Kumar Goes to Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

In one word, what Kal Penn finds most inspiring about Barack Obama’s presidential run is its integrity.

“Not since Kennedy has a President challenged us to do our part,” Penn said Sunday evening in the Mezzanine room at Red’s Wines & Blues in Kalispell.

Penn is an actor on the TV medical drama “House” and star of the stoner comedy “Harold and Kumar…” series, but spent the weekend in Montana for a three-city tour, stumping and in some cases going door-to-door rallying support for Democratic presidential candidate Obama.

Sunday morning Penn canvassed Missoula, knocking on doors, then spoke in Pablo before his evening dialogue in Kalispell. His tour ended in Bozeman, where he made phone calls to potential voters Monday morning.

But Penn wasn’t always pro-politics. If anything he was a cynic. Then, four years ago something resonated. He was working at home on his computer when Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention caught his attention. He did his homework and since last December he has been on the road targeting the college demographic.

Unlike former Pres. Bill Clinton, who spoke to a crowd of thousands at Flathead Valley Community College last Tuesday, Penn had a more intimate engagement, answering questions in a room of about 25 people. Most were young voters.

“We’re getting folks involved,” Penn said. “A lot of voters are still undecided and this is a chance for them to make their own informed decisions.”

Health care and alternative fuel options were the predominant themes following Penn’s brief remarks. Questions about Obama’s plan to use ethanol as a bridge to cellulosic ethanol led to further discussion about fuel alternatives including coal.

Cellulosic ethanol is chemically identical to ethanol derived from corn and sugar, but it is made from a structural material that comprises most of the mass of plants, which allows materials like wood chips to be converted to fuel.

“There is no distinction between corn for fuel or food,” Penn said. “Corn for fuel drives corn food prices higher – people end up suffering.”

And while Penn may be a comedic actor, it was clear from the audience’s comments that the concerns he encounters while working for Obama’s campaign are anything but funny.

“People move to Canada every day to put food in their mouths and keep their teeth in their head,” a young woman without health insurance told him. “We’re trying to start a family but we can’t go about it in a conventional way. We don’t know how we are going to do it.”

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