One of my true pleasures last election cycle was getting to know some terrific Democratic candidates early on in the process and watching as folks like Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy and Chris Carney went from relative unknowns to contenders to now Congressmen.
Watching these candidates grow was a remarkable process and as they made their way, all political rookies, I was often reminded by the often-used Teddy Roosevelt quote, about the man in the arena. It is easy to blog or talk about politics, but to actually enter a race, any race, requires a sacrifice 99% of Americans never make. Here's the whole quote from a speech from 1910.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
These days, candidates don't enter a sprint - they are in a marathon and now we are already seeing the 2008 candidates starting their runs. In a Presidential Campaign, this means you get huge crowds and raise millions. But if you're running for the House of Representatives or even the Senate, now it is just you, some friends, and a goal - to win in November 2008.
To help introduce some of these candidates, I thought I would start doing some question and answer sessions with folks I meet. One such person is Chellie Pingree who is running for Congress from Maine. She certainly has the passion, the experience and the talent to win - let's help her on her journey. (P.S. Chellie has contributed to the Huffington Post in the past, her posts are here.)
Here are a few questions I had for Chellie and her responses.
So Chellie, there's a some talk that you are going to run for Congress in Maine?
Yes, I am planning to run for Congress and looking forward to taking on that challenge. In February, I left my position at Common Cause so that I could do this. For the last four years, while I have been working in Washington and around the country leading Common Cause, my residence and home has continued to be in Maine -- and my heart has certainly been there. I am very excited about this chance to campaign to represent the people of my home state.
I know you ran for the US Senate in 2002, against Susan Collins; what did you learn from the race, and what do you think about Tom Allen's chances to defeat Collins in '08?
I learned a great deal from that campaign and from my four earlier successful races for the Maine State Senate (including two terms as Maine Senate Majority Leader). More than anything else, I learned that in order to win you have to work hard. And more than anything, you must be willing to be courageous and honest.
To win in Maine you have to take the campaign directly to the people -- whether it is knocking on 5000 doors, as I did in my first state senate race, or working with lots of hard working young canvassers in an unprecedented field campaign, as we did in my 2002 US Senate race against Collins. I learned some difficult lessons in 2002 about when to listen to DC "Beltway" advice and when to follow your own gut on how to run a campaign.
I also learned that political years have their own personalities and there are times when -- no matter what a candidate does -- there is nothing you can do about the political climate of the state and country. We started the US Senate campaign prior to 9/11, after which the mood of the electorate changed completely, eventually making it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win a seat. In fact only one Democratic challenger did win (in the US Senate) in that cycle.
During this past election, the mood of the country was so different than 2002 -- the anger about the war, the disgust about the corruption and rancor in Washington, and voters made it clear that they were ready for a change. In 2006, candidates whom no one expected could win did and those who people never thought could be defeated -- like Lincoln Chafe and Nancy Johnson -- were. I don't think that we have seen the end of this political cycle, and I expect that Congressman Allen will have a tremendous opportunity in his bid for the US Senate in 2008. He will run a great campaign and the frustration of Maine people with the current Republican administration will bolster his chances.
Since then, you were the President and CEO at Common Cause, what are you proudest of accomplishing within the organization?
I am especially proud of taking on issues most central to the health of our American democracy. They included tackling the huge problems with voting in this country -- as have we have seen to devastating effect in Ohio in 2004 and in Sarasota in 2006 involving problems as diverse as the untrustworthy electronic voting machines to long lines engineered by partisan elected officials. We have brought light to these issues, tracked them for the public and media, and pushed hard for significant reform.
Public financing of campaigns has also been a big interest of mine -- having come from Maine, where I served for 8 years in the senate and my daughter is now in her third term in the Maine House as a "Clean Elections" candidate. We had some great victories enacting Clean Elections in places like Connecticut and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most recently, Common Cause has done a tremendous amount of work on the bill that Senator Durbin is about to introduce for full public financing for the US Senate.
We also took on the issue of media reform at Common Cause in a variety of ways -- everything from getting involved in the media ownership fight in 2003, to taking on bad actors like Fox and Sinclair Broadcasting, to getting our members to stand up for "Net Neutrality" back before most people knew what the word meant.
