Guest Post: And They Said It Was Impossible

Reflections on the process and politics of independent petitioning to establish a local, third party ballot line in a two-party state, by Michael O'Connor of The Rotterdam Windmill and the No New Tax Party.

The experiences of campaigning and specifically petition signature gathering have taught me a great many lessons. Though I had been warned by experienced politicos, jaded voters, and even close friends and family that I was about to get into more than I bargained for, somehow my naïveté prevailed. The reality is they were right in many respects.

Signature gathering to satisfy election requirements is quite specific (and vague in the same instant) and it made for a completely different animal than other petition efforts I have participated in. The complexities are mind boggling and resulted in a lot of consternation throughout the process. Because I also decided to run a Republican primary in addition to the independent run, the process became doubly grueling. Though the primary petition effort helped me hone certain skills and better understand election law, the independent petition process had its own unique intricacies to navigate. It’s called an impossible task for good reason.

But our effort proved it’s not an impossible task. It will hopefully help open a door for others to follow through – a door they previously thought couldn’t be opened. Belief drives effort. And effort is the one variable that you can control completely. We have demonstrated that exceptional effort can deliver extraordinary results. I can already hear the perpetual naysayers starting to grumble. Let’s be clear. Our effort didn’t revolve around gobs of money. It didn’t revolve around party structure. It didn’t revolve around an army of mindless minions. It revolved around dedicated and motivated ordinary people who desired better. It started with just the four of us as candidates and literally a handful of volunteers who believed as strongly as we did. All we could control was our effort.

Of course, effort needs to be focused and organized in order to be effective. One lesson learned was that I should’ve been better organized. The problem with being a political rookie is that it’s hard to understand the landscape until you’re on it. The adjustments were constant and probably largely avoidable, with the benefit of hindsight. Strategy must always be flexible because the situation is always fluid but if I had it to do over again, I’d have been better organized on virtually every aspect. I had fooled myself into thinking I was prepared, but it turned out I wasn’t. However, our incredible effort overcame that deficiency.

But there are aspects that are absolutely essential that I had previously discounted, incorrectly. I probably underestimated the minimum amount of money I will need. That’s okay because the number I started with was virtually next to nothing. I’m not totally surprised I’ll need a little more than I thought I could get away with. That amount is still significantly less than what conventional wisdom says it takes. One component I thought I didn’t need was a lawyer. Thank goodness we not only had one, but we had the best. I simply didn’t realize how much the election law minutia would matter or that the major parties would come at us with challenges. Competent legal advice is essential. I never realized how much of the equation is driven by power and the disinclination to relinquish it. My decision to run has since been reinforced by that realization. Power has slowly ebbed away from the people and it needs to be restored. Our effort is hopefully a step towards that goal.

This attempt is different than the one I intended in my head. Originally, there was no primary. There were no other candidates, just me. There is absolutely no question in my mind though that the original notion in my head would’ve failed. It was leaner, sleeker, and more organized because it was single-minded. But it was fatally flawed in that it didn’t have the manpower necessary to succeed. It also didn’t offer the appeal of having multiple like-minded candidates that afforded better presence in the short-term and better staying power in the longer-term. Collectively, we achieved better objectivity and our message gained strength. When it comes to politics, I operate on a concept of Trust No One. I had to learn that the hard way. It’s a valuable concept, and one that remained intact, but was adapted to developing an iron-clad core of trust between the four of us before we embarked. Other experiences have taught me how critical that is to being able to strategize effectively. Too often, it proves elusive. We’ve been fortunate.

The personal confirmation for me is that my heart is wholly in the independent effort. The Republican Primary was my acquiescence to the uncertainty that surrounded whether we’d be successful in creating the independent line. I rationalized it many different ways but in hindsight, it was driven by fear. Fear of failing to create the independent line. I guess I took the easier road while simultaneously traveling the harder one. I think the concession was a productive one for me, however. I gained an appreciation and perspective I didn’t quite have previously while reinforcing my disdain for other elements of the process. And I believe I’m better off for it.

The very best part of the experience was the interesting people I got to meet. No one wants some politician knocking on their door interrupting their busy lives but the vast majority of people I met were receptive and supportive. The concern that resonated with me most in those visits, and undoubtedly fueled our effort daily, is that no one is listening anymore. People feel they have no voice, no advocate. They want accountability. Each door knock crystallized the need for us to be successful.

[Michael O'Connor maintains The Rotterdam Windmill and is a candidate for town council in Rotterdam, NY. Together with three like-minded individuals, Michael established a local, third party ballot line for the upcoming fall elections, the No New Tax Party, by means of an independent nominating petition filed in August. -d.eris]

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