Archive for May 2009
One of the great experiences of my life was working on the 1986 Hayden for Governor Campaign. I was Mike’s driver for the primary campaign. There’s nothing quite like being on a winning team. I guess you could say it’s the only state champion team I ever played on.
My experience on the ’86 campaign solidified my interest in public policy and politics. I paid a lot of money to earn a public policy degree from Harvard. In the summer of ’86, I had the privilege of spending 12 to 14 hours per day with one of the best public policy thinkers I’ve ever met – and I didn’t have to pay a nickel of tuition.
I read How David Beats Goliath, an article by Malcolm Gladwell, last week. Gladwell tries to answer the question of how underdogs are able to win. The article reminded me of the ’86 Hayden Campaign.
Mike was easily the most qualified candidate for governor in ’86. He had served 14 years in the legislature and two terms as Speaker of the House. He was held in high regard by his colleagues. Anyone who worked with Mike understood his gift for public policy. That’s why more senior legislators chose Mike to be their Speaker.
Yet, Mike was still the underdog. The favorite was a Wichita business man named Larry Jones.
The Hayden Campaign had a fraction of the money in the Jones Campaign coffers. The Hayden Campaign had only two or three paid staff people, relying instead on many volunteers and family members – most of whom had never been part of a statewide campaign.
Kelley Hayden was our press secretary for gosh sakes. I would guess that Kelley is easily the most well read press secretary in the history of press secretaries – and perhaps the only press secretary PhD. He would make references that completely flew over campaign reporters’ heads, pointing out nuance to those reporters particularly slow on the uptake.
Mike’s biggest deficit, from the perspective of Johnson County politicos, was that he came from a hick town no one had ever heard of. Almost all of the Johnson County “in crowd” embraced Mike’s rival Larry Jones.
I remember sitting with Mike in the living room of a Johnson County state senator’s home. She told Mike she respected his work in the legislature but that she was going to support Jones in the primary. She just couldn’t imagine General Election voters supporting anyone from a town as far west as Atwood.
Mike and his campaign team knew how to turn these weaknesses into strengths. Gladwell writes that successful underdogs use their differences as an asset. They don’t try to conform to norms or traditions.
Mike certainly knew how to turn his “hick” status to his favor. He got a crowd of Republicans fired up at a Kansas Day gathering with what I think of as his haircut speech. “They tell me I shouldn’t run for Governor because I have a bad haircut. They tell me I shouldn’t run for Governor because my suit doesn’t fit right,” Mike bellowed (or whispered – it was hard to tell the difference with Mike).
By the time Mike was done, the crowd was on their feet cheering, “Run, Mike, run.”
Mike and the campaign team built a network of former Atwood residents who lived in all corners of the state to augment the network he built as a legislator. Some of Mike’s county chair people had never held a position of status in their local community – let alone at the state level.
Sages didn’t think such an inexperienced, rag tag group would have a chance against the well financed city candidate.
But Mike and his campaign volunteers had something that no amount of money could buy. It’s what Mike liked to call “fire in the belly.”
Mike, Patti and their supporters worked harder than anyone imagined possible. The ’86 Hayden Campaign was the equivalent of a full court press against the Jones’ Campaigns conventional half-court offense.
Gladwell points out in his article that underdog basketball teams almost always run a full court press when they are victorious. The lesson: effort – hard work – can make up for many other shortcomings.
There is no doubt that Hayden campaigners put in the hours. I don’t think it’s possible to account for all the work people did. That’s because, in ’86, people weren’t working to get noticed. The Hayden team was working to elect their candidate and then go home.
I can attest to how hard Mike and Patti worked in those summer months of ’86 because I was in the front seat of their van – of the Mickey RV. Mike got started before dawn at “Sunshine” Rotary Clubs. He stayed up well past his bed time (Mike was famous for wanting to go to bed early) attending county fairs, barbecues, candidate forums and fundraising events night after night after night.
I stood on the sidelines and ate cheese.
We easily put in 90 to 100 hour weeks all summer long. I had an apartment in Lawrence were I technically was staying during the primary campaign. I saw my roommate once.
The ’86 Hayden Campaign was unconventional in other ways, too. We stayed in people’s homes while we campaigned, never hotels. I slept on the floor in homes of people I’d never met.
We held fundraisers in which people contributed five, ten and fifteen dollars. Conventional wisdom was that a candidate should not waste their time attending an event unless guests are charged $100 a head.
I learned a lesson that summer. People give you ten dollars. They’ll likely recruit ten people to vote for you, too. A person gives you a thousand dollars. They’ll likely want an hour of your time.
The Hayden Campaign advertised in the weekly newspapers in all the small counties. Seasoned campaign consultants said that sort of thing was a waste of money. Even Mike’s professional consultants accepted the decision to advertise in weeklies begrudgingly – they did it to humor the candidate not because they thought it was a good idea. Winning campaigns, they said, focused all of their money on television and direct mail.
