’s calling for the legalization of medical marijuana and industrialization of hemp. “I cannot believe how closed-minded we have been about this issue,” he writes on his campaign website, claiming that in the 19th century 80 percent of textiles were made using cannabis hemp fiber, including the national flag. "It’s high time we moved with the times and showed that we are kind—so that patients with severe pain due to cancer and other legitimate conditions can get some comfort, “ he declares. “And let’s legalize marijuana as it was when the father of our country, George Washington, grew cannabis hemp.”

Trivedi’s views on gun control echo his feelings about marijuana: prohibition won’t lead to prevention, making him a fervent supporter of the Second Amendment. And while he says he’s spiritually against abortion and believes “conceiving ‘loosely’ and then going and having an abortion at will is not morally correct,” he supports legal abortion for women facing unplanned pregnancies who are emotionally or financially unprepared. “Forcing child birth in such circumstances is unfair to the mother, father, and a child,” he writes.

For those Trivedi fans who were disappointed by his exclusion from the recent debates, the third-party candidate took it upon himself to record videos of his own answers to the topics addressed.

There is no chance, of course, that Trivedi will nab the governorship. But in addition to his pro-pot, pro-choice, and pro-renewable energy policy ideas, Trivedi is a staunch supporter of restoring collective-bargaining rights for public workers. It could be this stance, above all, that draws in those would-be Barrett supporters still wary of the Milwaukee mayor for reportedly embracing Walker’s union reforms to balance his own city’s budget.

Trivedi, who’s pledged to forfeit the proceeds of his salary if he doesn’t create jobs within the first 12 months of being sworn into office, said he didn’t know who he would vote for if he wasn’t running since he was focused on his own campaign.

“I think it’s gone very well. Wisconsinites are ready for a fresh choice, voters are independent, people are fed up with the partisan bickering.”