Lessons learned trudging the campaign trail

June 13, 2014
Mike Byrd

Mike Byrd


Our South County has changed.

Our sense of independence may have died with Paul Teixeira. This was, inarguably, the most partisan campaign ever in the South County. Historically, voters have avoided electing candidates who were actively partisan. The large number of newer residents from the big cities, however, don’t share that same strong sense of independence which was once prevalent here.

The first sign of this significant shift was demonstrated by a retiree from Irvine who was astounded that anyone would think there’s something wrong with the political parties putting up candidates for non-partisan office. I should have taken her more seriously.

Jesse Unruh – “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Mike Byrd – “You won’t go far with a lactose-intolerant campaign fund.”

Money, or the lack thereof, can’t be discounted as a determining factor in the outcome of an election. The fact that the two winners claimed 82 percent of all contributions raised then claimed 89 percent of all votes cast cannot be ignored. Or put another way, here is each candidates share of all cash raised compared to their share of votes cast: Compton: 44/47; Ray: 42/42; Byrd: 14/11. Hmm, wonder what that means.

Like tennis, campaigning is a game one can’t play alone.

Most of the money came from special interests, not from partisan interests. But the true factor of the parties which cannot be discounted is boots on the ground. Without a large number of people walking precincts and working GOTV, an independent gets lost in the crowd.

Winning isn’t everything, but losing’s nothing.

One day everyone wants to talk with you. Strangers come up to you in public. The media competes for a few moments of your time. Your opinions are important. News photographers want your photo. The next day you’re alone. No one left to talk to. Strangers are strangers again. Your opinions are about as important as a pocketful of rocks. And none of those photos are published. The speed and severity of this change is such as might induce whiplash.

Beware the jackals.

The best line of the entire campaign was brought to us by Eve who, upon exiting the election night party in the company of a loser said, “At least you never have to talk to that asshole Congalton again.” Eve has never used that word before and probably won’t ever again, but it fit the context perfectly this one time. Congalton was the most biased of the crowd, actively trying to damage me at every turn. I don’t know what I ever did to him.

On the flip side, The Tribune which has a long history of going after those out of grace with Adam Hill, covered the campaign in an unexpectedly fair manner. Well, there was that one article with three significant mistakes in a single sentence but that was likely without malice. The most thorough, accurate and well-written coverage was by young Rhys Heyden who cut his journalistic teeth on this, his first campaign. Take note of his work. He’s worth reading.
Never underestimate the ignorance of voters.

Leland Yee who did no campaigning, presumably because he’s under indictment for gun running, graft and other such things, received 10 percent of the vote for his office, only slightly worse than my 11 percent. Maybe if I had been caught selling semiautomatics to school shooters I could have taken some of the NRA votes away from Compton and Yee.

A politician’s aptitude for deception and exception is astounding.

A Tea Party Republican tells Democratic voters she’s the Democratic candidate. A sitting county supervisor refuses to remove scores of illegal signs so public employees are sent out to gather them up and return them to her after which she reposts them. Then public employees are sent out again and so on. If it’s against the law, why are there no consequences for the criminals who violate it?

If you’re going to lose, it’s better to lose small.

Someone who loses small becomes a footnote. Someone who loses big becomes nonexistent.

How can you tell if someone’s lying? They say they’ll vote for you.

If everyone who said they would or had voted for me really did, things would have turned out differently. It’s kind of like how by 1975 you couldn’t find anyone who had voted for Nixon, yet he had somehow been reelected President.

Don’t quit your day job.

Campaigning is a full-time job. Unfortunately, so is keeping a roof over your head and putting food in the belly. If your income, both present and future, depends on your current efforts, as a candidate, you will find yourself impaled upon the horns of a dilemma. Choose carefully.

If you expect those you respect to respect you in turn you’re delusional.

Don’t count on everyone who shares your views, even those with whom you may be close, to go out on a limb for you or even remain your friend. People are complicated creatures who will sometimes offer plaudits in private but remain mum in public. If you’re counting on logical endorsements you’re being illogical.

