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Adventures in Government - The Reality Check

As much as I'd love to approach this election one person at a time, meeting individuals and having them spread the campaign by word of mouth, the fact is that I need to reach a few hundred thousand people between now and the 2018 election. The math on the word of mouth method doesn't really work.

So, I've been looking into the political clubs around town, getting in touch, and planning to meet with them to see if we're comfortable working together. In that process, the leader of one of those groups asked to meet with me.

I want to be transparent here, but I also don't want to start talking about people too much without their consent if I don't know how public a figure they want to be. Suffice to say that he's the leader of one of the larger, more active organizations associated with the Democratic Party in southern Arizona. For now, I'll refer to him as "George."

We met at Bentley's, a coffee shop near the University of Arizona. This is not the first time someone has asked me to meet at a coffee shop, and I'm sure it won't be the last. They're generally nice, relaxed, and (important) neutral public places to meet with someone for a conversation.

The only awkward part is that I don't drink coffee or, really, any of the drinks generally sold at coffee shops. I gave up caffeine years ago and, while I enjoy the smell of coffee, I never enjoyed the taste. That just leaves the dessert drinks, which present two problems: a) I can't quite bring myself to pay that much for what is, essentially, a fancy milkshake and b) it's hard to take someone seriously when they're sipping on the kind of drink you'd imagine new couples used to share at malt shops in the 1950s.

So, I order nothing and hope that doesn't make things too awkward.

This time, I didn't actually know what George looked like, so when I showed up at the coffee shop a couple minutes late, I looked around for anyone who seemed to look professional. There was at least one guy sitting at a table, wearing a suit, and talking on the phone.

That immediately made me nervous. Having spent most of my adult life just wearing t-shirts and slacks, I'm never really certain how to dress on special occasions. Last time I met someone in a coffee shop I had dressed in a suit and tie, and then felt a bit over-dressed when the person I met was wearing a polo shirt.

Figuring I learned my lesson, I reverted to my default "respectable" look, which just meant wearing one of my few button-up shirts that didn't involve a colorful floral pattern. Now, seeing a suit, I wondered if this time I was underdressed.

There wasn't much to be done about it, though. I looked around and, eventually deciding that the guy in the suit was the guy I was here to meet, I started trying to awkwardly catch his eye without being too intrusive. He seemed intent on his phone conversation.

Just when I was getting ready to go tap on this guy's shoulder, a guy I hadn't noticed before approached me from the direction of the coffee counter. Later, I'd realize that if I had responded to his LinkedIn request I would have known what he looked like. I've never really seen the point of LinkedIn, though, so I didn't bother. Luckily, George was familiar with my website, so he did know what I looked like, and we soon found a table. I pointedly avoided looking at the guy whose eye I was trying to catch before.

George apologized for being late, then began by asking me some questions that I really should have some snappy, memorable answers to by now, but I don't. For instance, when asked why I want to run for Congress, my answer starts out bland and vague, and then proceeds into a discussion about a line from HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And while it's true that a line from those books did set me on the path to someday running for office, it's a bit of a mouthful in the context of what basically amounts to a job interview.

George proceeded to give me a bit of a reality check which, given my performance up to that point, seemed warranted. George, a veteran of several campaigns, knows the drill: campaigning is a soul-crushing, grueling experience, and the reward is a job nobody in their right mind would enjoy. An important job, to be sure, but unpleasant to say the least, and one with no shortage of opportunities for failure and public disgrace.

He told me I would not be able to keep my current job if I'm to take campaigning seriously, and I can not use campaign contributions to pay myself--not for food, not for personal bills, not even for gas to get my car to and from campaign events.

It suddenly occurred to me why people who run for office tend to be either rich, retired, or already in office. Though the Constitutional requirements to become a Congressman are simple and clear (25 years of age or older, United States citizen for the past seven years, and a citizen of the state you want to represent), the de facto requirements are still heavily weighed in favor of wealthy people and career politicians.

To be honest, financially speaking I don't think I can quit my job for two years in the hopes of getting a different job. Plus, the notion just goes right against my parents' teachings: "Don't quit your job unless you have another job lined up," they told me. That's just good sense. So, I'll have to see how long I can maintain my current job and a congressional campaign at the same time. It's not the first time I've held two jobs at once, but these are both more-than-full-time jobs, so I know I won't be able to juggle them both indefinitely.

George had some other valuable advice and information. He's familiar with several other candidates at the same point in their campaign as I am, and he gave me some advice on how to improve my website. He liked my business card, but apparently I made a mistake by not buying union-made business cards. I honestly didn't even know that was a thing, but apparently Democrats simply can't get elected if they don't make sure everything they buy is union-made.

Our meeting lasted maybe 20 minutes, but it gave me a lot to think about for the rest of the day. In short, he said, the only thing I really have going for me is the fact that I'm young. That was somewhat disheartening to hear, as harsh truths tend to be. I don't think George's goal was to discourage me from running, though; he offered a lot of good advice and just enough encouragement so that my chances didn't seem entirely hopeless.

No, I think he was simply offering a reality check. What he's looking for is someone who can beat Martha McSally in 2018. By necessity, party leaders need to take a pragmatic approach to selecting candidates. If they can't win, then they don't deserve the party's support.

As it is, I'm not expecting much help from the party unless and until I gain significant popular support and/or win the primary. I have a lot of work to do if that's going to happen. But while I don't expect a lot of support from the party, neither do I expect opposition. Like all candidates, I expect they'll let me succeed or fail on my own merits. I couldn't ask for a fairer deal.

-Charlie