A while ago I ran for public office. I ran because I was a member of League of Women Voters. We hosted candidate forums. There were two elected officials who came, reluctantly in my opinion, and used the time, not to listen, but to toss out a variety of scare tactics and to be walking, talking advertisements for their special interest donors. One man was a manufacturer who had something to do with plastics and any type of regulation was his enemy. He would ask rhetorical questions about why this or that needed to be regulated and being a chemist, I would answer him with some science. Then I figured it out–he didn’t want an answer.
The other guy struck me as terribly lazy with a million excuses as to why he couldn’t accomplish anything for our district. I got mad. I thought “this an affront to democracy.” They represent us. So I filed the proper papers at the State House and with a lot of help from friends and my husband, my treasurer, I ran against “Sleepy.” I didn’t win, but I learned a lot.
I began by knocking on doors. I would tell people I was running for state representative and almost everyone would say “what’s that?” and “who is it now?” My big issue was water quality.
I had fund raisers. One fund raiser site was toilet papered the night before the event. I ran advertisements. A friend was a sign guy and he made some signs with an oak leaf and my name on them. Another friend had a printing company and made handouts–cowboy cards they are called. My campaign manager was the high school government teacher. Pretty soon, my opponent knocked doors for the first time in his life. He ran advertisements. He had signs. He sent out mailers. I was against God and family apparently. That kind of thing really works in my district. Probably a dead dog could have run on that platform and won. A friend of my parents even ran a radio ad against me.
You learn a lot about politics doing such a thing. You have to disclose who gave you money and you can look up who donates to your opponents. Several people donated to both candidates. When you run ads you have to say who paid for them—have a disclosure statement. One newspaper left off my disclosure statement and I got in mild trouble from the state. The next election, I wasn’t running but another person ran against Sleepy and the same newspaper left off her disclosure statement. I then wrote the election board and said I suspected that this was on purpose and it never happened again.
I got anonymous hate mail. I turned it in to the Post Office. My local party chair told the party chair of the other party (we all know each other here) and said that if it happened again, there would be a federal investigation. (True.) It never happened again,
The local chair of the opposite party called me up and chewed me out for walking down the sidewalk with some cowboy cards in hand, saying it wasn’t allowed. I called the county auditor and as I recall, he called her and said it was allowed. See the pattern here–you run for office for democracy’s sake and people harass you–not about issues or differences of opinion but on stupid “gotcha” stuff.
I saw that people do not show up to candidate forums. (I have even witnessed that the person who did not show up to the forum won the election.) I decided that one thing that would help politics is publicly funded elections.
Here is another thing I learned about politics. If you win, there are perks such as milage to visit your constituents and you get great, and I mean great, health insurance.
I found that I was bad at remembering names. This is not a good trait for a politician.
I took of photo of my opponent’s license plate because you know what, he had plates from the neighboring county. Not even from the place he represented. No matter. I lost. He won. A third party candidate jumped into the race. It was exciting. I spent $4 per vote. The winner spent $16 per vote.The man had to work for his seat for probably the first time ever. This made it kind of worth it to me. I wish I could write a novel about the experience but I can’t think of a single thing earth shaking or inspirational revelation about the process. I did it because I wanted to see a lazy man have to work for once in his life. That I did.
4 thoughts on “Running Against the Tide”
This must have been a terribly frustrating experience, but what composure for you to stick with your guns as long as you did, Cathy. It is very disheartening to read how nasty running for political office can be, even at the local or regional level. A Tweet by Pope Francis this morning seems be congruent with your findings about lack of civic engagement from some politicians and citizens in general: “In this age lacking in social friendship, our first task is that of building community.” Have you read Robert D. Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone”? I haven’t, but given these lines of thought, I’d like to. Keep on fighting the good fight!
Hi Kyle, It was more interesting than frustrating. The money involved was eye opening and my opponent got lots of it from his party. My campaign manager told me that his party went broke supporting its chosen ones that year, Of course the coffers were refilled by special interest groups. No wonder politicians don’t listen to the people! This was before the Citizen’s United ruling that made it much worse. Haven’t read Bowling Alone. I like to read things that are funny these days. Cathy
I’ve increasingly been thinking that the solution is not to become politicians, but to become political: read and write about the issues. Talk about them at dinner time. Talk about them with friends. Yes, politics makes people enemies – but only because we pick the talking points clever people have picked for us – let’s do it ourselves – we may find we are much more civil to each other because we’re – increasingly – in the same boat – and in the leaky part that’s taking water, not above deck, with the tiny few. I think by raising awareness, not anger, but awareness – campaigning not for a candidate, but for issues – prompting ordinary folks to come to the candidate they support and ask “But what are you doing about …?” forcing them to make some admission – that kind of thing will gradually work. This is truly a democracy and a more informed electorate will have better behaved politicians. Sorry for all the dashes and thank you for sharing your experience (and for running). I hope you will write articles on water quality, print out flyers and be invited to schools and gatherings to talk about it. Then people will be inspired to ask the right questions to everyone standing for election.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, I think that being political, at least for me, is much more natural. I try to write fiction now and my latest novel is about water quality.