Jarratt Applewhite is a long-time activist, self-described “failed politician,” community leader, and entrepreneur. He has worked in the private sector, co-founding enterprises in real estate, technology, and finance; served as CEO of a community development venture capital fund; and most recently worked as the Chief Financial Analyst for the New Mexico Finance Authority. Jarratt resides in Lamy, New Mexico.

What is your occupation?
I don’t know. I’m 70. I’ve had such a kaleidoscopic life. The notion of retirement is abhorrent. I’m trying to be helpful — as a volunteer, as a small scale funder and as a grandparent. I’m trying to start up a small scale renewable energy demo project to serve low & moderate income folks. I’m down to two horses in my barn, but keeping up with them stabilizes me.

My pandemic salvation has been restoring a nearby riparian resource — bringing an historic watering hole that had been bone dry for over a decade back to life. The daily visits of antelope, coyote and countless birds are a wonderful compensation.

I ran away from home as a teenager. I finally got my GED when I was 25. My first trade was shoeing horses. When my back gave out, I took up business. I’ve had the pleasure of co-founding an array of enterprises in sectors as disparate as real-estate, technology, and finance. The information technology company I co-started is now part of a publicly traded company. I was recruited to be the inaugural CEO of a Community Development Venture Capital fund. My last job was as Chief Financial Analyst for the New Mexico Finance Authority.

I’m also a failed politician. I tried to become the first person to serve in New Mexico’s Legislature who was not a member of any party. I got 46% of the vote. Unfortunately, there was only one other candidate.

Your preoccupation?
I’d love to play a role in healing our dismal divides and restoring a discourse that rises above ideology. That sounds so high falutin’. I love that I have pals that span many religious & political beliefs. We often think each others’ views are bizarre, but we don’t let our friendship get bogged down.

What is your current state of mind?
I’m terrified. I’m an inveterate optimist who has always thought that salvation was around the corner. I believed Obama was going to lead us to a common future. Now that seems forlornly naive. Our discourse keeps getting more coarse. Promisingly, I see parallels between today and our Progressive Era. A century ago a lot of people across the country insisted on reclaiming their democracy. Their skepticism about both politicians and the monied interests they served was well-founded. I hear an echo.

What are you reading/watching now?
I’m not that much of a watcher now that Homeland is over, but I seldom have less than three books going. I’m halfway through the last volume of Robert Caro’s seminal LBJ biography. The two most impactful books I’ve read this year were both written by women economists. Marianna Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State and Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics are both bold and visionary. They have both impacted my understanding of the world. I just finished the rollicking, irreverent, recasting of the Lone Star state’s shrine. Forget the Alamo, (Burrough, Tomlinson, Stanford) is splendid. I always have history & biography books lying in wait, but my true sweet spot is noir crime thrillers — the bloodier the better.

Which living person do you most admire?
That’s easy — the three co-chairs of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship: Danielle Allen, Stephen Heintz and Eric Liu rock my world. Their report, Our Common Purpose, is a bold, comprehensive and visionary work. Would that we will follow it.

Which historical figure(s) do you most identify with?
Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela are my heroes. I don’t begin to have their fortitude. I identify more with Alfred E Neuman.

What drew you to American Promise?
Systems with power are inherently prone to corruption. That’s not going to change, but we should do all we can to prevent self-dealing and to make rising to our higher selves more noble. American Promise shows us that we can coalesce around a huge ambition. The three things I most admire about it are:

  • Its formidable execution. Standing up a new organization (especially one whose goal many people find unachievable) requires so many skills. AP’s team and its leaders have built a robust organization from scratch with urgency and focus — its evolution has been remarkable.
  • Its unwavering commitment to true nonpartisanship. I’m saddened that some of the leading national democracy reform organizations are now leaning left. I believe that makes healing our divides harder.
  • That it has a precise mission with a specific endpoint.