The first thing that strikes you is his youth. The second is the energy bursting out of him. It's more than just the coffee he's drinking. Patrick Quealy wants everyone to be as energized as he is, and he doesn't particularly care about what.
Being a Libertarian, Quealy expects people to decide issues for themselves instead of waiting for politicians to do it for them. He's running for the Ohio House of Representatives, 33rd District, from the heart of conservative west-side Delhi.
"I don't think of myself as a would-be politician," he says, "just a guy who's running for office."
And Quealy is definitely not your typical candidate. Aside from his third party affiliation, he's 19 years old. He's home for the summer from Ohio State University, where he majors in computer science. Right now he's working the front desk at the Regal Hotel downtown. Talk about public service. And he wants to have fun.
Linking his schoolwork with his political philosophy, he says that computers and Libertarians share a logical framework.
"Here's a problem, here's an issue," he says. "What can be done to fix it, to solve it, to deal with it in a most appropriate manner?"
But he sees the problems facing society as more complex than some simple equation. "There's more to making things work than just crunching numbers. You've got to look at the human element."
For Quealy, that means not giving up on anyone.
"I guess I have a rather romantic view," he says. "I like to think of people as having unlimited potential ... that we as a society don't give up on anyone or insult anyone by making the assumption that they can't take care of themselves."
Quealy expects people to take care of themselves. And he expects government to protect people from force and from fraud, period.
He wants to "change hearts and minds" and get people to think differently about their own role in the world. "I'm not doing this because I like politics. It's messy."
Indeed it is, and Libertarian ideas raise the hackles of both Democans and Republicrats alike, offending hard-core constituencies and interests. Quealy is becoming used to doing just that, and encourages others to do the same. "Just pick an issue, be passionate about it, go get involved in something. That what my campaign is all about."
On some issues, Quealy sounds like a conservative Republican. He sees no role for government in social policy or even discrimination protection. "When you try to make people get along, you're just asking for trouble. We need to protect people from being hurt by others, but we have to preserve the individual right to free association."
He is opposed to the public funding of education and in favor of vouchers for school choice.
On the liberal Democratic side, Quealy calls corporate welfare "just disgusting. If you're gonna throw money around like that, give it to people who need it. In one case, it's misguided social policy, and in the next case it's just blatantly giving money away to people who are already rich."
He is also staunchly opposed to the war on drugs and would "sponsor legislation left and right to get rid of all state laws against drug use and would strongly, strongly push for medical marijuana. The war on drugs, and the insane fear of drugs in this country, has created an even bigger problem than the drugs themselves."
He compares the situation to Prohibition, calling the drug war "a massive propaganda campaign."
Quealy hopes for a complete overhaul of drug policy and other victimless crimes. "The more we move toward a sensible drug policy," he asserts, "the more crime will decrease and the fewer drug-related problems we'll see in our youth."
And though in favor of school vouchers, Quealy is "not comfortable with a bunch of for-profit companies educating our kids. Our kids are not a product to be machined, stamped out, bar coded and packaged. We have to be open to innovative alternatives."
Among those alternatives he lists typical private schools, home schools and "educational cooperatives" which might be instituted by neighborhoods and communities, with different subjects or disciplines taught by members of that community. "Yes, it takes a village," he quips. "It doesn't take a village government."
When I challenge his theory as producing a crazy quilt of uneven educational standards and practices, he immediately points out, "That's what we have right now. We will never help every last poor person, we will never give shelter to every last homeless person, we will never educate every last kid. I think we'll have the fewest people falling through the cracks if we depend on each other instead of on government."
Then he adds, "Any politician who tells you otherwise is lying through his teeth."
It all sounds very "thousand points of light"-ish, but Quealy has an unshakeable confidence in the generosity, compassion and goodness of people. It can be disturbing. One minute I'm dismissing his optimism as naive and unrealistic, and the next I'm wondering what became of that optimism in myself.
I confront him on hate crimes. He agrees that hate motivation should be punished more severely, "but all hate motivation, not just to benefit a few specific classes of people." He says existing hate crimes legislation "is almost a gimmick. The really unpopular people get ignored, and they will continue to be until people, and not government, address their problems."
It's an interesting response, but I still think it trivializes the character of hate motivations based upon ethnic, racial, religious or sexual factors, putting them on the same par with a personal grudge or a professional jealousy. We move on to punishment. "I absolutely believe in rehabilitation over punishment," Quealy says, equating correction with education. "While we're punishing people, we should take care to fix the problem. The bottom line is, you've gotta correct the behavior and the conditions that lead to crime."
And on private prisons, "They strike me as a really weird idea. I'm all for privatizing things that people can do for themselves, but law enforcement is clearly a government function. But that doesn't mean that private groups don't have a role in there, to come in with a loving and intelligent attitude to help to rehabilitate these prisoners."
Quealy knows that his ideas are quirky, even radical. "On all these things we operate on some kind of system, from a particular paradigm. And in a lot of cases it's not enough to tinker with the dominant paradigm, you need a whole paradigm shift. Sometimes it's scary to people to tell them we're going to make your kids safer by legalizing drugs or create a more loving society without laws against discrimination, but these are only contradictory if you refuse to think outside of that established system.
"What I really want to do is to make people think, and when your name appears on a ballot people tend to listen a lot more. I think of this as leading by example. Regardless of the outcome, I'm making a difference in my community."
He's also helping promote the evolution of political thought, the historic role of third parties in this nation.
"Most progressive ideas start out with third parties," he says. "We scare them, we challenge them and, hopefully, they steal our ideas. What's important is not the label, it's the content."
Contact Pat Quealy's campaign office at 513-451-0386 or log on at www.quealy2000. cjb.net