By Peter Jones
Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon may be looking at long odds in his quest for the governor’s office, but if a colorful history and a sense for adventure had anything to do with it, Dunafon would be a shoo-in.
No other hopeful in the crowded field can say he played football for the Broncos before selling his house to sail to the Virgin Islands for 17 years, and while there, played and wrote music, owned a nightclub and worked as a stand-up comic.
“I’ve always wanted to see what things are like,” the candidate said.
Given Dunafon’s loose ties to Shotgun Willie’s and his beer-powered voter-registration drives, one should not be surprised by his stringent libertarian ideology.
“I’m not an anarchist. I believe there’s a place for government, but that place for government is extremely limited,” he said. “The only way that you can fulfill your obligation as a human being to be happy is to not coerce other people.”
Dunafon announced his independent gubernatorial candidacy last week as a promise kept after witnessing what he described as a groundswell of Internet-based support on both social media and his personal website, which has hosted his regular musings on everything from partisan bickering to bull riding.
“As people started seeing these vignettes, they started sending messages to me essentially saying ‘Put up or shut up.’ I said, OK, I’ll make you a deal. If I get 60,000 Facebook ‘likes’ by April 6, my 60th birthday, I’ll do it,” Dunafon said.
At last count, the candidate had more than 72,000 “likes” and growing.
Dunafon plans to use the same Internet tools in his offbeat campaign. The candidate, who describes himself as “bankrupt,” pledges to take no campaign contributions and will spend very little of his own money as he trades in boot-heel campaigning for cyber warfare, in a sort of “American Spring 2014,” the candidate says.
“If you take a look at the Arab Spring, essentially people outmaneuvered the major intelligence communities of the world with Twitter,” he said. “The concept of being able to communicate with the world in real time makes each one of us with a smartphone a modern-day pamphleteer, publisher or broadcaster. Why would anyone walk door to door when you’ve got a smartphone in your hand.”
The former Republican is highly critical of what he calls “big government” Democrats and “intolerant” Republicans. If elected, he would emphasize the libertarianism he demonstrated as one the few Colorado mayors to back Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use.
The candidate would further support the decriminalization of all illicit drugs and legalized health-regulated prostitution. He unequivocally supports gun rights, gay marriage and abortion rights, though he describes the procedure as “terrible.”
“Once I start picking and choosing rights, I’m going to pick and choose things I like,” he said. “Meth is battery acid for the brain, but when I go down that slippery slope, I wind up with centralized authority controlling people they shouldn’t control.”
Dunafon has taken his time in developing a political philosophy. The son and nephew of the two original “Marlboro men” first had his sights on football, having played wide receiver for the Broncos in 1976-77.
“If you want to find out what it’s like to be here today, gone tomorrow, that’ll do it,” he said of his brief football career. “I thank God I didn’t make it any longer than I did. I’d be a driveling idiot.”
After retiring at 23, Dunafon sold his house and lived his dream in the Virgin Islands before coming back to Glendale 17 years later.
He entered politics almost by accident when his girlfriend, Debbie Mathews, owner of Glendale’s landmark Shotgun Willie’s ran afoul of the City Council, which had tried to effectively shut down the venerable strip club.
An outraged Dunafon was soon walking door to door – with beer in tow – to register likeminded voters. Strippers made similar efforts to save their own jobs.
“If there’s anything I hate, it’s a morals brigade,” the mayor said. “We threw those guys out of office.”
After a stint on the city’s Strategic Planning Initiative, Dunafon was eventually elected to the council, was named mayor pro tem and was finally elected mayor to lead what had become a libertarian-leaning council.
Dunafon would prove instrumental in the creation of Infinity Park, the rugby arena that gave Glendale the nickname “Rugbytown U.S.A.”
The mayor says he took the unusual move of encouraging the city to leave the lights on at night after striking a deal with teenage street kids. If they promised not to tag the park with graffiti, they could use it when games were not scheduled.
Dunafon has not been above theatrics when pointing out the perceived absurdity of arcane laws. When the mayor dusted off a widely broken prohibition on pool tables in Glendale’s bars, he turned the ordinance’s repeal into a show.
“We went out and arrested our friend who had the bar and put her in jail until we changed the law,” he said. “Then, we discovered we’d broken another of our own laws. We had outdoor speakers in our stadium.”
Despite the likes of Gov. John Hickenlooper and a half dozen of potential Republican challengers, including former U.S. Reps. Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo, Dunafon is undeterred in his passionate determination to be elected governor.
“How else do we make a change in this world if we’re not willing to take a chance on ourselves?” he said. “We’re all going to take a dirt nap someday. What are you going to do in between?”
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