This is a perennial question for me. I'm about to turn 40 in a few days, and I've found myself quietly asking this question virtually every two years for the last decade and a half, and across two states.
I remember when the question was first called. I was managing a road canvass for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and was having an impromptu "turf meeting" in at a pizza place in Eugene with a canvass Field Manager for the fledgling Forest Conservation Council (I think - memories fuzzy....almost 40, I tellya...). My friend was telling me that he was, for a second time, filing to run for a local state legislative seat. He had previously lost badly, but t didn't seem to phase him. "I always encourage everybody to run for office," he told me. "Even if you're not likely to win, it gives you a great platform to get people talking about issues."
His words have echoed around in my brain since.
Now that I'm older, and if not wiser, maybe a bit crustier. As such, I take the potential "spoiler" effect on other candidates more seriously than I did then, so I wouldn't necessarily consider his advice to be axiomatic, but that's not to say that it didn't still hold a lot of wisdom.
And now, fifteen years later, we're in the era of "crashing the gate," where regular folk are empowering themselves through the internet - either through blogging or even more simple forms of communication - all towards the singular purpose of shaking up our preconceptions of political classes and institutional absolutes. Now, when we don't like the way public policy or institutional power is shaking out, we challenge it - both in the blogs and on the ground. Nowadays, if someone in power sneers at an activist "we're doing all we can, now sit down and shut up," the activist - from time to time - has the resources and the savvy to step and say "I don't think so - move over."
But when is the time right? And now that new blood is starting to become infused into the old body politic, is it enough to do as my friend said and simply run to amplify your voice? Is it important, now that it's more possible to win, to try and make sure you actually do?
I live in Vermont, and I can't help but survey the lay of the land in my local community. My count elects three people to the State Senate. All three are considered by most to own the seats. Two are Republican and one is a Dem, and all are generally liked. As such, the Count Dems are either likely to eschew fielding a full slate (for lack of "sacrificial lambs"), or simply some ballot "sponges" who will run as placeholders which will act as stalking horses for the incumbent Democrat.
So there's a sense that those ballot slots are wide open for the taking - especially for an outsider running a different type of campaign with a different message.
There's also the money. In Vermont, on could run a solid State Senate campaign for between 10 and $20,000 (less, really). That's electoral peanuts - but for someone like me (and most people are like me in this way), that may as well be a million. Now, I'm an established, well-known blogger in the state, buts a small pool, so the fundraising base isn't there. Could someone like me raise money from the greater netroots? Well - maybe... 200 people pledging $50 is enough to fully fund such a campaign - but the fact is, at this point, the netroots as an entity isn't that interested in nurturing activist "seeds" in smaller markets. We're all firmly focused on federal elections and federal policy.
Now, I know for a fact I'm not unique in asking these questions, even if my own circumstances are unique. In fact, I'm sure there are many in the blogosphere who wouldn't have to settle with a, shall we say, "non-traditional" candidacy (I'm undereducated, have very little money, and am overweight and funny-lookin') - they would already look good as candidates-on-paper.
But it's still a universal question. One I've always deferred because of my own shortcomings as electoral product. Still - there's a nagging sense of responsibility in play as well. I started Green Mountain Daily because the Vermont Democratic Party, state Legislature and political culture needed the netroots revolution to arrive in the state, as we were falling behind, and the local political institutions were getting pretty crusty themselves. When nobody was even making a peep towards doing it, I stepped up to fill the vacuum. It hasn't always been fun.
So with all the nagging, cajoling and harassing I do of the political class and the state government, when does honor demand that I either find someone to step up to the plate, or - if none are available - when do I have to put up or shut up myself?
So, I'm hoping to hear from the many, many others at this site who probably have similar conversations with themselves every couple years. What do you think? Maybe you've tried running for office. Maybe 200 $50 contributions from the netroots for a state-level race isn't impossible. Maybe keeping some distance from the policy makers is more important than trying to be one...
In any event, I'm all ears (er...eyes, I guess)
(PS - I don't know HOW to tag this diary... feel free to make some suggestions)