By Joel Warner
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By Alan Prendergast
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Computer programmer Jack Woehr considers himself a "candidate for the Nineties." Running for the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District, a seat occupied by incumbent Republican Dan Schaefer, Woehr is mounting a computerized campaign that includes press releases by E-mail and contributions solicited over Internet. Despite those high-tech flourishes, Woehr may be more a candidate for the Sixties.
A self-described "tree hugger" who's given to quoting ancient Chinese philosophers, the 42-year-old Woehr, who lives in Golden, doesn't flinch when asked if he's an ex-hippie. "Ex?" he laughs, acknowledging his ponytail. "Deep down inside, I kind of believe that all you need is love. But I'm a very pragmatic person, too. I've got four kids. I've been a bus driver, a taxi driver, a construction worker, a farmhand, a test engineer, a computer engineer. So I'm a much more educated and practical person than the young fool I was in the 1960s."
Woehr's running mainly on an issue whose roots also look tie-dyed: ending the war on drugs. Woehr addresses the subject in his official campaign theme song, a twangy Cajun waltz featuring the candidate's own accordion accompaniment. In a reedy, Keith Carradine-ish tenor, Woehr tells the tale of Johnny, a youth who bridles at his father's admonitions to do his homework, turns in his pot-smoking old man to the cops and then sits around watching TV.
"I think TV is the worst drug our society is hooked on," says the candidate, who terms himself an occasional pot smoker. "It glorifies violence, it glorifies disorder, it glorifies very sick stuff. I believe TV is teaching our children how to commit violent crimes." Woehr adds that he threw out his television in 1979 and hasn't owned one since.
Without TV, Woehr says he finds ample time to read history, where he finds much to bolster his views on modern times: "I believe with Lao Tse, who said, `The government with too many laws suddenly discovers it has a lot of lawbreakers.'" Woehr argues for an end to what he sees as the government's futile effort to control drug use. The war on drugs is a "hysteria," he believes. "It's a 365-day-a-year vice crusade. Who ever heard of country that eliminated vice? What's the point of a drug war? It's never going to end, because vice is never going to be eliminated."
Instead Woehr calls for "a mix of policies" aimed at the containment of drug use, likening it to Denver's unofficial policy on prostitution. "We have containment of prostitution by limiting it to places like East Colfax," he explains. "This is not what the law is, but it's what the de facto policy is. We say, `If you do it down there, we're not going to harass you every day, just when a district attorney comes up for re-election.'"
He counts among his philosophical allies former secretary of state George Shultz and former secretary of defense Robert MacNamara, as well as Abigail "Dear Abby" Van Buren, who he says all favor ending the drug war.
"If the authorities were serious about a drug-free America, they'd shut down Coors for a start," Woehr asserts. "But they aren't really interested in a war on all drugs; they're interested in a war on other people's drugs."
Largely due to antidrug laws, says Woehr, "America has the highest percentage of its population in prison of any country in the world. Is that the hallmark of a democracy? American democracy must choose to end the drug war, or the drug war will end American democracy."
Summing up, he adds, "In a way, I don't care if I don't get elected if I can just tell the kids of Colorado, `Pot's okay if you don't smoke too much of it. You do anything too much and it's stupid. But stay away from cocaine.' That would be a useful public service, because it's the truth."
Management consultant John Hallen, 57, is Woehr's only opponent so far for the Democratic nomination in the suburban and moderately conservative 6th District, which includes parts of Jefferson and Arapahoe counties. Hallen says his own position on the drug war has some similarities to Woehr's but is "less passionate." "In a certain sense," says Hallen, "we are losing the war on drugs." Of his opponent, he says, "I've enjoyed bantering around with him. On a visceral level, I kind of like the guy. He's got a good sense of humor."
Other Democratic leaders in the district are circumspect in their assessments of Woehr's candidacy. "He's an interesting guy," says State Senator Mike Feeley, who chairs the 6th District's Congressional Committee of the Democratic Party. "Jack's not a very traditional candidate," he adds, terming Woehr's prospects of winning an election "difficult."
"Jack's a very, very nice individual," says Tom Kolbe, who ran against Dan Schaefer two years ago. "I just don't think he can reach as many people as John [Hallen] can."
"I think I'm a little bit `out there' from the rest of society," Woehr allows. But on the whole, he says, "it would really be of tremendous benefit to the United States if two or three computer programmers got elected across the country this fall.