November 17th, 2014
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.
An area newspaper asked for a 300 word explanation of my motives for running for office and qualifications. I include it here:
The top reason I entered this year’s race for Minnesota House of Representatives (1-B) is concern that, due to a long series legislative cuts, nursing homes in our corner of the state are going to close. Two have closed already, others are on the brink.
The problem? Nursing homes are not reimbursed enough by the state to pay competitive wages. The good people who care for our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles cannot afford to take 30-50% less pay than they can earn other nearby jobs.
My 103-year-old Great Aunt Olive resides at Fair Meadow nursing home in Fertile. Her biggest fear is that she will “get shipped off somewhere.”
The sad fact is, two area nursing homes have already “shipped off” their residents and more will follow unless something is done.
Our elders should be able to age and be cared for in their community.
I have lived in Fertile, MN all of my life. Since, childhood, I have worked in the nursery and greenhouse my grandfather started in 1937, owning and managing the business for the past 17 years.
For five years, I served as chair of the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. During that time, I became familiar with what works and what could use some improvement in our region.
One thing I have learned: The rest of the state barely knows we exist.
We need strong and effective representation in St. Paul or our interests, including funding for our roads, schools and nursing homes, will be ignored by people who think of Brainerd as “north.”
I hope to provide such strong representation, and would appreciate your support.
I didn't get pictures, since I was organizing the event, which came in the middle of a busy weekend, but Aunt Olive had a successful 103rd birthday party yesterday. We held it at the Fertile Hilton. Many relatives came as my father's siblings decided the occasion was a good excuse for a family reunion. So, the weekend was full of food, music and...food. Aunt Olla's birthday, in the end, was just the dessert. But she basked in the attention and enough other people got pictures so we will have a way to remind her of the event and who attended later on.
Meanwhile, campaigning goes on. I knocked doors today, and there is always bookwork and correspondence to clean up. I haven't been a very good nephew about getting in to see Olive at least once per week.