Sunday, August 8, 2010

Campaign 2010

Primary season here is slowly heating up. We have five good candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial ticket.The primary vote has been shifted two weeks earlier to August 24, to make it easier to get all the absentee ballots returned and counted in time for the ballots to be printed for the general election November 2.

It’s an awkward transition between utilizing the traditional and the new communication technologies. Candidates for Governor all have web sites, and all tout the importance of getting high speed internet into the state. But there the similarities end.

I ran a voter registration and info table last night at Gallery Walk in Brattleboro. It’s a monthly downtown party, basically, in which a couple thousand people stroll the streets, look in on exhibitions set up in stores, which stay late. There are lots of vendors around. It’s fun; people seem to have a good time. A week before, I contacted all the candidates for Governor, and for the contested state senate seats in Windham County. The difference in the way candidates responded was very telling.

Doug Racine sent out material right away-- an appropriate amount of small pamphlets and bumper stickers to share space on a double card table. Peter Shumlin called me back, and arranged for me to get in touch with his daughter, who would get me the materials. I never heard from either Deb Markowitz or Susan Bartlett. Dunne had three email addresses on his contact page, each one promising a faster response. I wrote to all three, but got no material.

The day of the event, I was on a conference call and thought I’d regale my listeners with the results of my requests. I must have laid it on a little thick about Mr. Cyber Space, because about 20 minutes after hanging up, I got an email from Dunne’s campaign, saying they were sorry to have missed my email[s]. One of the conference callers happened to volunteer for Dunne, and she’d emailed him right away. I was a little chagrined, and called the cell phone listed in the Dunne campaign manager’s email. I told him where my table would be.

Later, when I was hurriedly getting dressed, the guy called again for the name of the store. I told him, and explained where it was.

When I arrived in town, I delivered a chocolate zucchini cake to the new Democratic Headquarters for their opening, met someone for tea, and set up the table at about five. Another volunteer showed up, and we shamelessly pressed mini chocolate cupcakes on passers-by, whom we then chatted up, registered voters, and had a good time.

No Matt Dunne campaign lit showed up. Finally a volunteer went over to the Dem HQ and picked up a handful of leaflets. I did spot some young guy strolling down the street with a Dunne pin on, talking on a cell phone. Whether he was actually part of the org, I have no idea.

I collared someone passing out Deb Markowitz stickers and asked him if he had any leaflets for our table. All he had was stickers. He made it sound like they had decided not to print them! Voters would get the info they need from the Internet....

This seems to me very optimistic. Very. Perhaps Internet info will be the norm in 2012, but right now, I don’t see people taking it on themselves to research candidates. We’re all used to candidates coming to the voters, even those of us who consider ourselves well informed.

It’s also hard to compare candidates, unless you go to debates--or forums, which candidates seem to prefer, big surprise. What happened to the League of Women Voters? Their website,, provides the dates of VT’s primary (AUGUST 24, people!) there’s no comparison of the candidates, what they stand for or have accomplished. VPR did interview the candidates individually and has those interviews cached @

My conclusion is that technology hasn’t necessarily made research easier. There’s loads of info out there, much of it bogus, or useless (like Matt Dunne’s three unanswered email addresses on his website. You still have to plug away, think critically, bird dog people to get at reality. Technology does not make people more communicative, although it may “connect” us.

As far as politics goes, face-to-face rules. You pick up signals of sincerity or dissembling, entitlement or humility. Going door to door is hard work, it’s humbling. So is just showing up. Voters get that. If someone is willing to do that, he or she may actually serve constituents.

To finish off the Matt Dunne story, I sent a searing email to the latest address I had, and then got an abject apology via phone from one of his campaign people. Good luck to them all. We’re all trying to figure this out.