Have you guys been following this ridiculous brouhaha about the
Sierra Club Mayoral forum next week?
If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. It’s a bunch of headache-inducing nonsense. You can go read the play by play recounting of the all the ridiculous bitchery that’s gone on in the last couple of days over at Zennie Abraham’s blog, Oakland Focus, but for those who have don’t have the time (or stomach) for it, here’s the short version.
The Northern Alameda County chapter of the Sierra Club organized a Mayoral forum for next Wednesday, which was going to be co-sponsored by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition. They invited only the candidates they decided had viable campaigns to participate — Don Perata, Jean Quan, and Rebecca Kaplan. I am not entirely clear on what criteria they were using to demonstrate viability. At first I was under the impression they were using the League of Women Voters criteria, then it seemed like they weren’t, then I heard they were, then…well, whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. In any case, it was just going to be for the top three candidates.
So of course, the candidates who were not invited got all upset about being excluded and then the Terence Candell campaign started firing off a bunch of crazy sounding letters about how the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters (who are not part of next week’s forum, but who are co-sponsoring a forum in September that was announced with participation criteria) are elitist and other such bullshit. And other candidates who weren’t invited sent a bunch irate messages to various mailing lists about how unfair it was for the debates to be limited to “professional politicians” and calling for people to protest forums that were not open to everyone on the ballot.
Then someone from Don Perata’s campaign told Zennie that Perata wouldn’t go to any forums that weren’t open to all candidates because it’s undemocratic or some such nonsense, even though he already attended a forum (held by the Oakland Builders Alliance) that was not open to all candidates. Of course, that was also during the period where he claimed he would not attend any forums at all because it’s “undemocratic” and “misleads voters” to have forums before the filing deadline, so clearly these statements from his campaign need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Anyway. Then the Oakland Climate Action Coalition decided to pull out of the forum altogether because too many candidates were excluded and said that they would be hosting their own forum in September. And then the Sierra Club said that their forum would be open to all the candidates after all.
What a bunch of nonsense
First, I’m really disappointed about the Sierra Club’s decision to change the criteria for their forum. I mean, I totally get why they did it, and I respect their choice, but from my perspective as a voter, it’s a real bummer. I was really looking forward to the opportunity, for the first time, to hear the people I have to to choose between speak at reasonable length, side by side, about their positions. I already went to one of these everyone’s invited forums and I’m sure I’ll end up at a few more over the next few months, so I no longer have any reason to attend this one.
And for the candidates throwing a temper tantrum about not being invited to participate in certain forums, all I have to say is this: stop whining and start campaigning.
What’s the purpose of a candidate forum?
As far as I’m concerned, there is not a thing in the world wrong with limiting participation in forums to serious candidates. The purpose of a candidate forum should be to educate voters about their choices. These things take a tremendous amount of work to organize, and nobody should be expect to go to all that effort just to provide a soapbox for people to complain about how they don’t think the City is well run. Guess what! Nobody else thinks it is either, and the fact that you managed to find fifty people to sign a piece of paper and coughed up enough cash to get your name on the ballot does not mean you have a chance at winning or that anyone is obligated to listen to you.
I was talking to someone from one of the “viable” campaigns yesterday, and they were all “Just so we’re clear, our campaign fully supports opening the all debates to all the candidates.” I was like, “Um, yeah. Of course you do. The more people less qualified than your candidate on the stage, the better it makes them look. Also, you know that several of them are going to beat up on your competitors, so it gives you the negativity you want while letting you keep your nose entirely clean.”
But let’s be clear. Having everyone running up on a stage doesn’t have a single thing to do with “democracy.” All it does is allow the leading candidates to spend less time answering questions from voters about their positions. It is always in the interest of front-runners to avoid talking at debates as much as possible.
Here are the criteria that the League of Women Voters provided when they sent out invitations to the forum they’re co-sponsoring in September:
1. Eligibility to be on the Ballot: the candidate must have correctly taken out, circulated and properly filed nomination papers
2. Viable campaign: The candidate must have:
- made a public announcement of an intention to run
- A legally registered campaign committee with the California Secretary of State
- Have filed appropriate financial reports with the City of Oakland and the California FPPC
- A publicly accessible campaign headquarters
- A telephone number, other than a personal or home number, listed under the campaign’s name
- A campaign website and/or other campaign material with articulated views on issues
- A campaign bank account and campaign treasurer
In addition, the candidate must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- The candidate has received 5 percent or more of the vote, tested in a trial heat in a professionally conducted independent public opinion survey conducted by an experienced political pollster based on a scientific sample of the entire electorate with a margin or error of less than 5 percent (at a 95 percent level of confidence), if such a public opinion survey is available
- The candidate has reported in legal documented filed with state or city government entities the receipt, during the election campaign, of at least one campaign contribution per 1,000 residents of the constituency (based on the total number of persons enumerated in the last U.S. census), excluding contributions from the candidate himself or herself, the candidate’s spouse, or the candidate’s natural or adopted children. Contributions do not have to be residents of the constituency to be counted.