Once you file candidacy papers you officially become a cynic.

When you’re a candidate nobody will believe a word you say. Every utterance that passes your lips is a pandering line designed to make people like you. If you appear sincere it will be assumed you are faking sincerity.

Politics is like a Viagra disclaimer: Ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough…

Campaigning is grueling work best left to the young and carefree. The ups and downs of each day will leave you spinning physically and emotionally like a woman with the worst case of menopause ever. And forget the food pyramid. Meals, when you get them, will consist of fast food or quesadillas wolfed down just before bedtime, a recipe for spectacular weight gain. In my case 20 pounds.

The world outside the bubble of the district just doesn’t exist.

During the campaign period I knew less about what was going on in the real world than ever before. There simply was not time enough to even browse the cartoons in The New Yorker let alone digest the in-depth pieces of The Atlantic. Even the encapsulated news in The Week and the interesting articles in The Smithsonian went ignored and unread. And my daily New York Times? Only in my dreams. In the end I am poorer for what I missed out on.

Above all, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Nobody else is taking you seriously, so why should you?

Postscript: The hangover.

I don’t mean to beat up on Congalton the way he beat up on me but the fact of the matter is he’s the only one who made any attempt to analyze the election results. For that I’ll give him credit even if he proved to be as clueless as a dog chasing its tail. Poor Dave speaks with the confidence of he who knows all but he’s about as dense as a slab of concrete. He focused repeatedly and banally on how Compton or Ray could lure the Byrd voters to win in November.

The fact of the matter is, they need the Byrd votes about as much as they need a pebble in their precinct walking shoes. Consider the real results: 17 percent of all voters voted for Compton, 16 percent for Ray and 4 percent for Byrd. 63 percent voted none of the above by refusing to participate in the election. So if you were Compton or Ray would you be chasing after the 4 percent or after the 63 percent? If you answered the former you’re smart enough to be a talk radio host. . .or a candidate.

Post Postscript:

The accusation has been made that I was just a straw candidate dividing Democratic votes to keep Ray from winning a majority in June. After talking with many who voted for me it is clear that our votes will be going to each surviving candidate pretty equally come November. If true, that would mean my candidacy kept Compton from winning outright in the primary and Ray lives to fight another day because of that.

The most perplexing November intention comes from my mother-in-law who has never failed to cast her ballot in the 63 years she has been a registered voter. The day after the election she announced that she’ll be voting for Compton in November. She’s an old school Democrat who has never once voted for a Republican for anything. Politics is so strange.

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Mike …In reading your observations, personal and heartfelt, while on the political trail; I am reminded of a famous quote by Chicago alderman “Paddy” Bauler, the last of the ‘Hinky-Dinks’ :

“Chicaga ain’t ready for reefarum ( reform )”.

Likewise, the Central Coast might not be ready to abandon Bi-Polar politics.

The lessons of yours and other races would indicate that most ‘citizens’ that even bother to cast votes are not interested in specifics. They accept the slogans, nostrums, and tired bromides ….and are comfortably numb in believing that these generalities or complete evasions of issues firmly comport with their own views …and they’re probably correct !

Maybe you could come up with a catchier, more memorable campaign tag next time.

“Vote for Mike ! He’ll give you the Byrd”.

Take some time to reflect, but be ready with the popcorn from now to November. It promises to be quite a show.

Let me go you one better on campaign slogans: “Vote for Mike, give (partisan politics/the BOS/politics as usual) the Byrd.”

Quoting Slowerfaster: “It promises to be quite a show.”

It promises to be quite a _shit_ show, unfortunately.

If some of us were appalled and turned off by the political ploys that Compton and Ray were willing to use just to get to June? The road to November is going to a long slow-motion trainwreck.

Nothing makes me hate politics more than the financial slugfest between two classless candidates. To paraphrase a great movie, fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy campaign.

I want neither. My guess is that the one with the most money will win and that’s a real shame for the folks of District Four.

