Green Party Connecticut governor hopeful: Let's end drug war
Colchester - No one will ever accuse Clifford Thornton of shyness.
The 61-year-old retired businessman and Green Party candidate for governor is passionately blunt in describing what he sees as the failure of government -- and unconcerned if some find his sharp and pointed criticisms offensive.
"That's because I'm not a politician," he said during lunch last week at Peg's Vintage Diner in Colchester. "I'm not going to cater to you just to get your vote. I'm going to tell you the truth. And all great truths start as blasphemy.
"What we need are politicians so committed to the job that they're willing to lose it," he said.
Thornton, the first African-American to run for governor, is centerpiecing his gubernatorial bid on what he believes is the single most important issue facing the state -- and the nation. He advocates decriminalizing illegal drugs, and bringing an end to the 40-year war on drugs he said has done nothing to stem the tide of illegal drug sales or use.
"The war on drugs is meant to be waged, not won," he said, adding billions have been spent building prisons and fighting the drug war with no tangible evidence of success. "That's money that could have been spent on education, transportation infrastructure, housing, economic development and myriad other programs."
Decriminalizing illegal drugs, he contends, will have a positive impact on every other problem.
"Do you know what the definition of insanity is?" he said. "It's doing the same thing over and over again, and each time expecting to get a different result. The war on drugs isn't working, but we keep fighting it. That's insanity."
Being the first African-American to run for governor, Thornton said, means nothing unless it serves as motivation to other minorities to seek elected office. Race, however, is something different, and very much a part of his campaign. And he is particularly critical of organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League and black clergy that he claims have sold out their communities by turning a blind eye to the problem.
"You've got to talk about race," he said. "Seventy percent of the people in jail on drug charges are minorities. And 70 percent of the drug overdoses are white people. The drug problem is in the headlines every day. And where are we seeing the problem? In the poor, mostly minority, inner-city areas.
"Drugs are two degrees from everything in society," he said. "If you don't understand racism, classism, terrorism, white privilege and the war on drugs, then everything else will only confuse you."
Thornton's radical views are not the rantings of a one-issue candidate seeking to shock voters. On the contrary, he is a well-respected authority and drug reform advocate who has lectured extensively across the country and the world. His mother died of a heroin overdose when he was 18, and he now believes if heroin use had been legal and supervised by doctors, she might have been able to lead a safe and healthy life.
He is the founder of Efficacy, a 10-year-old nonprofit Hartford-based group focused on reforming the nation's drug policy, and he taught a graduate level course titled "Illegal Drugs and Public Policy" at Trinity College in 2002.
He hopes his gubernatorial campaign will provide yet a larger platform and broader audience for his message.
"I've been waiting 10 years for someone to step forward, but no one has," he said when asked why he accepted the Green Party nomination for governor. "This is a natural evolution for someone like myself."
By Ray Hackett