The city folk and seasoned campaign consultants were gloating when the early election returns came in from Wichita and Johnson County. Larry Jones had a big lead. Jones supporters chanted for the TV cameras, “Clean sweep, clean sweep.”
But, when returns started to arrive from the west, the Jones supporters were silent. Hayden’s margins of victory in the western counties were bigger than anyone would have imagined.
The Hayden victory in ’86 tracked almost exactly with the lessons Gladwell highlights in his article.
Underdogs who win aren’t afraid to be unconventional. Underdogs do things that the “elite” consider trivial or beneath their dignity – like going to $5 fundraisers or running ads in weekly newspapers.
Underdogs work hard. They understand that effort triumphs over talent. Mike didn’t sit back and say vote for me. I’m an accomplished and respected legislator. He and Patti worked twice as hard as any other candidate in the race. His volunteers did, too.
Underdogs are focused on the task at hand. Successful underdogs set out to achieve a specific goal. They’re not looking for admission into the “elite’s” clubs. Hayden Campaign volunteers weren’t looking to improve their status (though some did benefit). The goal was to elect a candidate we believed in.
I will be forever grateful to Mike for letting me “come along for the ride” on his ’86 campaign. He had good reason not to let me be part of his team (which I’ll write about at another time). But, he looked past the liabilities I brought to the campaign and gave me a chance.
I learned so many lessons. I met so many wonderful people. The campaign opened so many doors for me. It was truly a life changing experience.
And, I will forever have the memory of being part of a team like “Hoosiers.” The underdog team that beat Goliath doing things the unconventional way.
There really is nothing quite like the thrill of being part of winning team like that. It is a small moment in time that lasts forever.
“Rules are open to interpretation because they contain words.”
That statement was made by a consultant who has been working with the St. Vrain board of education, of which I am a member.
He couldn’t be more right. Anyone who has children knows this statement is true. In fact, when the consultant made the remark the first thing that came to my mind was my ongoing dinner conversations with Joe.
“Joe, would you please eat the rest of the food on your plate. Mom didn’t give you much.”
“You mean all of it?”
“Yes, Joe. Please eat everything.”
“Even the asparagus?”
“You only have one spear.”
“I was just checking.”
“Yes, Joe. Please eat the asparagus, too.”
“Is that enough?”
“I asked you to eat everything.”
“Well, I ate quite a bit.”
“You’ve only taken two more bites.”
“Well, I didn’t know you wanted me to eat everything.”
“I asked you to eat everything.”
“Well, I didn’t know that meant all of it.”
“Okay. Joe. Please eat everything single thing that is on your plate. All of it.”
“Do I have to finish the chicken, too?”
“I’m just asking.”
We don’t really know our own parents. We don’t know them like we might come to know a good friend.
As children, at almost any age, we don’t really want to know about many aspects of our parents’ lives.
We cringe if we hear even a whisper of their intimate relationships. Mental images of our parents being intimate causes us to cry out, “La, la, la, la…” in hopes of erasing the picture from our minds. We’ll do just about anything to pretend that our parents don’t have the same interests and urges we do.
We don’t really want to know about our parents’ fears or hardships unless they are historic tales. We want our parents to be sources of strength and stability. Even as we age, we want our parents to tell us everything’s going to be okay. We don’t want to know if there are worries that keep them up at night.
We don’t even really want to know about our parents’ dreams, especially if those dreams might interrupt our own. We especially don’t want to hear our parents tell stories of dreams unfulfilled. As children, what do we do with that?
When we talk about dreams with our parents we want those dreams to be ours. We want our parents to offer encouragement, and perhaps even financial investments, to further our own aspirations. We want someone to we can turn to who will focus exclusively on us. We want our parents to be that someone.
Perhaps that’s one reason it’s hard to say good-bye to our parents when their time comes. There isn’t anyone left who we can reasonably expect to make us the center of attention. It’s okay to want your parents to focus only on you. It’s selfish with your spouse. It’s weird with a friend.
For some of us, the roles are sometimes reversed. We must offer aid, encouragement or investment to our parents. We do what we can. But, that’s not what we really want.
We may know we’re being selfish in our relationship to our parents. We may strive for a different type of a relationship as we age. We may try to become friends. We may succeed up to a point. But, somewhere deep inside, we want to keep our parents in their box. We want them to be who we want them to be rather who they might want to be or who they actually are. (Say that three times fast.)
At least, I will say these things about myself.
It is inherently unfair to tell stories or write about people who you would prefer to keep in a box. It’s impossible to set aside the biases you feel – even, or perhaps especially, those biases you can’t name for yourself.
I have and will write about my parents on this blog. I run the risk of exaggerating their virtues and their faults. I run the risk of reflecting on their lives with my expectations not their own.
Children’s stories about their parents are invaluable family treasures. But, we must listen to and read these stories keeping in mind that, as children, we’re not always able to see our parents as the whole people they truly are.
Again, at least, I will say these things about myself.
My Dad invented this snack – at least as far as I know. He often ate it on summer evenings after long runs. I picked up on the habit at about nine or ten years-old. It’s been my favorite snack ever since – though I only have the snack occasionally now. It’s best enjoyed with a cold glass of milk.