I really liked Mike’s comments. He speaks the truth about the bizarre world of politics. For the masses who have never waged a campaign it is impossible to realize how accurate (and articulate) his reflections are, and how one’s real beliefs (and even comments) are twisted and maligned by others who lust for power.

Not living in the district kept me from being keenly aware of all the issues and candidates but

I totally agree with Mike about partisan politics in historical non partisan races, the parties should stay the hell out of it, all of them. I have complained to the parties when they interfere in local elections, of course I was ignored. It used to be illegal but a Cal Supreme court ruling now allows the parties to fiddle with our future. It is still unethical in my book.

The greatest evil is moneypolitics. It colors everything and brings us those who bow to large

special interests. Big money, outside interference in local issues-all these and more subvert

our very democracy.

A recent national symposium was held in SLO and Shell Beach to address big money corruption of our political system, put on by CitizensCongress2014.org (a local non partisan group of caring citizens). I urge you to review their site (they’re local!!!), see if you might join this growing movement to garner some sanity in our political process.

Thank you, Pete. I would really have liked to have attended the Citizens Congress forum. I’ve often marveled at the foresight our founders had but doubt they could have possibly envisioned that our political and governmental structures would have devolved as the have.

Thanks Mike for having the guts to run. Been there, done that, it’s ugly and exhausting.

I’m sorry you/Eve chose to call Congalton out the way you did, I didn’t hear him “actively trying to damage” you in any way. In fact, what I did hear was him call out Caren Ray on the “ethics” question and your solid stance in opposition of the Phillips 66 project (which I appreciate and wholeheartedly support you on).

Dave and the callers (who hide behind the phone line) can have the most raw questions a candidate must face during a campaign. Making the candidate really think on their feet. But, I welcome those harder questions over the softballs screened and lobbed at the debates.

My only criticism of Dave this past election season was that he didn’t give the District 2 race/candidates the same air time to pitch themselves and hear raw questions on the air. Or even discuss the District 2 issues, of which there are many. He had his reasons I guess, but the voters needed to hear from Clift and Gibson and both needed to be held accountable for their records in the same forum in which the District 4 race was. Clift needed a place to defend the mis-characterized stances he’d been given by the Tribune and Gibson needed to clarify the overstated accomplishments also given by the Tribune.

I hope you run for AG City Council; you are clearly professional, polite and a hard working volunteer for the good of your community. You ran a clean campaign, you have the experience needed and the wherewithal in which to serve your community.

Best of luck to all of District 4 as you will see the most expensive Supervisorial race in the history of this county. Stick to the issues. Get something good from it!

Thank you, Julie. Dave made and accusation about me that was 100% false. I happened to be listening that day so immediately corrected him with the facts but instead of correcting himself he just doubled down. There were a few other instances as well. I was truly surprised and disappointed. Maybe I just haven’t listened to his show enough to know what he’s like but until recently I’d thought he was a nice guyt.

Great piece Mike–very insightful, humble, and humorous. Loved your observations of Cognalton. Cheers to your mother-in-law who is voting her mind and not her politics. You make SLO County better for who you are. Thank you for giving it a shot.

My own two cents: I think we can in large part blame the partisanship of the campaign on Adam Hill. He very strongly advocated for Caren Ray’s appointment, traveling several times to Sacramento to grab anyone’s attention in the Brown administration who would listen, asking that she be put in Paul’s seat. It is a bad fit as she is nothing like Paul Taxiera or Katcho, both whom represented district 4 in more subtle and effective ways. And of course, when it comes to Adam Hill, you can bet that Bruce Gibson put him up to it. Bruce typifies divisive.

Thanks again for your efforts.

Glad you appreciated what was intended to be a lighthearted reflection of an amateur caught up in a political campaign. It was sort of like Lincoln’s story of the barefoot boy running through a field when he stubbed his toe on a rock.He was too big to cry but it hurt too much to laugh. I guess such a pronounced loss as I experienced didn’t hurt so much that I couldn’t laugh.

