- Courtesy Jack Teter
- Teter (left) and Huelsman make waves.
Jack Teter and Kyle Huelsman, two white guys and progressive activists living in Denver, have started a political action committee dedicated to diversifying local politics. To that end, they've asked straight white guys who want to run for office one question: Can you not?
"We're not saying that every white guy should not run for office," says Huelsman. "A white person representing the state Legislature from Colorado Springs is a pretty accurate representation of what the community looks like in Colorado Springs."
But Aurora, for instance, is 50.8 percent female, 28.7 percent Hispanic and 15.8 percent black, according to the 2010 census. Yet since it was first founded in 1891, every mayor has been white, and only one, Norma Walker, was female. They do note, however, that the Colorado State Legislature is 42 percent female, highest in the nation.
"African American state legislatures are more likely to introduce measures that combat racial discrimination," Teter said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio. "That seems obvious. But they also produce measures improving education, health care, social welfare and the economy. If I support those policies, don't I have an obligation to like the most-qualified person — who evidence would suggest isn't a straight white man?"
"We talk about intervention and the idea of intervening with folks... thinking about politics as a life-career or life-trajectory," says Huelsman. "I hear you, I see you, I know that you're passionate, I know that you're talented. Let's find a way to really use those to uplift marginalized folks."
So far, the response to their Can You Not PAC has been split. Teter says that they ran the idea by friends and colleagues before going public. Most found the idea helpful or funny, or both. They haven't received any official endorsements, though Emerge America, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for office more effectively, did tweet its support.
Other responses, especially on the web, have ranged from negative to openly hostile.
The PAC's Facebook cover photo is a screenshot of a web commenter asking if the goal is "... advancement of the LGBTQXYZ agenda, to the exclusion of women and genuine minorities? Is the strategy of opposing white male dominance just a cover for imposing LGBTQXYZ dominance?"
Teter's reply: "Yes."
Clearly, there's a sense of humor at play here. Teter and Huelsman are fans of political satire, which has been on a huge rise. In particular, they note Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's run on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update as well as The Daily Show under both Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah.
To that end, the PAC's website features a selection of "success stories," depicting conventionally attractive white men who decided against running for office in 2016. The fact that these men are L.L. Bean menswear models with fake names is beside the point.
As for the interviews they've done, Teter and Huelsman say that the process of poring over notes and practicing canned lines deviates from typical politics only in their message.
"The politics of performance art have never been more on my mind than this election season," says Teter. He adds that politicking is already fundamentally theater, citing experience from working on campaigns all over the state.
But they also run on a "spoonful of sugar" mentality. Humor, they believe, helps the message go down more easily.
"Talking about identity and privilege is really hard for people, for straight white men especially," says Teter. "When you're used to massive, enormous privilege, equality can feel like you're suddenly horrifically oppressed."
"We finally found an avenue where we can approach that and have that conversation," adds Huelsman.