“A Politician for The Poets?!” by Jonathan Montgomery

As soon as he walks into the Laughing Goat a chorus of baristas shouts out, “Eric Budd!” He smiles and waves to them, and after he steps away, they continue talking about him.

“Who was that?” a customer asks.

“Oh my god, that was Eric Budd,” a barista says, “He’s running for City Council!”

“I’m voting for him,” another barista says.

“Yeah, me too.  I’ve been kinda wanting to talk to him about his ideas.”

“You should. He’s totally cool like that.”

Shana and I are waiting at a nearby table to talk to him about his ideas too. We’d scheduled it tho. There’s a link on his Twitter profile that says, “let’s get coffee.” Click on it, and you see time slots thoughout the week when he’s available to meet with you.   You don’t even have to be some rich, powerful donor, or ‘the media’ like us.  Anyone can.

I first took notice of Budd last year when he started liking Boulder Poetry Tribe articles on Twitter. I didn’t know him. I wasn’t following him or anything. He just found them.

On the last Tuesday of this past June, Budd really grabbed my attention when he livetweeted what might be the last Wine&Poetry night at the Rad-ish Collective. The monthly reading series had been packing their co-op living room for years, but is in danger of ending due to an up-in-the-air housing situation.  In solidarity he was tweeting out all the best poetry lines of the night.

When I later saw that Eric Budd was running for City Council, I couldn’t help but think, “Hmm, this might finally be a politician for the poets!”

Not that the current council has ever seemed against the poets per se. The Boulder Cultural Plan vaguely has our back. Mayor Suzanne Jones was even one of the anonymous contributors to my “Why Does Art Matter?” piece this spring. But how often have you seen a local politician (beyond the devil-may-care Kevin Hotaling campaign runs of a few years back) actually attend a local poetry reading before, let alone livetweet it?

Rad-ish is the first thing we ask him about during our Laughing Goat meeting. First, Eric Budd is not a poet. In fact, the 35 year old candidate’s background is in the infamous ‘tech field.’ But Budd is not your typical techie, and he actually has deep connections with the Boulder co-operative housing scene.

“(They) really took me in when I started getting involved in the community…” Budd says mentioning the Masala Co-Op in particular. “I met so many great people thru them and learned just about the difficulties of living in Boulder, especially being an artist or working in a service job or things like that.”

This led him to Rad-ish, meeting people like Chacha Spinrad (City Council candidate in 2015), and getting exposed to things like Wine&Poetry night, where he developed “an understanding about how affordable housing and art spaces and having places where they share art and stories is such a powerful piece of our community.”

Boulder, as many may know, has rules against more than 3-4 non-related people sharing housing. Although City Council passed an ordinance this year which aimed to support co-ops, it’s been interpreted in such a way that it still restricts groups like Rad-ish from finding new housing.

Eric Budd is someone who will keep looking at issues like this, and considers affordable housing to be “one of the main reasons I’m running.” He supports what Boulder has done so far, but insists that we go further, with co-op housing being one of the possible solutions. While recognizing concerns about parking, overcrowding, and safety, he argues that co-ops “allow us to provide more affordable housing without building new buildings.” He also suggests encouragement of building “more townhomes and duplexes as opposed to four or five thousand square feet homes just for two people.”

We suggest that the artists of Boulder just want to feel appreciated and reassured the town cares about keeping us here.  We can’t help bringing up the inherent economic inequality of the situation. Does one the have the right to stay in our community if they’re unable or unwilling to play the same ‘capitalist game’ as others? Budd shows us compassion.

“The thing that disturbs me most… is people that tell me, ‘well, (income) inequality is worldwide and its national, and we’re never going to fix that here, so we shouldn’t try’… or people who tell me, ‘well, Boulder has gotten so bad and so unaffordable that that ship has sailed’…. But that’s not the right answer… By doing nothing we can make this worse.”

Naturally you can’t have this conversation without thinking of Boulder’s tech community, which has been growing so quickly the last few years. We mention our anxiety about them not sharing our values.

“It’s not a boogeyman itself,” Budd says, “but it’s a reason for us to double-down on the arts and double-down on our community institutions, because we need to make sure the new people who are coming here are really trying to become part of the community.”

The candidate, who moved here ten years ago to work for Seagate Technology, is an example of someone who has gone out of his way to do this.

“One of the things I try to do on Twitter is try to bring people in, and try to talk about the great things in Boulder.”

We agree to find more opportunities to bridge the gaps, especially since tech company culture often isolates their employees from the outside community.   One of Budd’s possible suggestions is for artists to reach out to co-working spaces such as ‘The Hub,’ or Galvanize, which are interested bringing together diversity and dialogue.  It may just be a matter of becoming aware of what one another are doing.

“The more that we can connect those bonds then people will say ‘hey, I don’t want to lose this institution, and maybe I’ll use some of my tech money that I have to help support it.”

Budd is also a big proponent of public art, noting examples like Atlanta, of which he shows us a phone image of a giant mural of civil rights hero, Congressman John Lewis. He points out that Boulder tries to make buildings small and minimal so they don’t distract from the natural beauty of the area, but insists we “do more with arts, so its not a sterile environment.”

It’s hard not to get exciting when talking with Eric Budd. He’s idealistic but also reasonable, believing in a new vision of Boulder but realizing that we can’t change things overnight. But most importantly you can understand why he calls himself a ‘connector.’ Whereas the typical local politician may be perceived as an impersonal, inaccessible ghost except for campaign season, Budd, especially thru his passion for social media platforms, has been and will continue making a diverse range of people feel connected to him and the community whether he’s elected or not.

If elected Eric Budd would be a politician for the poet, and the artist, and the co-oper, but also the Google engineer who moves here next year, and the retired millionaire living in a Mapleton Hill mansion, and, of course, the baristas of The Laughing Goat Coffeshop, and everyone in between. The Boulder Poetry Tribe, and all its vast clout, emphatically endorses this man for Boulder City Council.

Early voting in Boulder has already started and will go until November 7th. Five of the nine City Council spots are up for election this year. Please consider Eric Budd, who also endorses Jan Burton and Jill Grano as excellent choices for their support of the arts.

For more information on Eric Budd and how to help him get elected visit his campaign page here.

 

Jonathan Montgomery is editor-in-chief of Boulder Poetry Tribe.  He’s the author of Pizzas and Mermaid and Taxis & Shit.  He lives in Boulder and teaches at Front Range Community College.  You can follow him on Twitter @metoopoet, and see more of his work at jonathan-montgomery.com.

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