I am somewhat disappointed by this commentary by Mike Byrd. I don’t know what Dave Congalton said about him that was so unfair but that could be because I can only listen to Congalton sporadically. The comments seem to be a mixture of insight and whining. The later would have been better left off and may well have been had Mr. Byrd taken time to decompress after the election before submitting this letter.

I actually thought that all of the candidates were fairly decent individuals on a personal level. They each had political positives and negatives and I voted for Byrd (probably a bad sign — I don’t often vote for politically successful people.) My vote was largely on the basis of his decision to be as non-partisan as possible. I agree that this shouldn’t be such a partisan position although there has always been a degree of partisanship in District 4 elections.

Finally Mike, I may have difficulty voting for you again if you run. Your inaccurate generalization about the NRA “selling semiautomatics to school shooters” indicates a very troubling attitude toward those of us who own guns. I am not an NRA member and don’t agree with them on some of their stances. However, this indicates to me that you can be very closed to other viewpoints and/or very brainwashed by those who share your views about the subject. I don’t expect total agreement on the subject from a politician but I do not accept a blanket rejection of my views when they are contrary to your own.

I’ve owned guns throughout much of my life, as well, though I always preferred archery and have never hunted. It probably makes no difference since you’ll never again have the opportunity to vote for or against me, but I relish the opinions of others, especially when the are different than mine. Our friends range from socialist to tea party and every viewpoint in between and we love getting groups together over a good meal to share opinions about politics and current affairs. And the NRA comment was just a wild exaggeration to illustrate the craziness of it all.

Mike, making “wild exaggerations” to demonstrate a point only makes you sound ignorant on the issue you are addressing. I have a three part litmus test when I vote. the Second Amendment is one of those parts. Implying that gun owners and NRA members advocate selling guns illegally is a slap in the face to us. Even if you backtracked from that statement, I would not be inclined to vote for you even if I agreed with the rest of your platform. Our Second Amendment rights are under attack like never before and I don’t think it is funny to make exaggerated claims to illustrate a point on the issue.

Still waiting for a response. No answer?

The problem is not the money or the parties, per se; rather, it is the lack of knowledge (or care) about issues and candidates. This could mean that government – even small town politics – has become so overbearing and cumbersome that it just flat out turns people off. Maybe not all 63% who sat this one out, but who is to say?

Every time I hear “campaign finance reform” my brain translates that to: People are so ignorant, they only vote for the last name, last sign they hear or see. Something to that effect. If voters were more engaged, the political landscape would be vastly different. Instead, those who are fairly well engaged in politics are often the rabid ideologues who have a sports-team mentality (i.e. the “our guy won” or “our gal lost” people). Politicians are not “yours” and this is not a team effort. Elections matter. At least until they’re completely compromised, but that’s for a different discussion.

I think the get out the vote (GOTV) stuff is all fine and dandy, but what they really hope to do is A) find someone non-partisan / non-ideologue, and/or B) find someone too lazy to care or ignorant of the issues and candidates. As the last many presidential elections have shown us, we keep electing worse and worse candidates; seriously, just when one thinks it could not get any worse than a Bush 2 presidency, we have two Obama elections in a row. If that doesn’t scream ignorance on the voting public, then it is a flat-out rigged game. Then again, the choices (as usual) are Tweedle-Dee vs. Tweedle-Dum – which brings us back to the apathy of potential voters.

tl;dr summary: Politics, like government in general, has grown too large and cumbersome to keep track of, thus turning off a great many people.

I think you are right as far as you go but there are some other factors too. The overbearing and cumbersome nature of contemporary politics turns off voters as you claim. This results in many who vote out of a limited sense of duty voting with their emotions as much as with their minds. Unfortunately, emotional manipulation via advertising is approaching the status of a science. Thus those who can afford to buy the best/most advertising usually win.

I suspect that the only way we can reverse that trend is to ban all mass-media political advertising. Let those who want public office go door-to-door or conduct meet-and greets or engage in public debates. Force candidates to talk with voters rather than to them. I know this will never happen so I remain as skeptical as you about the quality of future political leadership in this country.

