November 20th, 2014
Early in the campaign, I said I supported the new Senate Office Building, which was an honest reflection of my feelings despite it being a major Republican talking point. But I knew from having worked at the Capitol that the building was badly needed. Later, my statement was used against me in the papers: "He even said on the radio he supported the project!"
This opinion article in the Strib today uses the same arguments I did. A pity they didn't speak the truth during the election season.
Oh, and after running on one main issue: funding for rural nursing homes, what is the main issue for the House Republicans? Funding for rural nursing homes! I couldn't be happier. I hope they come through. That was truly my aim and if it can happen without me being elected, that is just fine. (Not that one representative can have much say in anything––I just intended to work hard in that direction and push until the winds turned in a friendlier direction and we could get something through. It appears the winds have changed!) I never imagined it. The incoming Speaker has already named a separate committee to deal with eldercare. Just what was needed.
Meanwhile, a Republican on the national scene is sounding the alarm.
The most time-consuming task of running for an office such as the state house is doorknocking. Because it has always been regarded as the most important task of any local race, it is just assumed that you will try to knock on as many doors as possible. I figure I knocked on 5-6000 doors from late June through the end of October.
And that wasn't enough. Not to win, but it wouldn't be enough to satisfy most advocates of door knocking. There are more like 15,000 doors in the district.
However, I am not convinced of door knocking's efficacy. In the old days, people expected others to come by and knock on their door. They were always ready, at least if the knocker knocked at a reasonable hour.
Today, people are more private. There are those who have worked the night shift and are sleeping. There are those who are attached to oxygen machines. There are kids home alone. There are elderly who can barely get out of their chair. Answering the door is a chore. And then to have somebody there promoting themself for a political office. I understand those who were rude, even as I had a difficult time not taking their rudeness seriously.
But there were good moments, times I will never forget. Long conversations, maybe one per day, with people with good stories. Quiet neighborhoods which, in late June, seemed like paradise. I could forget any unpleasant reactions to my knocking if the sun was out and I was ambling down a tree lined 80-year-old neighborhood.
I learned neighborhoods in every town which I hadn't perviously known existed. Red Lake Falls, for one, has populated little nooks and crannies everywhere along the Red Lake River. Beautiful, especially on the cool, sunny mornings I knocked the doors.
Mornings. I preferred to knock from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. These are not ideal hours for working people to be home, but they are ideal hours to find senior citizens at home. Most politicians knock in the evenings in the summer. They get a higher rate of contacts. However, some of the old hands prefer to knock during the day and leave a pamphlet with a little note. The old-timers say that is as good as an actual visit. You were there, you took the time to stop by, but you didn't have to visit--an ideal situation for both sides of the transaction in reserved NW MN.
Dogs. So many dogs sit alone, or with one, two or three other mutts all day alone in the house. The bark up a storm and tear at the blinds when I approach. If nobody yelled at the dogs to shut up, I knew nobody was home and I left the pamphlet on door knob and got out of there. If somebody hollered at the dogs, I prepared my apology for stirring them up and got a pamphlet ready for a quick handoff, because the people with lots of dogs didn't want to talk–they were more interested in keeping their animals inside.
Now that I think back, I was asked inside many times for water or a cup of coffee. Those exchanges were always pleasant.
The slammed doors, the sneers, the angry people, were few, but they had their impact. I hated the idea of door-knocking more and more as the campaign progressed. I was disturbing people. Any wonder they might seem disturbed?
I learned a lot of horticulture. I saw thousands of front yard plantings up close during the height of the growing season. I have made my suggestions to Dad and Joe: No more dwarf spireas, almost none of them look good, and no more green ash. Just don't sell them. Some people showed me their plants in their back yard. Those were fun exchanges.
So many people buy plants and never get them out of their containers into the ground. There the plants sat, wilting in the hot sun on the porch.
Never assume that an awful-looking house contains an awful person. I recall a 10 minute conversation with a man who lived in a squalorous shack, a Vietnam vet who had much to say about the political situation and had many experiences under his belt. I just about didn't knock because his house didn't look like it was still livable. He struggles with rampant psoriasis from neck to toe. Awful. I was glad I knocked. I almost felt like he gets treated like a leper, and I was happy to take the chance the shake his hand firmly and look him in the eye as we parted, for I know psoriasis isn't communicable.
There were days when I struggled to knock on the next door just out of fear, and out of lack of conviction that I was doing any good. Three times I called it quits early when I met up with a grump and couldn't get over it. But over all, the days I knocked doors were followed by a solid and satisfied sleep.
Plus, I lost 25 lbs. in the process.
It has been two weeks since the election, and I have had plenty of time to think about the whole six month campaign which ended in an unexpected and decisive defeat not just for me, but for all rural Democrats engaged in what were supposed to be close races. The Republicans gained 11 seats and lost none. I was one of three Democrats out of 50 some challengers considered by the press to have a shot. I lost by 1,500 votes.
Looking back, we shouldn't have been surprised. Turnout in mid-term elections is always down, and that always benefits the Republicans. In fact, in many districts, Democrats stay away from mid-term elections at a 7-1 rate over Republicans. When I joined the race, I shrugged that off, thinking I could encourage enough people to turn out to win. I did not. Neither did the substantial efforts of the party on my behalf, which included knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands upon thousands of phone calls. Despite extra help from the state, turnout in the district was 10% below the last mid-term election, 2010.
