May 2018: 1000+ Doors and Counting

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May 6, 2018

Following is an email I sent to my (growing) email list.  Because if I wrote it well once for an email, why write it again for my diary. Campaigning demands efficiency!

Dear friends,

The photo demonstrates that I do have a learning curve.

(Note the door hanger, hung cautiously outside the gate.)

“Beware of Dog” means what it says. Some people really, really don’t want to be bothered by a stranger.

It’s also clear that while there’s wisdom in focusing on the local issues in a local campaign, Donald Trump is the big issue. He has made himself the political reality in which we all operate, all the time, and this is as true of people who avoid politics as it is of those immersed in it.

“I’m not interested,” a woman in Montrose said, before I could complete my opening line (“I’m a guy running for….”) “I like the president we have.”

“OK, but I’m not running for president.”

No, I didn’t really say that. I only thought it as I recorded that she is a “Strong Republican.”

When I’m talking to someone who seems intrigued by the very fact that I showed up at their door, I’ll say, “There’s a big election coming up,” and they’ll nod their agreement. They often express gratitude that I’m running and that I showed up at their door.

“No candidate has ever knocked on my door,” a man told me.

He had lived in the same house for most of his adult life. His intention, clearly, was to encourage me. Yes. Now. This election. This office. This year. This neighborhood.

So let’s be real: This is not just any year. My race is about health care costs and schools and jobs and safeguarding our environment, in the longer term. But what it’s really about now is the showdown between two elemental forces: the institutions of American democracy versus a populism that is OK with wrecking democracy (or doesn’t understand or believe that the stakes are that high), as long as the authoritarianism that comes next targets “elites” and minorities.

As I go door-to-door, I have learned that folks enthralled by Trump are beyond my reach. A man invited me inside yesterday, to step out of the rain. A nice guy, he was displaying a human instinct. Fox news was on TV. He asked if I was a Democrat or a Republican.

“A Democrat.”

He shook his head sadly, handed me back my door hangar and just said, “No.”

But many people who voted for Trump or were at least inclined to give him a chance are now open to a way out. The way out, I believe, is for Democrats to recognize that we need to make a much bolder effort to boost working class incomes, strengthen the social safety net, and improve public services. These are issues our state government can address and it is a realistic path toward dignity and economic security for the millions of people who have fallen behind in today’s society — a society that rewards celebrity, entrepreneurship, and college-educated professionals but harshly punishes most workers.

In such an unequal society, who can blame those who fall behind for resenting the “elites” who race ahead? Who can blame voters for supporting politicians who give voice to their anger?

But this is where we are, the showdown is unfolding before us in real time, and it will come to a head in November. All of the national news that Donald Trump and his opponents make between now and the election is about swinging votes. As of today, we are still a democracy and the voters will decide. Whether this is scary or hopeful just depends on how hard and how successfully we campaign.

Here in Southwestern Colorado our leverage in this highest of all high-stakes elections is hamstrung by the intense focus by the partisan warriors on bigger battlegrounds. But the lesson of my first weeks of canvassing is this: Yes, a State House race matters. And not just to me, as the candidate, and to you, as my politically activated friends, but to many less engaged voters, too. I believe this is what a potential wave may look like as it slowly gathers force beneath the waters of the turbulent open sea.

So walking door-to-door, thinking about all this, I’ve come up with an idea about how you can really help and how it will allow you to engage in this historic battle for the future of our democracy, in your own backyard.

How about adopting a neighborhood?

Here’s how it might work. Together, you and I would pick a neighborhood, one that is the right size and location for you. We’ll spend an afternoon canvassing there together. When we’ve completed the canvass, we’ll brainstorm what we learned, and we’ll discuss how you might continue working that neighborhood: the mechanics that work for you (paper or smartphone app); and the messaging that works for you.

And then over the next few months it will be “your” neighborhood. The job will be to keep knocking and talking to as many of the “persuadable” voters in that neighborhood as possible — not every day, not all day, but when you have time — building the list of people who will vote not just for me, but almost certainly for other Democrats on the ballot in November. When I revisit your neighborhood, as I plan to do, together we may have more impact because of the work you will have completed.