I also think that it has been extremely important for organizations like Common Cause to be vigilant watchdogs on the issues of ethics and accountability -- our real bread and butter for the last 36 years. We expressed our outrage and helped illuminate the role of Halliburton and no-bid contracts in the Iraq war. We worked hard to expose the ethics truce that went on in Congress for 7 years, burying real ethical issues. The truce was finally broken when Chris Bell filed a complaint against Tom Delay.
I know you did a lot of work to modernize the organization, what advice would you give to those managing other organizations that facing the challenges of expanding the donor base to the internet, and a changing communications environment that includes things like the blogs and online video?
Like many older DC organizations, Common Cause has had to come a long way both in its use of the internet and its understanding of the great value of engaging people in a broader online dialogue. We were started in 1971 and used the most up-to date communications of those days, but when I arrived in 2003, we only had 27,000 people on our email list. With the help of a lot of creative young minds, the organization has greatly expanded the dialogue -- and the ability for our over 200,000 members and supporters to engage and support our work.
Certainly, my advice is that communicating, lobbying, fundraising and engaging the public in policy and politics is far more exciting and inexpensive via the internet. Old guard organizations like Common Cause had to evolve to embrace this new environment. My advice for any organization like Common Cause would be "Change is good!"
Common Cause seems to favor regulation to level the playing field in regards to political communication, so how did you feel about the FEC ruling that declined to regulate these new forms of communication over the internet?
One of the reasons I wanted to leave my position at Common Cause and return to politics was to regain the freedom to speak out politically -- to not be constrained by an non-partisan organization. I have always felt using regulatory methods to "level the playing field" in political campaigns was less likely to achieve the desired outcome than proactive measures, like encouraging more candidates to run through public financing or making sure that more voices could be heard through the internet and blogs -- and sometimes I differed with my own organization in my opinion. I was very comfortable with the FEC ruling and I think that it clarifies this debate.
Maine has blogs like Turn Maine Blue and Maine Democrats now organizing locally, how do you plan to interact with the online progressive movement both locally and nationally?
As soon as I formally declare my candidacy, I am looking forward to developing an active and interactive website -- with regular blogging and short video from the campaign about the issues and people we encounter. I also expect we will interact with many of the other blogs (these are both great local ones) -- through our campaign and through our volunteers and supporters.
I am an occasional contributor to the Huffington Post and now that I am fully back in the world of partisan politics, I am looking forward to being a more frequent contributor to this and other blogs. I have a lot on my mind and have learned a great deal during my time in DC and believe that this is a critical time to speak out.
What's your stand on the war in Iraq and dealing with Iran?
I was opposed to the war before it was easy to do so -- back in my race for the US Senate in 2002. Like most candidates, I was being told by our consultants and the Democrats in Washington that we would should not take a stand against the war. Even then in 2001 and 2002, I knew that the war was the wrong approach and that it was going to be critically important to oppose the administration's plans.
I also feared that states like Maine would pay a disproportionate share of losses -- as do other small rural states -- because of the involvement of the National Guard. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be all too true. I have always been opposed to the war, I have been angry about it like so many Americans, and I am deeply worried now about the likelihood of the administration making a disastrous move into Iran. This is one of the most important reasons that I chose to run for Congress.
I have also done some international travel for my work, and am deeply discouraged to see how this misguided administration has done enormous damage to our reputation around the globe. Even with a new Congress and hopefully a very new direction in the White House after 2008, we will have a lot of repair work to do.
There is a huge class of newly Democrats in Congress, what do you think of their performance so far and how would you make an impact?
There are some wonderful new people who have been elected -- and some great veteran members who now have their voice and power back again. It is good to finally see a congress that is taking its oversight role more seriously and is willing to fight back on the war and worker's issues. That said, we have a long way to go and this Congress will not enjoy a position of power for very long if the public does not feel that they are showing courage in taking on the problems that concern Americans every day -- the war, the issues of health care in our country, and the loss of good jobs.
I spent eight years in the Maine Senate, where I was never afraid to take on a big fight. I am proud to be one of the first legislators to lead a successful fight on drug pricing with the pharmaceutical manufacturers -- a successful battle that took us all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I have also led on environmental issues, for workers, for low-income women seeking education, and on issues of corporate accountability.
I have found that we can't be afraid of bold ideas and taking on the big bully in politics. The people will be with us in these battles. I have learned that it is often the politicians who need to be convinced. I would love to be a force for real change in Washington and certainly wouldn't be shy about making my voice heard. Everyday working Americans are waiting for us to speak up for them and lead on the issues that impact their lives.