“The problem is not the money or the parties, …” um, wow, could you be more wrong? Money in politics is exactly what the problem is. We should have average citizens who have ideas to improve our government running for office, serving a term or two and then letting someone else give it a try, I think that for the most part, that is what our founders envisioned as our ideal. (of course, back then, the “average” citizen was a person of some means, white, male and educated, that being the ideal person to serve in politics). Thank goodness, the definition of an average American has changed, and almost anyone can run for any office they want to, but getting voted into office is the brass ring, so to speak.

It always comes down to money, the love of money, the power of the purse; those in elected positions control how taxpayers monies are spent and that opened the door to cronyism, corruption, favoritism, political paybacks, no-bid contracts, and ending up with a majority of our federally elected politicians being in the top 1% of wage earners because they become so well connected. And it seems like it has been that way for a very long time, it is not a recent occurrence; what is newer now though is the money in political campaigns.

One interesting item of note is how America went about helping set up a functioning government structure in Germany after WWII; by going with the parliamentary system and not a two party system like we have morphed into, the average citizen in a country with a parliamentary form of government can actually make a difference, and the whole “our team vs. your team” mentality is almost eliminated due to the fact that there are so many different parties that collations have to be formed and everyone has to learn to get along for government to function. Money for political campaigns is not the “mother’s milk” of politics like it is here, and most countries do not have campaign seasons that last more than a couple of months.

Changing our system is not going to be easy, but reducing the influence of money in political campaigns is exactly where we need to start; I for one would love to see an elimination of candidates being affiliated with any political party and have the candidates run and rule based on their platforms of how they say they would do things, and then you get to vote for the candidate who you believe will do the best job, not because they have an “R” or a “D” after their name.

Government can be efficient, we just need to elect people who truly have an interest in having a functioning government that can operate in a manner that does the most good and the least harm, and they don’t have the motivation to go into government as a way to get rich.

I could be more wrong; however, I suppose if I were to completely change my argument to what you are talking about, we’d agree. However, complaining about personal greed and self-satisfaction is not really in the same ballpark as what I was arguing: the intelligence level of a voter. Then instead of your Apples-to-Oranges comments, we’d be on the same page.

Voter intelligence, like reading comprehension, is often lost on even those who feel they are informed and educated as well as those who are not so much…

My fantasy would be that there could be some way to conduct a general GOTV campaign for all voters instead of the efforts by the campaigns to turn out only their identified voters.

Mike Byrd is a good, intelligent person. He happened to get in a race with two well financed candidates. Hang on Mike, your time will come.

Thank you, Citizen. We did the best we could with what he had but, honestly, really misjudged the level of apathy in a midterm election. And my time has already come and gone. I wouldn’t trade the experience, new friends made and new community projects learned about for anything, but Eve has instructions to have me immediately institutionalized if I ever show symptoms of wanting to run for anything ever again.

It is going to be an interesting November on many counts. Locally, the race between Compton and Ray will heat up and I expect some last minute slight of hand and nastiness… but as I have learned, it is a take no prisoners type of game.

The real issue of the campaign is for the soul of the county. One one side stands the no-growth and concedingly wacky Caren Ray, Bruce Gibson and our beloved Adam Hill. This is the side that has shown itself to be, in my humble opinion, untrustworthy on many levels. The other side would have an opportunity to set things straight.

There really is two slates here… and your vote really does matter.

Roger that, Roger. It is a game for a certain type of person and I am definitely not that type.

Congalton’s on the air this afternoon trying to defend his numbers, but from my experience, Mike is spot-on as far as the November voters. Nothing is more effective than getting out the vote efforts. The Republican party will do it, just like the Democrats will.

Thanks for sticking your neck out, Mike.

Thank you, R.Hodin. I heard about the show and last night received a email from Congalton. I guess he didn’t see the humor in any of it. It will be an interesting autumn, no doubt.