When the ballots are mailed out in late October, your job will be to contact those voters we’ve identified as our voters, whom you’ve already met to make sure they get their ballots in.

Let me know if you’d like to sign on for this. Speaking from experience, having knocked already on a thousand doors (only 9,000+ to go!), I can promise you that it will be fun. It will also be effective.

In fact, people-to-people, you and me speaking directly to voters, may be the only thing that can work.


Wednesday, May 9

The people I meet while canvassing fall into several camps. Many are happy that a candidate for office stopped by, and we can chat about pretty much anything political. These folks care about the issues I bring up: addressing unaffordable health care in rural Colorado, bringing Colorado up and out of the bottom ten states in funding for education, the importance of protecting our precious public lands and water resources. We talk about how to address the challenges of living and raising a family in Western Colorado, so that we can imagine a bright future here for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

Sometimes a voter brings up the subject of guns and even though I favor stricter gun control to address an epidemic of gun violence and they are worried about the erosion of gun owners’ rights, we talk about even this most divisive of issues amicably. I might not win the vote by the end of that conversation, but we can respect each other.

“I’m a Democrat on every issue but guns,” one man told me sorrowfully last week.

“If I’m elected, I hope you will work with me on measures we agree on to make guns less easily available,” I said.

That seems possible, because while he told me he likes shooting a semi-automatic military-style AR-15, just for fun, he wasn’t entirely opposed to my suggestion of a law that would require such weapons to be stored at a secure, licensed shooting range. Because, when you think about it, where else could such a weapon be used responsibly? He recognized that the “hands off my AR-15” argument, the idea of armed citizens resisting a tyrannical federal government, is a paranoid fantasy, and if things really get that bad, the citizens armed with AR-15s will lose against military tanks and fighter jets.

Yes, you can stumble into a pretty deep rabbit hole when you talk about guns and gun rights, but that’s OK. We can still have that conversation.

I am struck that these mostly centrist voters rarely ask my party affiliation because they sincerely believe “it’s the person, not the party.”

Another camp is full of people who just don’t want to be bothered by a stranger at the door. Maybe they are busy and distracted by something else, like a baby to care for or something burning on the stove or they were engrossed in a TV show when I knocked on the door. Some just want “no solicitors,” and that includes political candidates. Maybe especially political candidates.

But in the last few days — and this can’t be a coincidence — three voters have gone on wild rants about “the swamp.” Mostly I don’t meet strong Trump supporters, because the algorithm that maps which doors I should knock on filters out “strong Republicans” and “strong Democrats,” on the theory that I should focus on the swing voters I need to win election.

The algorithm is far from perfect, however, so I do meet people with strong feelings, pro- or anti-Trump. I never bring up Trump, but if the voter I’m talking to does, the direction of our conversation is set. We either agree that we are concerned — maybe more than just concerned — about this off-the-rails presidency and what it means for America and our future or … I hear about the Swamp.

What an amazing place this Swamp is! It is dank and terrifying, infested with liberals and “deep state” bureaucrats. It is a place “the people” just want drained, for God’s sake! They sent their hero to Washington to drain it, but now, somehow, he is getting caught in the quicksand. By this they definitely do not mean that the Swamp is corrupting Trump. No, he remains intent on draining it but, the Constitution!!! Yes, somehow the Swamp is swamping the Constitution, too. Which is to say that a corrupt FBI and Justice Department and the media (except for Fox) and a bunch of liberal swamp creatures are out to smear their champion with mud about porn stars and collusion, just to bring him down, for their own dark purposes.

This place is no mere wetlands that the Obama EPA tried to protect by imposing burdensome regulations. It’s a rank, malodorous, toxic, disease-ridden place; yet somehow amorphous, indefinable, and hard to locate. The very thought of it fills a Trump supporter with overwhelming, visceral disgust.

