My campaign for Florida Senate has largely been forgotten, but I haven’t forgotten the insights I gained from that experience. I ran as an independent in what to me seemed to be a very bizarre campaign. The Democrat in our race, Bill Montford, was really the conservative with the big money ties. His campaign received a ton of corporate donations and he raised about ten times what all the other candidates combined were able to raise. The Republican in our race, John Shaw, was a very nice, bright, and creative fellow with progressive ideas, ran on a platform focused on legalization of hemp. None of us really matched the stereotypes commonly applied to our party affiliations.
I didn’t win the election, but I came away feeling that I performed well. For an under-financed, relatively unknown, independent candidate I attracted a good number of votes. As I watch the national campaigns I recall my own experience. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my short time on the campaign trail:
- The average voter is remarkably unqualified to cast a thoughtful vote: For the average voter politics is just another team sport. A majority of Republicans blindly vote for Republican candidates and a majority of Democrats blindly vote for Democrats without any real knowledge of the candidate. Often they just blindly condemn the other team, parroting nonsense they hear in soundbites.
- Tea Party Candidates lack even a basic understanding of our history or system of government: During my campaign I would often would attend these large candidate rallies where we all were given a chance to make a short speech to a crowd. I’ve never heard so much stupid uninformed nonsense as what came out of the mouths of the then popular Tea Party candidates. I remember one candidate who in a single breath condemned Obama the socialist while celebrating women’s suffrage (It was the anniversary of women’s suffrage day). If you know your history, this is a dumbass statement since the people who first fought for and who ultimately won women the right to vote were the American communists and socialists. Women’s suffrage was never a capitalist cause.
- You’re not supposed to talk about where the money comes from: If you want to see a State government candidate soil themselves on a public stage, start listing where their campaign donations actually come from. I brought out the fact that my Democratic opponent, Bill Montford, had received campaign donations from a number of large financial institutions and he nearly panicked, insisting that most of his donations came from little old ladies who gave him their last $5 because they so wanted him to be elected. I would note that once elected, he voted in favor of a revision to the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act that makes if much more difficult for consumers to sue dishonest car dealerships.
- Regardless of political perspective, most of the candidates off-stage are really nice people who seem to care: I actually liked most of the other candidates I met on the campaign trail, even my opponents. They often seemed very interested in my ideas and I think most were sincere in their desire for public service.
- You tend to see a lot of the same people at different events: I attended as many different candidate forums as I could in hopes that I would meet a lot of different people. Instead, I found myself meeting a lot of the same people over and over again. The average voter simply doesn’t come out to meet the candidates for office.
- Some people feel entitled to abuse you: People hear over and over again about dishonesty and corruption in government such that some simply assume that anyone even remotely connected with politics is fair game for their anger and crazy ideas. I remember one woman who started yelling at me about how corrupt and terrible politicians are. I tried to calm her down by explaining that I’ve never actually held elected office and have no more part of what the government does than she does. It didn’t help.