There have been recent sightings in Iowa and New Hampshire, and, from now until November, the reports will only spread like a fungus on the body politic. Television screens will be filled with the familiar faces and androidlike mannerisms of candidates reciting the usual platitudes and non sequiturs.
The Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network (MUFON) would like to add another dimension to this already surreal process. If the Seguin, Texas-based organization's initiative makes it onto the state ballot, Missouri voters will be given an opportunity to proclaim 2000 as the "Year of UFO Awareness." The nonbinding referendum, if approved by voters, also would call on Congress to investigate whether the government is hiding UFO-related evidence.
Missouri is the first state where the cosmic proposal is being floated. If the ballot language is approved by the state, supporters will begin the arduous task of getting the signatures of thousands of registered voters, which are needed to put the issue on the ballot. Backers are confident that they will receive universal endorsement of their petition drive.
"Anybody who watches The X-Files is going to want to sign this," Bruce Widaman says. The Missouri director of MUFON predicts that approval of the measure will spur elected officials to view the UFO controversy more seriously. "It's just going to unravel," Widaman says. "It's like the Watergate thing. This is going to be the Pentagongate. And we're not talking about a couple of generals, we're talking about the entire intelligence community."
Recent UFO sightings by police officers in the Metro East area have once again raised public consciousness about the phenomena, but MUFON's agenda has been met with skepticism by the political establishment.
Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican John Ashcroft, is not taking a position on the initiative, according to spokesman Jerry Nachtigal. But Nachtigal says if aliens want to give the governor's campaign a lift, that's a different matter. "We're hoping that the next one (UFO) that's over St. Louis, when Ashcroft is in town, would just suck him up and drop him back in about 20 years or maybe not bring him back at all," he quips.
But does the governor have any special pull with extraterrestrials? Nachtigal can't -- or won't -- say. "I know the governor keeps all the UFO reports locked in a cabinet behind his desk, and I've not been able to see them."
Greg Harris, an aide to Ashcroft, says it wouldn't matter if his boss were abducted by aliens, because the story would still be overshadowed in the media by the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl victory. "Ashcroft being abducted and the secret files being released and Congress holding hearings -- that still wouldn't be big enough to knock the Rams off the front page," Harris says.
Whether the initiative petition drive will cause Missouri government officials to cough up their UFO secrets is unclear. The governor may have UFO records locked in his office, but spokesmen for other state agencies, such as the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Missouri National Guard, adamantly deny maintaining any UFO-related files. Curiously, it's the same story for local law enforcement.
Asked whether the St. Louis County Police keep the equivalent of the X-Files, the department's spokesman responds by humming the theme to the popular television series. During his long tenure as a county police officer, Rick Eckhard says, he recalls no UFO reports' being filed with the county, "unless they were alcohol-induced or something, because technically a UFO is just an unidentified object. I've seen a lot of those in local bars -- you know what I mean?"
Those who support the initiative couldn't be more sober, however. MUFON member Jon Bierman, a Clayton-based attorney, has been working to get the ballot language approved by the Missouri attorney general's office. He says the existence of UFOs and documents pertaining to them is a matter of fact. But he doesn't expect the ballot initiative to cause any immediate revelations. Instead, he says, it's the first step toward disclosure.
"There's nothing you can do on the state level that forces the federal government to turn over documents or to release information which any agency has deemed to be a matter of national security," Bierman says. "In that sense, it not going to have any effect. It's simply a statement by the people of Missouri that encourages the federal government to release this information."
Fellow MUFON members convinced Widaman to take up the cause at the organization's international symposium last year, he says. Missouri was chosen because it is one of 16 states that allow voters' initiatives to be placed on the ballot. For this "universal" suffrage to take place, supporters must by May gather signatures from registered voters who collectively equal 5 percent of the total votes cast in six of the nine congressional districts in the last election. MUFON estimates that about 75,000 names will be required.
The organization may have already partially achieved its objectives, though, by stretching the bounds of the electoral process to new heights. Conversely, the ballot initiative could be an early warning sign that intelligent life in Missouri is facing extinction.
The idea was actually the brainchild of Bob Bletchman, MUFON's national public-relations director. Bletchman, a retired lawyer who lives in Connecticut, says the goals of the Missouri initiative are to garner media attention and make the subject part of the national political debate.
Says Bletchman: "When the people talk, the politicians are going to pay attention."
John Ashcroft, call home.