- The candidate previously had been elected to or held, the office that he or she is seeking.
- The candidate sought the same office during the previous eight years and received at least 20 percent of the vote in the general election.
This isn’t some crazy nonsense that someone made up so they could exclude people at random. This is just clear, objective, boilerplate criteria for establishing that you’re a serious candidate, and it is completely in line with the national League of Women Voters guidelines for debate participation criteria. There’s nothing unusual about it and there’s nothing that should come as a surprise to anyone with any history of involvement in politics.
And frankly, it is simply not, by any reasonable measure, a high bar for demonstrating that you’re running a viable campaign. All it requires is that you make your campaign accessible to voters and that you can demonstrate a modicum buy-in from the electorate.
If you want to be taken seriously as a candidate, you have to actually, you know, campaign. All this whining about money and viability and who is to say who is viable? WEV. Those criteria have nothing to do with money. It’s about demonstrating support. Look, there are four hundred thousand people in Oakland. If you can’t get four hundred of them to give you a dollar, then no, you are not a real candidate.
BREAKING: Winning elections is hard!
So. From time to time, people who are considering running for one office or another ask me to talk to them about their plans and whether they should take the plunge or not. I don’t know that I have any particular insight into the subject, but I almost always tell them the exact same thing, and I think it’s pretty good advice. I say that Oakland desperately needs more people to run for office, and that no candidate should ever go unchallenged, and if they decide to go for it, I think that’s great. But, that if they do, they should make sure they understand before they get in that campaigning is really hard and also that they are probably going to lose.
It’s a harsh thing to say, and most people don’t seem to like hearing it, but it’s the truth.
And for those who are willing to accept the challenge and put themselves out there to run for office anyway? Whether or not I agree with their platform or even think they would do a good job in the office they’re seeking, I have an extraordinary amount of respect for them. It is so much work to campaign, especially so when you know your candidacy is a long shot. You open yourself and everything you believe and everything you have ever done up to a tremendous amount of criticism and rejection and…I don’t know, I don’t think I could ever do it. Whether you’re doing it to try to win against the odds or whether you really just have something you want to say and you’re using the election as an opportunity to get that message to the public, it’s an amazingly tough and also just wonderful thing to do and absolutely worthy of admiration.
But here’s the thing. To earn that respect, you have to, you know, actually campaign.
You want to get your ideas out there? Do it. You want people to consider voting for you? Then you have to be out there actually soliciting support from voters. And if you aren’t doing that outside of organized forums, if your entire campaign plan is to go make a bunch of noise at these multi-candidate events that other people put together because they want to make an informed decision about where their vote should go?
Well in that case, you are not a real candidate. Cause you know what? If every single person who went to every Mayoral forum in the entire city decided to vote for you based solely on your performance in those forum (which, BTW, is not going to happen — half the people who go to those things have already made up their mind anyway, and that’s being generous), you still wouldn’t win. You wouldn’t even come close. Because most voters do not attend candidate forums.
You absolutely have to be working for it in other ways. And if you’re not, I don’t see any reason why I should go spend my extremely limited time listening to what you have to say instead of hearing more in-depth responses from people who are actually trying to win.
So instead of sitting around whining about how unfair it is that you don’t meet some pretty basic criteria for viability, go out there and figure out what you’re going to do to meet it. It’s not fucking rocket science. Go get four hundred one dollar donations. If you’re serious about your campaign, you’re out there asking for votes anyway. Explain the forum situation to the people you talk to. If you’re actually working for it and making a good case for yourself, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to reach that threshold.
What’s that? Getting people to give your their money is hard? Boo fucking hoo. You know what else is hard? Running the City.
Whoever ends up as Oakland’s next Mayor is in for a bitch of a job for the next four years, there’s no way around that. So if you think you deserve it, and if you want people to take you seriously, well then, suck it up and stop whining. Accept the challenges before you and find a way to meet them. Because I, for one, have no interest whatsoever in another four years of listening to an endless pity party coming out of the Mayor’s office.