I was chatting with one man yesterday and he was on board with the issues I brought up — affordable health care, better funded schools — and then somehow he brought up Donald Trump, saying Trump was the first candidate for president he voted for in years, and when I didn’t jump on board his eyes narrowed and rage welled up in him and suddenly he was cursing at me: “I hate the fucking mainstream media and all the disgusting, corrupt liberals in the swamp!!!”

He meant it. This was some powerful hate. For real.

“Well,” I said. “Thank you for your time.”

I extended my hand, he shook it, and as I walked away, I could sense him behind me, blinking in confusion, sputtering, furious about … something just absolutely awful that I represented to him. The Swamp. It was as if I’d brought it right to his home.

I tell you this story because it is what we are up against in the upcoming midterm elections. The Trump loyalists I am meeting are the tip of the iceberg. I’m thinking about all of the Strong Republicans whose homes I’m not visiting. Even at this late date, with the chaos of the Trump presidency mounting beyond all comprehension by the day, Trump enjoys the support of 85 percent of Republicans.

Wow. Just let that sink in.

But here’s the scariest part: the more they sense he is beleaguered, the worse the headlines are for him, and the more enraged and unhinged that Trump himself becomes, the angrier his supporters. This is clearly true of at least some of them, and probably true of most of them. This really is a swamp. How better to describe the quagmire the Trump voter finds himself caught up in? It is sticky and he is covered in mud and it really does smell bad and he is lost and there seems to be no way out. It’s a nightmare!

I don’t think we can assume that people sickened by Swamp Fever won’t turn out to vote in November. Our best hope is that those of us who are not infected are at least equally motivated to vote. And we especially have to hope that those reasonable people in the “middle,” who don’t like party labels but just want solutions to problems, will vote Democratic this time out. Many of them voted for Trump, but are not afflicted with Swamp Fever.

Fortunately, it appears that Swamp Fever is the opposite of contagious. Those in its grip are full of rage and terror and they want to lash out, like a horror film zombie, at  … someone, anyone, who is not infected.

The rest of us simply have to keep calm and carry on.

Because there is no alternative. No alternative at all.

Saturday, May 12

Every day of canvassing presents me with a theme. Today I met three heroic young mothers.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, of course. Maybe that’s why I started thinking about all of the other young mothers I’ve met while I canvass door-to-door.

There have likely been at least three heroic mothers (and fathers) on other days I’ve canvassed. But this week, a few days before Mother’s Day, brought the challenge of underfunded public education into sharper focus. Two mothers I met today are home-schooling their children and were receptive to my suggestion that we need to bring Colorado up from the bottom ten states in school funding.

Maybe if these mothers had confidence in their public schools, they wouldn’t have to educate their children at home, and they could take the full-time jobs the would like to take, to improve their family’s finances.

The third mom, whose son is in high school, was also hungry for an increase in school funding, because she knows that her son deserves better. And that is true of so many parents. I have met only a few people who think our public schools are adequately funded. Most people want to see more funding for public education, even if their worry is for their grandchildren’s future, or the future of a child not yet conceived. Or they understand that good schools are necessary for any community to prosper.

I often add that many rural and small town school districts are at the bottom, in terms of funding, of Colorado schools, “so you can get a sense of how far behind we are here in Montrose.” Sadly, the line works as well if I say “Cortez,” or “Norwood,” or “Nucla.”

But not Telluride, because, we all know, public schools are better in wealthier places. I am reminded, as I write these words, that I met a young Montrose mom yesterday who sends her child to school in Ridgway.

Unequal access to adequately funded public schools is a perfect expression of what’s wrong with America in 2018. We may all be created equal, but we are not equal when it comes to whether the community where we live can properly fund schools. That’s a crap shoot, an accident of birth. It is never the child’s fault that he or she is sent to a school that is underfunded. It is always our fault, society’s fault, our government’s fault.

Damn, these moms are impressive. They do all they can to give their kids a leg up. They worry that home schooling is not enough or may even be worse than an underfunded public school, but if their child has special needs the public schools can’t address, or if their child is bullied at school and the teachers can’t or won’t address that problem, what choice do they have?

