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That's what she said

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“Grateful” Fred Smith Wants to Level the Playing Field


Candidate Fred Smith (photo by the author)

Four-time City Council candidate Fred Smith is running again to make sure that the voters hear his message on taxes and the minimum wage.

Smith will appear on the ballot as “Greatful Fred Smith,” a misspelling of “grateful” that he takes responsibility for, citing Andrew Jackson’s remarks on spelling: “It is a damn poor mind indeed which can’t think of at least two ways to spell any word.”

The “grateful” part of his name comes from a nickname given to him by friends years ago. “Fred” is his middle name and he has always gone by that.

Smith says his number one issue is the minimum wage in Boulder. He thinks it should be raised by $2.25 and that the people most affected should get out and vote. Higher wages would mean more revenue for the city, according to Smith. “Poor people put money right back into the economy.”

He also believes that the city should institute a progressive income tax that he calls his “tax equalizer.” He argues that low wage earners in Boulder are paying an inordinate share of the taxes because of the city’s reliance on sales taxes for revenue.

Smith speaks passionately about the need to implement a severance tax on oil and gas extraction, saying that the 1-2% that the state gets from mineral companies is scandalous. “Out-of-state interests ruin our environment, ruin our landscape—we should tax them at 15-20%. That would pay for education and health care. It’s crazy that we haven’t done that.”

He knows that some of his ideas are better addressed at the state level than locally, but he is trying to educate people about the issues and running for council is one way to do that. All of his positions and their justifications are spelled out on his website,

Smith holds that there should be an “age of maturation” instead of the variety of legal ages for drinking, voting, the administration of justice, and perhaps driving. He is particularly interested in lowering the drinking age because “CU students shouldn’t have to wait until senior year to go to a bar.” In the event of alcohol violations, however, he takes a hard line: “they should be fined, jailed and miss a semester of school.”

He also believes that alcohol should be taxed as much as marijuana, “Alcohol should pay its own way. Alcohol is a hell of a lot more destructive than marijuana.”

Life should have a purpose

A resident of Boulder since the early 1990s, the 48-year old grew up the second of three boys on a farm in Carthage, Illinois, near the Mississippi River.

Smith has the demeanor of someone who has seen some hard knocks and, in fact, he has. A defining moment in his life was when he lost his younger brother Scotty, 16, to an automobile accident. Fred, just a year and a half older than Scotty, says that the experience, coupled with comments from a priest at the time, have made him think about the direction of his life. Smith believes that his life should be about doing things with a purpose rather than “just the thing ahead of you that is going to make you money.”

Smith’s father still farms the family’s 400-acre farm of corn and soybeans in Carthage. His mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis when he was in his twenties. She passed away a few years ago after a difficult battle against the disease.

Smith earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He moved to Boulder in the early 1990s to be near his older brother Dave, who lives in Superior and is the “anchor” of the family. Fred Smith works on a local farm and as landscaper and doing odd jobs.

Both a client and former board member of the Mental Health Center in Boulder, Smith is a strong advocate for the mentally ill. He served 9 years on the board of directors and praises the center for the good work they do. They could do even more with more funding, he says. The center is able to take pretty good care of the chronically mentally ill but “with more funds they could keep more people functioning and keep them from crashing and having to start over,” says Smith.

“Boulder is the perfect size”

At candidate forums, which can feel like pretty high stakes affairs, Smith’s lack of affectation has the effect of relieving the tension and making everyone smile. By not trying to impress the audience or score points at the expense of his fellow candidates, he manages to distinguish himself as someone who is genuine, amiable, and has nothing to lose. If he agrees with other candidates’ responses, he says so and leaves it at that. However, because he’s willing to say exactly what he thinks, he has likely offended one or two interest groups.

Smith says of his candidacy, “I know I’m not going to win. I just really want this tax equalizer to go through. I really could sit down with the candidates and prove that a person making $15,000 a year is paying three times the percent of income in local taxes and fees compared to a wealthy person. Could we have just one progressive tax?”

Taxes and wages aside, Smith appreciates Boulder as it is: “Being able to live in a community like Boulder is really nice. It’s a city that is not too small and not too big, has a lot of stuff to do and is not a big city. Boulder is the perfect size.”

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