"It all comes down to turnout." I heard the phrase repeated by the old hands ad nauseum during the campaign. In the end, it was nauseatingly true.
So, the obvious question in the minds of people who helped is, "will you run in two years?"
It is too early to even think about that. If I did, I would be a better candidate from the experience gained during this campaign. I would have a better chance to win simply because it will be a presidential year. But I have to fully absorb the lessons of this campaign–not just political lessons, but life lessons–before discussing a possible run in 2016.
After nearly a week of moving, all of our stuff is under one roof. It took over twenty car loads and six pickup loads. I never imagined we hauled that much stuff in. But we were also preparing the Swamp Castle for a renter, who left a week ago.
Now, I am basking in the house that I designed and had built. I appreciate it all the more after spending six months in a very nice duplex, but one without the Swamp Castle's bells and whistles–and location. And it is great to be back out in the woods watching the snow fall in silence.
As for the eight-month experience of running for office, it is a blur. It was so unlike anything else I have ever done that it has taken on a dream-like quality. I sit here in the same chair I sat in and in the same office as I watched early morning snow fall last March, but so much happened in between.
The campaign changed my view of the world in many ways. It was an education. How it changed my view, and what sort of an education–it will take me time to figure out.
The election is over. I lost. I will discuss that later. Otherwise, Lance and I have been busy moving from the apartment in Fertile back to the Swamp Castle. I also spent two days finding and pulling up yard signs. It is time to reset our life back to where it was before I decided to run for the District 1B seat.
I am ever-ambivalent, which allows me to enjoy the best of most situations. I would have been elated to win, and would have immediately started work. But, having put in a good effort and having lost by a margin convincing enough to assure me that nothing more I could have done would have changed the result, I am happy to take advantage of the clean, empty slate that lies ahead of me. Until everything is unpacked and reset, however, I have no idea what the future entails. I can't even find a pen. Or a shirt. Or the pepper. Or the coffee filters.
One thing is for certain: I am grateful for and touched by all of the support and effort others put forth on my behalf. I learned a lot about people during the six months' campaign, and the best thing I found out was how kind the kind people really are. I also found out how nasty the nasty people can be, but that's inevitable. The most lasting impression will be the support given by the many kind people in my life.
Last night was the final discussion forum. Sometimes they are called debates, but they really aren't. Our topics last night were limited to issues affecting cities. I suspect the audience was expecting a little more. However, the debate was sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and the questions were written by their people. The topic is hugely important, but a little dry.
I have tried to run a positive campaign. I did run ads this week pointing out how some of my opponent's votes contradicted what she claimed to support during our discussions. For example, she claimed to support all-day kindergarten and the 5% raise for nursing home workers, but voted against both on the floor of the House. Her reasoning was that the bills included other "irresponsible spending;" however, at some point you have vote for what you support if it really matters to you. And the budget was balanced, so the other spending, whatever it was, at the least did not incur debt.
As for the silence of this blog, my willingness to write a blow-by-blow daily campaign account evaporated when I realized that the account itself could and would be used against me. There was some attack mail sent out using quotes from old columns taken out of context, with all sense of humor subtracted and replaced by fake indignation (how could the DFL nominate somebody who says things like this? They mustn't have vetted their candidate.), so that made me hesitant to fling my unfiltered thoughts onto the world-wide web.
The learning continues. In nearly every case, I don't offer any solution to problems presented as I simply don't know enough background to make a promise to fix it. All I can promise is to look into it, and I will. "Will you support adding $200 million to X fund to ensure that nobody is left behind?" (a hypothetical but typical question), the answer is, of course not. I got a call from a lobbyist yesterday wondering why I wouldn't sign his pledge to support a specific bill. Well, I have heard no hearings on the bill. I don't care who else of eminence has signed the pledge, I am not going to support something until I hear the pros and cons and have a chance to ask questions of my own.
Off to knock some doors!
As I continue to visit (last week it was mainly attending and participating in forums) with people, it becomes clear that needs exceed resources in many areas: Special Education. Nursing Homes. Mental health programs. Veterans' services. Highways and bridges. Job training for health care workers. On and on. It is sobering to realize that the pie which will be split up for these needs will simply be too small.
Another problem in evidence: Even people with good training struggle with flat wages and reduced benefits, sometimes while working companies which are recording record profits. We really don't have much of a middle class in the old sense of the word where a run-of-the-mill corporate job would give a family with one bread-winner a comfortable living and a secure retirement. The recovery has been halting and tepid because it has not resulted in a spending binge by the broad swath of our populace. It merely has built up the coffers of the bigger companies with money they use for stock buybacks (which reduce the percentage of the company owned by common shareholders), monstrous bonuses at the top and mergers and acquisitions.
A third issue: We have people working at Starbucks with four year and graduate degrees and not enough people to take care of those who need health care, mental health assistance, home health, and so on. We don't have enough teachers applying for openings in rural areas, perhaps other areas as well. There is a big mismatch between the graduates four-year institutions produce and the jobs available for them when they graduate.
I offer no solutions. However, legislators are given endless information from various studies, think tanks, etc., and are left to choose solutions, or concoct combinations from the menu offered.
This week, I am speaking with a group which is working to solve the present nursing home crisis, amongst other problems in eldercare. I will be all ears.