Here’s a video by Emma in which I show Joe and Ada Grace how to make the best snack ever.
I was tired. My flight from Denver to St. Louis was delayed several hours by thunderstorms over the Midwest.
I reached the hotel shortly after midnight. I wanted nothing more than to be in bed. I had to be at the Post-Dispatch at 7:30 a.m. the next morning to meet with the paper’s editor.
A woman in a hotel uniform approached as I stood at the check-in counter. She picked up my bag without even asking and said with more enthusiasm than anyone should have at that time of night, “I’ll show you to your room.”
“No, that’s alright,” I said trying to reclaim my bag from her hand. I’m an introvert and my desire for silence grows stronger when I’m tired.
She just turned around and headed for the elevator paying no heed to my plea. “I don’t have anything else to do,” she said as if everyone would want company given the opportunity.
I had no choice except follow. I felt helpless. The woman bellhop was in complete control. I put my briefcase over my shoulder and followed her toward the elevator.
“So, how was your flight,” she asked in a loud, chipper voice.
My heart sank a little lower still. She was a talker. “Fine,” I answered trying my best to strike a tone of not being rude but making clear that I was too tired to talk.
“I’ve never flown myself,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d really want to. I think I’d get nervous when the plane was landing. I’d be afraid that we’d crash. Do you get nervous?”
“No,” I replied head facing the floor, hoping to no avail that a lack of eye contact would deter her from talking more.
“Oh, that’s good. If you travel a lot that would be a bad deal. Do you travel a lot?”
“I didn’t expect anyone to arrive this late. What brings you in so late? Was your plane late?”
“It was delayed,” I said, looking down as we rode up the elevator.
“That’s too bad,” she responded either not noticing my signals to be left alone or refusing to be deterred by a grump. “Why were you delayed?”
“Weather,” I said.
The chatter and questions continued in the elevator and down the hall to the hotel room. As she opened the door to the room where I would stay, she asked, “What brings you to St. Louis?”
“Business,” I replied as I walked into the room in front of her. I was reaching in my briefcase for my wallet to get money for a tip when the next question came my way.
“That’s good. Who are you working with?”
“The St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” I said with my back still turned toward her.
I turned. The smile on her face was gone. Her entire demeanor had changed. Now she looked toward the floor. No glow in her eyes at all.
The name of the newspaper, Post-Dispatch, had clearly triggered this dramatic change. I wanted desperately to go to bed. I was in no mood to talk for another moment. But, I felt a strange obligation to find out why the words Post-Dispatch had such an effect on this seemingly happy woman. Ugh!
“You don’t like the Post-Dispatch,” I asked cautiously.
“No,” is all she said still looking toward the floor.
Our roles were now reversed. I was the one asking questions. She was the one uttering mono-syllable responses toward the ground.
“Why not,” I asked looking directly at her for the first time that night.
“They wrote something bad about my son,” she replied softly.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask anything more. Who knew what might be in this Pandora ’s Box. But something inside me compelled me to learn more.
“What did they write,” I asked.
“He was killed by a cop. They said it was justified,” she replied still barely audible but a hint of an old anger rising up in her voice.
“What else was in the story,” I asked.
“They just told the police’s side of the story. They never talked to me.”
I was all the way in now. There was no turning back. I had to find out why this woman felt so deeply troubled.
“Why did they say it was justified,” I asked trying a slightly different tact.
Now she was mad. “The police said he was just a gang member. That made it justified. They never even asked me,” she repeated for a second time.
“Who didn’t ask you,” I said trying to think how I could calm the anger and still learn more.
“The newspaper. They just put in the paper what the police told them to say.”
“Why did you want the paper to talk to you?”
“I wanted them to hear my side of the story,” she said looking up a fire in her eyes.
I was searching my brain for a way to diffuse the tension. And, at the same time, something inside me led me to push things a bit further. “You know,” I started slowly. “I’ve heard people complain that newspaper reporters harass people when they’re grieving. They knock on people’s doors or call their homes wanting to do an interview when people are grieving over a family member who was just killed.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say reporters should leave people alone at times like this. Give people a little space instead of harassing them at a difficult time. Maybe, the newspaper didn’t want to bother you right after your son was killed. Maybe they were just trying to give you a little space.”
“Maybe,” she said hesitatingly. I doubt she bought that line of thinking but at least it calmed her anger. Her voice was reflective now. Distant. “They should have talked to me.”
I tried to match her tone. “What did you want them to know,” I asked.
She looked up at me and said in almost a whisper, “My baby died that night.” Strength returning to her voice, she added, “I wanted them to know that a mother lost her baby.”
There was silence in the room. It felt long but was probably just a moment. I didn’t know what to say. I had no more questions in my mind. I finally looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry.”
She nodded. As she turned to go, I handed her the tip that I still held in my hand.
“Thanks,” she said and walked more quickly toward the door.
As closed the door she called out with some vigor returning to her voice, “I hope you have a great time in St. Louis.”