The Ones With the Vision

TWO YEARS AGO, Leonard J. Umina had a vision. It involved high technology and it was inspired by Thomas Jefferson.

It was also a vision which would eventually lead Umina into the race for governor of Massachusetts, first as a Republican hopeful, then as the candidate for the as-yet unformed High Tech Independent Party.

Although many people may not have heard of Umina, he is still in that race. He and at least two other independent candidates running for governor--one a socialist and one a former Democrat--are billing themselves as viable alternatives to John R. Silber and William F. Weld.

These independent candidates lack sophisticated campaign strategies and access to large campaign funds. But they do have two assets which they are using to their advantage: anger and creativity.

The anger is due to frustration with "politics as usual" in Massachusetts, and the creativity manifests itself in their unorthodox suggestions for solutions to the state's problems. As a result, many of the freshest ideas--if not necessarily the most practical ones--in this gubernatorial campaign are coming from these fringe candidates, rather than the established political parties.

Take Len Umina and his vision, for example. As he tells it, the vision came to him in the hills of northern Vermont while he was vacationing with his family.

Umina picked up a copy of an essay by Thomas Jefferson in which the patriot extolled the printing press as a valuable tool for keeping the electorate informed and thereby preserving democracy.

It occured to Umina, a technical marketing executive for Digital Equipment Corporation, that the printing press was a bit dated. What the public really needed to keep an eye on government, he reasoned, was "high technology"--vast networks of computer databases accessible to all citizens.

With this idea in mind and Jefferson's tract in hand, Umina descended from the mountaintop and entered the race for governor.

"I wanted to run because my ideas--which build upon the ideas of Thomas Jefferson--can really bring reform to the political process of Massachusetts," Umina says. "By making information about what our government is doing with our money easily accessible, we will be able to make our politicians accountable."

Umina does not yet have a clear idea about how he will implement this program if elected, but he does not anticipate that it will cost taxpayers very much money. And in the long term it will save millions, he says.

"If we just supply data to existing public networks, that would be very inexpensive," Umina says. "If we set up separate terminals ourselves, that would be more costly. But either way, the system will pay for itself very quickly. The corruption that exists in the current system is mind-boggling."

THAT THEME of corruption in the current system is one echoed by the independent candidates. In fact, it is echoed by the Democrats and the Republican as well.

The only difference is in who gets the blame. Silber points the finger directly at Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Weld takes a broader view of the issue, accusing the whole Democratic party of mismanagement. The independent candidates go a step further and indict the entire political system.

Dorothy L. Stevens, a welfare recipient mother of four who is running for governor as a write-in candidate, says she is similarly disenchanted with party politics. She originally started out as a Democratic candidate, but says she was eventually shut out of the system.