Two men were parking their pickup in downtown Anchorage. One was checking to see if the vehicle was close enough to the curb; the other was digging quarters from his pocket.
I wouldn't have paid much attention except that they were wearing bright red coats with a message in bold spread across the back: "Sheldon for Governor" and "Wright for Lieutenant Governor."
I wondered. "What state are Sheldon and Wright running in?" The men were youngish — forties is youngish to me these days — and I thought, "Maybe they are GIs from somewhere down south." I also considered the possibility that Wright had something to do with former Native leader Don Wright of Fairbanks, a perennial candidate years ago.
Only one thing to do: Ask them.
"So who are Sheldon and Wright, and where are they from?" I inquired while approaching the pair.
The taller, a lean man, replied. "I'm Michael Sheldon. He's Stephen Wright. We're a team, we're running for governor and lieutenant governor." Wright, shorter and stockier, smiled.
"I see," I said, sorting through my 60 years of Alaska political experience to see if I could remember a candidate — never mind two — whom I met for the first time while they parked.
I shifted gears into inquiring citizen.
"So why are you running?"
Sheldon, who seemed to have been waiting for a voter, any voter, pounced with the energy and enthusiasm of the neophyte. "I am running because of the way the politicians abuse the people. To put an end to it. I'm running to restore the Permanent Fund dividend to the amount it should be for every Alaskan. It's the people's money. They deserve it, not the politicians."
His answer may have lacked polish — and novelty — but certainly was forceful.
"Anything else you're running on, Mr. Sheldon?"
I gave him a looked that obviously signaled I was not certain how he aligned.
"The first day I am in office — in the first hours in office — I am going to ban abortion in the state of Alaska. It's wrong. You're looking at the guy who will put an end to abortion."
His answer gave me pause. I eventually said, "What about the Constitution, what about the law?" And thought, "What about the Legislature?"
Continuing his intrepid performance in the snow, Sheldon explained, "Nothing is going to stop me. There will be no more abortion." I envisioned him shouting out the ban from the Capitol steps as Richard Mauer and the Juneau press corps recorded every word. His unyielding abortion views had to mean he is a Republican.
Well, I wasn't running a sidewalk seminar on the complexity of the abortion issue so I asked Sheldon and Wright to tell me about themselves.
Wright, the undercard in the election, went first. He is from Wasilla, retired military, years of service to his country and wants to continue to serve his country.
Sheldon then took his turn after handing me his card. He is from Petersburg. Played a variety of roles in that community, fished some. "Forty-four years a Republican conservative," he noted. This made me wonder if he had been born conservative or if enlightenment had come while he was a toddler. I decided not to ask.
We talked briefly about Petersburg, where a high-school classmate of mine had been a highly successful fishermen. Oh yes, Sheldon certainly knew Johnny Winther.
Then I made a mistake — or at least said something that as soon as I said it I figured would finish the conversation. "You will probably have a tough time getting my vote. I'm a Democrat." Sheldon waved off my affiliation as if shooing a mosquito, and Wright shot back, "No problem. There's plenty of time to change your registration before the primary. Then you can vote for us." He delivered this perfectly, as an actor might have had he rehearsed the scene. The three of us laughed.
Time to move on. I wished them well, suggested that while campaigning they would meet interesting people — and surprising challenges — and said goodbye. They both said they were glad to meet me and added that they were headed to a radio interview.
Time to get the word out. (The word as written on the back of Sheldon's business card included 19 points or pledges, "No sanctuary cities in Alaska" for one.")
Apparently the Republican Party didn't get the word as Sheldon was not invited to participate in the Republican gubernatorial debate at the Hilton hotel Friday.
Sheldon and Wright had a charm. A freshness. Political speak is so new to them — as is meeting the public while dressed in their red candidate garb.
These are men of strict principle, unbending. And as men of principle, unbending, they no doubt have little respect for the proposition that politics is the art of compromise.
A Democrat who served in the good old days, when Democrats ran the state, told me, "Michael, the average guy doesn't understand what it is like to be elected. You spend your days wrangling with people you disagree with, many of whom you don't like. The public writes to you telling you to get off your butt and do something. The bills passed are imperfect. I never voted for a budget I totally approved of. This is the world of elective government."
The unbending are usually unhappy in this environment.
I hope I run into Sheldon and Wright when the campaign nears its end. I would like to hear what they have learned from meeting their fellow citizens. Their snappy new coats were red, but they were green as grass.
Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org