If a nerd needed to create a real-life Lord Of The Rings-style fellowship to shepherd the Ring of Power across Middle Earth to Mt. Doom, independent gubernatorial candidate Drew Curtis’ campaign finance report might be a good place to find some names.
Among the donors to his campaign are Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit; Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing company in California; Wil Wheaton from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; and Kentucky native Matt Cutts, the web spam czar for Google — one of the first to be hired by the company.
Curtis, 42, became a nerd demigod because of his website, Fark.com. He created it in 1999 to share funny and interesting articles with friends, and it ballooned into an Internet phenomenon.
Despite his fame in those circles, though, Curtis has struggled to break into the race for Kentucky governor. He has been shut out from most of the debates between major party candidates Matt Bevin, a Republican, and Jack Conway, a Democrat, because of low polling numbers.
But Curtis has managed to inject himself into much of the conversation this election season, partly because of his discussion of the state’s ailing pension system.
“Having run Fark, a news media aggregator for almost 17 years now, I’ve read almost everything that’s been printed since 1999, and it doesn’t give you a very good impression of politics, not surprisingly,” Curtis said during an interview over the summer.
Curtis lives on a suburban street in Versailles. He works out of his house, which is often littered with the toys of his three children: Chance, Storm and Sierra. His wife, Heather, is his running mate. She is the chief operating officer of Fark.com.
Curtis is a long-shot in the race for governor; the most recent Bluegrass Poll showed him taking just 7 percent of the vote. He said he decided to get into the race because he didn’t like how — ahem — political politicians were.
“I was complaining about this one night a couple of years ago to some friends, and they said, ‘Well, why don’t you run for office?'” he said. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to, it’s distasteful.’ And they said, ‘Well, here’s the thing: You could run, you could win, you would be a good executive, and if you are not willing to run, why would you expect anyone else to?'”
Earlier this year, just after it was revealed that the major party candidates for governor had participated in a “secret debate” in Virginia held by luminaries of the coal industry — and closed to the public — Curtis said the other candidates were “concentrating on all the wrong issues.”
“I love this state, I like living here, we have amazing things going for us, and I don’t want to see that screwed up by people that are selling us out,” Curtis said.
Curtis is famous in some circles for taking on a patent troll and winning. Along with Yahoo, Reddit and MSN, Fark was sued by a company claiming it owned rights to news aggregation systems. The larger companies settled out of court to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation, but Curtis pushed forward, and eventually the troll relented.
Cutts, the web spam czar for Google and a native of Morehead, said Curtis’ outside-the-box approach to the patent troll is indicative of his leadership style.
“I think a lot of people would sort of just say, ‘Oh, it’s not that much money, let’s not take on the risk of a lawsuit, let’s not fight it,'” Cutts said. “But Drew was very smart in terms of how he handled that challenge.”
“He’s a funny guy, he’s a friendly guy,” Cutts continued. “He’s one of the people that make me proud to be a Kentuckian. So no matter what happens in the election, I’m really glad that he’s brought a lot of topics like pension reform to the forefront.”
Curtis has made fixing the state’s ailing pension systems a central plank of his platform. He has proposed establishing a line of credit to shore up the systems in years when investment returns are low and assure that the state is making its required contributions to the funds.
He also said he’ll make the state more tech-friendly and use technology to streamline some processes in state government.
Todd Willard, an attorney in Lexington, said he likes Curtis because of his performance during the televised debate at Bellarmine University.
“He actually answered questions that the other candidates didn’t,” Willard said. “I’d like to see somebody that’s not from one of the established parties win. I just think they’ve been doing the same thing and not getting things accomplished, and are more worried about party politics than actually getting things done.”
It’s unclear what Curtis would be like as governor; he admits he doesn’t know whom he would appoint to the thousands of board, commission and cabinet positions he’d manage as the state’s chief executive. With the exception of this year’s campaign, he has no policy-making experience. But as CEO of Fark, he said he’s gotten “very good at delegating authority.”
He said his network of successful tech entrepreneurs would help put Kentucky on the map and attract expat Kentuckians back to the commonwealth.
“Let’s go get the diaspora and say: ‘Hey, you’re in your 40s and your 50s, and you’ve lived in Silicon Valley now for 20 years, and it’s expensive and it sucks and you have kids and hey guess what, Kentucky just became the most tech-friendly state in the United States,” Curtis said. “Come back.”