Harold and Kumar took a Pass, But Bill and Ted Came Along on My Excellent Adventures

John Clark on the day following the election, feeling like a winner even though I only received 35% of the votes cast in Maine House District 105. How can that be? Read on.

It started with a message on my answering machine back in February…No that’s not exactly correct. It started 8 years ago when two guys walked into the Hartland Library and introduced themselves as Randy Huber and Daniel Swain. Daniel was running as the Democratic candidate for the house and was looking for a PR person. Getting involved in politics again wasn’t on my radar, not after that infamous night when Brownie Carson lost the Democratic primary to Peter Kyros back in the early 1970s and I told the mayor of Portland to go bleep himself after Brownie lost. That was well before I sobered up and decided that such behavior wasn’t in my best interests.

In any event, I agreed and during both of Daniel’s campaigns, I did promo work as well as driving him around. Somerset County isn’t very friendly to Democrats, particularly progressive ones. He lost both times as did Josh Hartford when he ran in 2016. By that point, Beth and I had come out of our respective comfort zones thanks to the Orange Haired Idiot and were making phone calls, marching for progressive causes, and attending protests around the state.

Back to the message. Craig Heavey announced that nobody was willing to run as a Democrat in District 105. There was a long pause before he asked if I would consider doing so. My first inclination was ‘No way in hell!’ I’d been retired for three years, had developed a comfortable routine and the idea of going door to door trying to sell myself as a viable politician scared me silly…But…I kept coming back to one thought. If I said no, I’d wonder about that decision forever, so three days later, I called Craig back and said I’d run.

There’s a pretty interesting learning curve once you start the process for the first time. I had to get at least 36 signatures from Democratic voters in the district to get on the ballot. Each town’s voters had to be on a separate sheet, all sheets needed to be notarized and the respective town clerks had to verify those who signed were registered to vote in that town. Once that was done, I had to drive to Augusta and turn them in at the Secretary of State’s office.

One of my weekly ads

As soon as that was done, I had to decide whether to run as a traditional or clean election candidate. I went clean and immediately faced another set of hoops. I had to declare how I was going to run, open a separate checking account, scrounge up what was called seed money (funds to get up and going, but no more than $1,000) and start getting 60 clean election contributions of $5.00 each from registered voters in the six towns comprising the district. People could contribute online at the Maine Clean Elections site, cut me a check, or make out a money order. Cash was a no-no. I quickly learned from another candidate that buying a bunch of $5.00 money orders and eating the cost, worked well in rural Maine where cash remains king. It too three weeks to get them which allowed the Maine Ethics Commission to transfer $5500 to my campaign account. I eventually got 15 more contributions that released another $1250. In all, I ran my campaign on about $7200 in an era where the suggestion is to have at least $10,000.

All candidates must file regular finance reports, 5 in all by the time the process is complete. What does $7200 buy? Quite a bit once you realize what’s effective. T-shirts and bumper stickers are pretty much a waste. Palm cards, the promo piece you hand to potential voters are probably the best investment, signs not so much. By the time you’ve hit the last month of the campaign, everyone is what I’d call sign blind and big signs just annoy people. Besides, you have to retrieve every sign on public property or get fined, so knowing where the heck volunteers put them is important. I decided to place a different issue-oriented ad the last seven weeks of the campaign in our local free newspaper The Rolling Thunder because almost everyone reads it. I heard from plenty of people who noticed them.

My Things I Believe in ad

Nothing, however, beats doing what I wasn’t thrilled about doing-knocking on doors, but I soon started looking forward to it. Not only did I discover plenty of new roads in Cambridge, Ripley, Palmyra, etc., but I met many interesting people and heard parts of a lot of life stories. 95% of folks I got a chance to talk with were sincere and interested in telling me what concerned them. I’d knock, introduce myself and ask them “What’s important to you?” Some conversations lasted as long as an hour and I probably solved one dilemma per day for a fellow Somerset County Resident.

I was offered a hybrid melon, a purebred English bulldog, a pregnant Pomeranian and three horses. Each animal had been rescued by the person who offered them to me, but they already were overburdened with their own pets. I saw folks living in conditions that were horrible, but their finances left them no choice. My fellow Democrat, Sue Mackey Andrews, made 25 referrals to agencies of people she met who were living in unsafe conditions. Poverty is a sad way of life for many here in Somerset County.

I also involved kids in the conversation when they came to the door with parents and took time to answer any questions as well as encouraging them to express their opinions. One six year old girl in Canaan was intrigued by my melon story and asked if I would give her some of the seeds. The next time I went past her home, I left a box of ‘Magic Melon Seeds’ on her doorstep.

The book I won at the election night party in Dover-Foxcroft for the melon story.

Was it worth all the hours invested? Yes. Would I run again, No, but I’ll drive and campaign for others next time around because I believe in the process and am a much wiser and humbler person for having run. I also came away with a sense of cameraderie thanks to all the amazing people I met who were running themselves or supporting our efforts to get elected.

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8 Responses to Harold and Kumar took a Pass, But Bill and Ted Came Along on My Excellent Adventures

  1. Great post, John. Remember what they say: It’s better to have run and lost than to never have run at all. I’ve never run but two times in the past six years I’ve walked door to door from Allagash down route 162 to Fort Kent and then down route 11 to Masardis handing out candidate and referendum information. It was eye opening…worthwhile but exhausting.

    Vaughn

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  2. Lea Wait says:

    So glad you did this, John … and shared it with us. Where would this country be without people willing to run. And so glad you were able to help some people. Definitely a worthwhile adventure! I’m proud to know you.

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  3. David Plimpton says:

    Thanks, John, for fighting the good fight.

    Agreed that going door to door is probably the best campaign tool, though one of the most difficult and time-consuming. If you take the trouble to discuss the issues and ask voters, respectfully, to consider votiong for you, they will actually feel an obligation to do so, unless they’re hard-wired for the opponent.

    And if you got even one voter to think more about the issues in the future and to vote, you made a positive contribution to our electoral process..

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  4. I am so proud to call you a friend, John. Fighting the good fight matters, win or lose. Thank you for running such a thoughtful campaign.

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  5. Julianne says:

    I agree with Brenda. I am so proud of you for jumping in and working so hard to run a thorough, thoughtful campaign. In my area they don’t want thoughtful, they want loud, angry, and divisive or patronizing head patters. I’ve worked at a polling place that supports 8 precincts for two cycles now. Too many people don’t or won’t find out about the candidates and come in with party-printed cheat sheets to cast their vote. I’ll give you one guess as to which party needed them. One woman had to return her ballot for a fresh one. We used paper and pencil this year, and no corrections are allowed. She had a fit when I wouldn’t give her back the first ballot declaring, “How will I know who to vote for?” If that was the case, my thought was she shouldn’t be voting at all. In a state that thinks voter fraud is a huge problem, don’t you imagine a voter with two ballots in hand is a perfect example? Even our mayor who is a perennial politician and would be expected to be familiar with issues and party candidates took several minutes and significant head scratching to complete his ballot. The work I do is so important, but it does not support faith in my fellow Americans to make individual choices based on merit not party.

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  6. Elizabeth says:

    You may not have won the election but you probably created change for the good in ways you don’t even realize. Maybe one or two people became more open to progressive ideas because of your campaign. Maybe they talked about those ideas with their families and some roots began to grow. It is so difficult to wage the uphill, near impossible battle, but it is important to remember that victory can be measured in ways other than an election win. I admire you and thank you for your efforts.

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  7. bethc2015 says:

    I am proud of you for running. You gave even more than this post conveys but you are a humble person. For five months this was your first priority and you gave it your best.

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