Drolet For Senate

3 10 2010

I’ve finally started writing down some thoughts on the campaign I spent the summer working on.  I’m sure to have more to say, but I was asked to write a column for The Michigan Review on my experiences for an upcoming issue, which forced me to at least put something down on paper.

Unfortunately, the constraints of a newspaper column forced me to limit how much I could say, and I couldn’t spend much time talking about the great people I met and worked with.  Below is my original draft; the finished column is substantially edited for clarity and length, and I’ll post a link to that once the paper hits the stands. 

With an expected Republican electoral landslide less than a month away, commentators and voters alike have little time recall the primary season that ended not so long ago.

Me, I can’t forget it.  Memories of the ballot box battle I helped wage, part military operation, part marathon, are seared into my mind.  The heat.  The humidity.  The walking.  Oh, God, the walking.  This past summer, I was the Campaign Manager for Leon Drolet, a Republican candidate for State Senate in Michigan’s 11th District, during what would eventually devolve into one of the most bitter, contentious races in Macomb County history.

I was fortunate enough to be extended an offer for the position of Campaign Manager sometime in December of 2009.  Though I had no hands-on experience in politics, I had gotten to know Leon fairly well through my involvement in the College Libertarians, and I had found him to exactly the type of guy I wanted to see running for office.  Everyone wants to believe that his or her candidate is principled—but Leon was, and remains so today, though his adherence to libertarian principles would ultimately cost him the election.

Before committing to the job, Leon told me in no uncertain terms that I would hate my summer, hate myself, and hate him before August 2nd –Primary Day–rolled around.  Oh, and he may have mentioned something about doing some door knocking.  But I thought he was joking, or at least exaggerating, and I put any concerns out of my mind.  I was going to be a Campaign Manager!  How glamorous!

There’s no way for me to condense what ultimately became a trying yet fascinating three month-long experience into such a small space, but I did learn a few things worth relating here.

First, door knocking sucks.  Maybe it’s fun to knock a few doors for a candidate you support every once in a while; I wouldn’t know.  I knocked thousands.  How many, I’ll never know, nor do I really want to.  While I thought I’d be directing volunteers to knock doors, I somehow convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be doing much of it myself.  This was a near-fatal error.  If I never knock another door in the treeless, humid, blistering nightmare vision of suburbia that is Macomb County again I will be just fine, thank you.

But it was great exercise!  I was in better shape at the end of the summer than I have been in a while, and I built up an amazing tolerance for near-Amazonian levels of heat and humidity.  I would highly recommend campaigning to anyone who wants to lose weight, build stamina, and has the ability to put their mind in power save mode; I found myself repeating the same mini-speech at every door, and in all but a few instances, receiving the same polite but disinterested response.

Second, Republican voters are indeed charged up, but really couldn’t care less about what is going on at the state level.  This is a bit of an overstatement, to be sure, but most of those I actually had a conversation with at the doors, as well as many of our volunteers, were far more concerned with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi than they were about fixing the mess in Lansing.

This may be a feature of our current political climate, and it is not necessarily a bad thing; what matters is how a campaign harnesses the energy that exists, not what that energy is originally direct towards.  I believe that one of our opponents did a better job at this in many respects, and reaped victory in part because of it.  Leon’s platform focused extensively on state-level savings for taxpayers and businesses, not on repealing Obamacare.

Third, Tea Partiers really do care about the future of the country.  I talked to veterans, retired business owners, and entrepreneurs who have become politically active not out of hatred or contempt for President Obama, but because they truly felt the country is headed down the wrong path.  They were overjoyed to see someone of my age involved in the political process, and I was touched by their genuine belief in limited government even while I disagreed with many of their social stances.

Finally, principles do matter.  One issue in particular, gay marriage, likely kept Leon from office (though he finished second in the three-way race).  A second opponent viciously misconstrued his libertarian belief that the institution of marriage should be completely taken out of the hands of government; somehow, his principled stance was twisted into support for an ill-defined “radical homosexual agenda.”  While Leon could have caved and publicly condemned gay marriage, he instead stuck to his guns.

While he may not be on his way to Lansing, he can hold his head up before his supporters while standing proudly on his principles.  Without his integrity, he would be just another politician–one that I would regret having spent my summer working for and with.

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