Of the seven men running for Kentucky governor, only one is doing so in Adidas soccer flats with a planned path to victory that runs through the annual Comic Con convention.
So Drew Curtis’ fears about being viewed as a typical politician are probably a bit unfounded.
“I mean anybody who knows me or tries to look me up online can see that there’s not been a whole hell of a lot of curating of personality going on there, you know what I mean?” Curtis said. “I mean basically you get what you get.”
Curtis, founder of the alternative news site Fark.com, is serious about his run for the Governor’s Mansion as an independent, and he has little doubt he can win.
In late January, Curtis and his running mate — his wife, Heather — sat down to talk about what qualifies him for the position, what he thinks are the state’s most pressing issues and whether he is the second coming of Gatewood Galbraith, the perennial Kentucky candidate who died in 2012.
“I don’t have any significant policy differences with him, (but) we are not the same guy,” Curtis said of Galbraith. “He got slapped with the ‘pot guy’ label, and most people never took a second look. He actually had a lot going on.”
Galbraith isn’t necessarily the political mold Curtis is trying to imitate, but he is the reason Curtis says he can win. It was Galbraith’s last run for governor, when he pulled about 9 percent of the more than 880,000 votes cast, that Curtis sees as proof that he can shock the political world and build a blueprint for other independent candidates who are sickened by the outsize influence of money in politics.
“So I figure 9 percent’s probably on the table,” Curtis said. “And then at that point, in a three-way race, I only need another 225,000 people to jump in and vote for me and I got it. And that’s not a lot. And I can reach them. And so I’m pretty sure I can find more than 225,000 people in Kentucky that want to try something different.”
Curtis, a Lexington native, had considered a run for office for about a decade, but his running mate was able to talk him out of it repeatedly.
“This is new to me,” Heather Curtis said. “I fought it for 10 years. I didn’t want to be a politician’s wife. I didn’t want to be around the system. I’m an introvert. I’m the behind-the-scenes girl. I’m the COO; I always have been. He’s the front man. He’s the one who blazes the trail, and then I do the cleanup; I do the behind-the-scenes work.”
She added: “I don’t want to do it, but I want him to win.”
Drew Curtis said he had been hesitant to join the political fray before now because “I didn’t want to become a politician or to win office.”
“So that might be a deal-breaker long-term, but I’m going to give it a shot to see if I can do it without actually becoming a politician,” he said.
Curtis started Fark.com 16 years ago. It was a “complete accident,” he said, that started by sending his friends links to funny news stories in British tabloids.
The success he has enjoyed from the website — “The worst thing you can say about Fark’s performance is that I didn’t sell it for a billion dollars, and you know what, I’ll take that” — is part of the reason he thinks he can be an effective governor.
In essence, Curtis is positioning himself as a successful entrepreneur and small-business man whose business just happens to have its own Internet community that includes 10,000 to 30,000 Kentuckians.
“They know who I am and they know what I’m about,” Curtis said. “And basically I’ve been activating them.”
Beth Gallagher-Henninger, a supporter of Curtis who lives in Frankfort, said she met him at a Fark party about 10 years ago, not long after she “became a Farker.”
“I was very excited to hear that he had made the decision (to run),” Gallagher-Henninger said. “We keep hearing people say we’re tired of seeing career politicians. With Drew running, we actually have an opportunity now to change the political climate and bring people back into politics.”
‘I am an Internet legend’
So is Curtis qualified to be governor of Kentucky?
“Yes,” he said, “and the reason why is this: I am an Internet legend. I started a digital media company before that was even a thing.”
When the Herald-Leader pointed out that the same could probably be said of Perez Hilton, Curtis laughed.
“That’s OK,” he said. “Perez Hilton would probably do a pretty good job too. I’m not saying I would vote for the guy, but there are certain skills you possess.”
Curtis has a head for technology, and his fledgling campaign has drawn attention nationally. In late January, he flew to New York City to meet with a small group of political operatives looking for independent candidates who are opposed to special-interest money. The group included Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager.
The candidate talks at length about the poisoning effect money has on politics and democracy, blasting the two-party system as “the problem.”
That stance naturally puts Curtis at a fundraising disadvantage, leading to the question of money and whether Fark has raked in the kind of dough that would allow Curtis to finance his own campaign.
“No, it has not, unfortunately,” he said. “One of Heather’s rules is that in order for this to work, I’m not allowed to put any of my own money into it. If people like this and think it’s a good idea, then it should self-fund.”
With that in mind, Curtis said, he’s building strategies based on various budgets, “from no money all the way up to — I think $5 million would be nice, but in lieu of that, ... .”
‘I’m running to win’
Curtis is not eager to take positions on cultural and social issues, calling them “weapons of fear” that are used by the Democratic and Republican parties to keep Americans divided.
“I’m not interested,” he said. “I’ve got my own positions, and I’ll tell people when they ask. But it’s kind of a trap. These issues are used to divide everybody.”
Curtis said the top issues plaguing Kentucky are unfunded pension liabilities for state workers and the absence of jobs. He said he thinks he can solve the jobs problem by drawing tech companies to the beautiful lands of Eastern Kentucky.
Regarding Kynect, the state-operated health insurance exchange implemented by Gov. Steve Beshear, Curtis said, “It did the job it was supposed to do.
“There’s probably ways to tweak it, but there’s also a complete absence of an alternative. Given that, we need to fix it up a little bit, but I would leave it the hell alone.”
On coal-related issues, Curtis said he was “agnostic.”
“What I think is not only is coal a dying industry, but coal itself knows that it’s a dying industry,” he said. “I don’t think it’s government’s job to prop up industries that are on their way out. If I was a coal company, I’d be doing other stuff.”
Despite his unconventional approach and aggressive criticism of the state of politics in America, Curtis said he isn’t planning to attack his would-be opponents, saying that he is familiar only with Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican.
“One of the things I was hoping for is that I would hate the other candidates. I actually don’t,” he said. “They don’t seem like particularly bad guys. That’s the only unfortunate thing is I can’t skewer these guys all day long for being complete tools. They seem OK. They just look like politicians to me, and that’s the thing I don’t like.”
So is Curtis running to be governor or is he trying to make a point?
“I’m running to win,” he said. “I’ll make a point as my Plan B. You always have a loss scenario in mind.”
In the meantime, Curtis has to gather the signatures of 5,000 Kentucky residents to get on the November ballot.
He plans to work the Fark network and the county fair circuit.
And in mid-March at the Comic Con convention, Curtis plans to set up a booth and try to get signatures from the thousands of comic book fans who descend on Lexington.
“Those are my people,” he said.