Why Can’t I Be President?

In 1996, longshot presidential candidate Caroline Killeen mocked President Bill Clinton for saying he once tried marijuana, but didn't breathe in the smoke.

In 1996, longshot presidential candidate Caroline Killeen mocked President Bill Clinton for saying he once tried marijuana, but didn’t breathe in the smoke.

It’s been 20 years (!) since filmmaker Al Ward and I met Caroline Killeen, a.k.a. the “Hemp Lady,” at her presidential campaign headquarters – a homeless shelter in Manchester, NH. Following the lonely ex-nun through the slushy streets on the day before Christmas, we shot the first scenes of our first documentary, “Why Can’t I Be President?”

I celebrate Killeen’s legacy – and reveal what happened to her – in today’s Boston Globe, as part of their fantastic “Primary Memories” series.

Produced for PBS stations, “Why Can’t I Be President?” highlighted the quirkiest feature of the New Hampshire Primary – that ANY American (age 35 and up) who pays $1,000 can run for President.

In most other states, who gets on the ballot is determined by the political parties, the Secretary of State or by gathering tens of thousands of signatures of registered voters (which requires a huge organization and lots of money.) In New Hampshire, the dream is yours – a permanent place in history – for a thousand bucks.

Some “fringe” candidates, like the Hemp Lady, devote their candidacy (and resulting media attention) to a serious cause. Some use their candidacy as a resume line to sell books and get higher rates on the speaking circuit. And some are just simply crazy, like your local Town Meeting crank – but with a much bigger megaphone.

It’s fascinating to consider how the term “fringe” has evolved since then.

In 1996, it meant longshot single-issue candidates such as the Hemp Lady and Georgiana Doerschuck, a New York grandmother who railed against the “tyranny” of the Computer Age. In the oversaturated 2016 race, marginalized candidates desperate for attention now include current U.S. governors and senators.

Look at how many “mainstream” accomplished politicians are being delegated to the “Little Kids’ Table” debate whenever the Republicans join the ongoing Donald Trump Show on TV.

In the spirit of the New Hampshire Primary, we’re looking for partners to do a special 20th anniversary screening of “Why Can’t I Be President?” with a Q&A panel to follow. Stay tuned to this space for future announcements – and in the meantime, here are a few teaser clips.

Would any of these candidates get your vote?

Caroline Killeen, a.k.a. “The Hemp Lady”

An ex-nun from Arizona who fought for marijuana legalization 20 years before the cause became ho-hum.


Michael Levinson – The Poet Prophet

Self-declared prophet from Buffalo who claims to be a 20th Century Nostradamus. Levinson also pioneered the campaign technique of pumping gas for prospective voters at self-service stations. Whether they wanted help or not.

Georgiana Doerschuck – The Anti-Computer Candidate

New York grandmother warns of the privacy-sapping evils of the Internet. Doesn’t sound so crazy in retrospect.

Jack Mabardy – Cab Driver Fighting UFOs

Massachusetts taxi driver warns that America is ill-equipped to handle an alien invasion (from Mars, not Mexico.)

Carmen Chimento – Abe Lincoln Fanatic

Bearded New Hampshire man who believes he has a lot in common with the 16th President (besides facial hair.)

Like what you see? Stay tuned to this space for information on the upcoming 20th anniversary screening of “Why Can’t I Be President?”


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Filed under Election 1996, New Hampshire Primary, Why Can't I Be President?

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