We have a choice, folks. We can elect candidates who are committed to fixing the broken system of school finance in Colorado. Every single child in Colorado deserves to attend a school where teachers are paid enough to make it possible for them to stay in the profession, where school buildings are not falling down, where class sizes are reasonable, textbooks are up to date, parents aren’t hit with endless fees to pay for “extras,” and students with special needs have those needs met.

Our children deserve to attend schools where administrators and teachers are expected to stop bullying behavior, because they have been trained to do so.

Public schools can do all of this, if they are given the resources they need. Wealthy school districts do it. Other states and other countries do it. We can afford to do it in every school district Colorado. I would argue that we can’t afford not to do it in every district in Colorado.

If I am fortunate enough to win election, I will fight for more school funding, because this is one of the most important ways that we can reduce inequality in our state.

The children of parents who live in Southwestern Colorado are blessed to grow up in a beautiful natural environment. In this, they are fortunate. But they should not have to overcome the disadvantage of having attended underfunded schools.

Monday, Memorial Day, May 29

I’ve knocked on a lot of doors. I have a lot more to go. This is a marathon, not a jog, not a sprint.Every day I feel I’ve won votes, probably. Every day I wonder if there will be enough for me to win. Every day I wonder how winning might help fix what’s wrong with America. I wonder if winning is the only point of the exercise. Or is talking to people along the way the more noble purpose of the journey?

This is all unknowable.

A number of voters are happy to see a candidate at their door. A few are hostile. Most are indifferent or distracted. Many agree that something is not right in our society, but they see the problem — of a declining middle class, of a political system that is not helping them — from opposite poles. The problem is Donald Trump, who is making it worse. No, the problem is the people who resist Donald Trump, and they are the ones making things worse.

At least we agree there’s a problem. Maybe that’s a start.

Some people ask my party affiliation. Some are glad I’m a Democrat. Some hear “Democrat” and that’s all they needed to know about me: our conversation is over before it begins. A few have asked if I’m Christian. Some want to discuss guns or immigration. Sometimes I end up in a long conversation about why health care costs are so high or how we can better fund education. Sometimes I barely get a word out before the voter cuts short the meeting. Most people are polite but don’t reveal their own thoughts.

“I hope you’ll vote for me,” I conclude. “It’s an important election coming up.”

“I’ll consider it,” they say.

“You know I’ll work hard if I’m elected, since I’ve knocked on your door on my way to 10,000.”

“That’s a lot of doors,” some say, hinting that maybe I’ve made a good impression.

You might think that the more voters I visit with, the more I would know about … something.  But it’s the opposite. The more voters I talk to, the less I see a clear path forward. What can possibly reconcile an America this starkly divided, with those who aren’t really sure what to believe likely to cast the deciding votes?

The reason I don’t know, the reason we can’t know, is that instability is the defining characteristic of this historic moment. We are being carried along by events that not even the most powerful among us can control. Something must eventually happen to resolve building tensions. We just don’t know what it will be, or when. A cataclysm? A criminal investigation? A decisive election? More outrage? Sheer exhaustion? Most likely, a combination of those things, and other things we can’t yet imagine, much less predict.

So we soldier on. Living our lives, day-to-day. Campaigning. Doing what we can to be agents of destiny and not captives to it.

Politically, the big question of 2018 is whether we will somehow make choices that ratchet down the tensions, or instead we will choose to double down on them. Will we near the brink and back off? Or will we jump? The riddle is how as individuals we can exercise what agency we have to make the first and more challenging option the likelier outcome.

So I’ll keep walking and knocking on doors and talking about ways to help people by reducing health care costs, improving schools, and protecting public lands. Those ideas alone can’t end the division in American life, but they are steps in the right direction.

There is a compelling logic behind all this, and it is that if you and I — and hundreds, and thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of others like us — keep walking and talking and working, collectively, we are not powerless.

We must keep the faith. Yes, we can change the world.