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New PAC asks white men not to run

Can You Not PAC started as a joke. But its founders are dead serious about fixing political representation — and white men getting out of the way.
Backstage directions at the presidential rally for Sen. Marco Rubio, Columbia S.C., Feb. 19, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Backstage directions at the presidential rally for Sen. Marco Rubio, Columbia S.C., Feb. 19, 2016. 

A new political action committee has a message for straight white men considering running for office: Just don’t.

According to its website, the Colorado-based Can You Not PAC “was started by white men, for white men, asking white men that one important question: ‘Bruh, can you not?’ We are happy to host interventions for the misguided bros in your life who looked in the mirror this morning and thought 'yeah, it’s gotta be me.'”

Is it for real?  “It very initially started out as a joke,” said Jack Teter, a 25-year-old progressive activist who started the PAC with 26-year-old Kyle Huelsman and registered it earlier this week.

But now that Can You Not PAC has taken off, having raised $1200 in its first 24 hours, Teter and Huelsman are assembling an advisory board of non-straight-white-guys to pick candidates worthy of its support. Or as the site puts it, “We are raising money with the intent of defeating mediocre white dudes and elevating some of the best underrepresented candidates of 2016.” 

The two met working in the Colorado legislature and were inspired to start the PAC after watching a series of local Democratic primaries result in a less-than-representative slate. 

“A lot of us joke that the Republican party is the party of old white men,” said Teter, “but I think that can be true of Democratic bodies as well. We know of groups that are doing such great work recruiting women and people of color and LGBT people. And we know white men who will give donations to those groups while simultaneously running against them in primaries.” 

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The PAC urges white men in urban, racially mixed precincts to give someone else a shot.

Key to their plan is that the message is coming from fellow white guys. (The site features the smiling and bland faces of L.L. Bean models who have opted out.) “People who are in the position of privilege should be the ones to dismantle it,” said Huelsman.

For a project that started as a joke, Can You Not PAC comes with a significant body of research underpinning it, including data showing that men are far more likely than women to think they are qualified to run for office. They liken their plea to a professor telling a student who dominates the conversation in class to step back and open up a space for others.

So does that mean they wish Bernie Sanders, who is not giving up a race against a woman, had just not? They demurred. (Teter is a Hillary Clinton supporter; Huelsman declined to state his preference.) “That’s not really what this PAC is about,” said Teter.

Unsurprisingly, the PAC has already met with significant backlash in its short life, both from the right, who sees it as proof of ongoing white male victimization, and from progressives who think rather than telling white men no, Teter and Huelsman should be recruiting more underrepresented people.

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That’s a goal they support, but they think they were destined for the role groups like EMILY’s List cannot play, which is to tell men to get out. “We can’t simply fix the discrepancy by getting more women and people of color running for office,” said Huelsman. “There are plethora of highly qualified women and women of color running for office. The problem here also is that we have a tsunami of overly confident, underqualified white guys running again and again.”

The most outlandish attacks have been on Teter, who happens to be trans. “People are accusing me of becoming a man to blow up the white male stratosphere,” said Teter. As the first trans staffer in the Colorado legislature, he added, “I’ve worked in politics as a woman and as a man.”

Can You Not PAC functions in part as an answer to a conundrum Teter says he faces: “Figuring out how to continue being a feminist now that I’m a man.”