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“The Citizens’ Candidate”–Grassroots Effort Uses Craigslist to Find Candidate for Utah House Seat

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Utah Democratic incumbent Congress member Jim Matheson is facing a challenge from a coalition of progressives who have formed a grassroots effort called “The Citizens’ Candidate” to unseat him. The initiative is using Craigslist to find applicants willing to run against Matheson. A final candidate will be chosen through public interviews at the Salt Lake City Library on Saturday. We speak with The Citizens’ Candidate co-founder, Tim DeChristopher. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Craigslist to choose a congressional candidate? Well, that’s exactly what a progressive coalition has resorted to here in Utah to unseat the Blue Dog Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson. Yep, the initiative is using Craigslist to find applicants willing to run. A final candidate will be chosen through public interviews at the Salt Lake City Library on Saturday.

The Citizens’ Candidate initiative, as it’s called, was co-founded by Tim DeChristopher. He first made headlines back in December of 2008 as a University of Utah student, when he disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on 150,000 acres of federal land in Utah. Tim was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He’s currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction. Tim DeChristopher joins us here in Park City, not very far from Salt Lake City.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tim.

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we get the latest on your case, Craigslist?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Yeah. You know, this is really a grassroots initiative that was an experiment. It’s been an experiment the whole way through. And it grew out of the realization over 2009 that Jim Matheson and a lot of the Blue Dog Democrats were really doing more harm than good, that they were causing more of a problem with our system than the Republicans, actually, and that we needed to replace them. But yet, all of our kind of influential progressive politicians here in Utah weren’t willing to run against him because of the political risk.

And so, we were searching for a candidate, and it was somewhat out of frustration that I put a help wanted ad on Craigslist, with the whole job description and requirements and what we wanted out of people. And so, that’s kind of where it grew out of. And then we pulled together this progressive coalition of all these activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. What were the requirements?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: It was called “A Courageous Congressperson,” was the headline, and we were looking for someone with strong moral values and a resistance to selling out to corporate interests. And the job description, the responsibilities were things like stopping catastrophic climate change, providing healthcare to all Americans, equal rights to LGBT, all stuff like that. And so, we’ve pulled together this progressive coalition of all of these different interests that have been sold out by Jim Matheson.

AMY GOODMAN: And who responded? How many responses did you get?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: We got sixteen people to fully apply, and we —

AMY GOODMAN: Were they all from the Salt Lake City area, or was it a national search?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: No, it was a Utah search. So it was Salt Lake and the surrounding area. It’s really a big, weird district. But we got sixteen, and we’ve narrowed that down to the five now that will be interviewed tomorrow by a panel.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is going to be interviewing them?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Well, the interviews will be led by a panel of seven activists representing climate, healthcare, LGBT, labor, immigration, peace and environmental issues. So, longtime activists that have been working here in Utah on those issues. But then it will also be open to the public, and the public will be asking questions. And everyone there from District 2 will be able to vote on the final candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s happening at the library?


AMY GOODMAN: And has the incumbent, has Jim Matheson, responded to this Craigslist search?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: He’s pretty much blown it off, as he usually blows off any citizen requests in Utah.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest on your case? When are you going to trial?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: March 15th, I’ll be going to trial.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does it stand at this point? You’re not allowed to use a global warming defense for having gone in to buy up these acres of public land?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Not necessarily. They haven’t actually ruled out global warming. They’ve ruled out the necessity defense, the argument that my action prevented greater harm and I had a necessity to act, which wrapped all that into a nice package. But there are still other defenses that we can use. And, you know, the most important thing, from our perspective, is bringing up all the issues surrounding the trial — or surrounding the auction, with the illegality of the auction, as the federal government has already admitted, and the threats to climate change. We’re just trying to get that information in front of the jury.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that the federal government has said that it was an illegal auction, yet it was under the Obama administration that you were charged —


AMY GOODMAN: — not under the Bush administration, when you participated in the auction.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue to follow your case, Tim DeChristopher. Thanks so much for joining us.


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