Adventures in Government - RepresentMeAZ Kickoff Event
June 7, 2017
This was the day of the RepresentMeAZ Kickoff event.
Moreover, it was my first major speech as a candidate in front of a crowd, and my first chance to really size up my competition for the primary race. I was pretty nervous about it.
But you know what? I kinda killed it.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot I need to improve upon, and I did not use this event to its fullest. However, I feel really good about my current standing among the candidates; better than I did before the event.
I’ll break this account up into sections: Preparation, Meeting and Greeting, Speeches, and Aftermath.
About a week before the event, RepresentMeAZ sent the candidates a questionnaire, inviting us to detail our positions on various complex issues. After all, each candidate would only have 5 minutes to present themselves (which isn’t a lot of time to delve deeply into issues), so if people wanted to know more about a candidate they could check out the RepresentMeAZ website to see where they stand.
The questions were sometimes tough, and I’ll be honest that I don’t have a ready answer for all of them. Also, the answers only allowed 150 words each, so when I did have a lot to say about a subject I had to exercise brevity. I ended up spending most of my free time working on that questionnaire from the day I received it to the day before the event. You can see my responses on the RepresentMeAZ website, but I’ve also posted my responses here for posterity.
Luckily, I had already written my RepresentMeAZ Kickoff speech a couple of weeks ahead of time, so though I continued to tweak the script through the final days leading up to the event, I was pretty familiar with the speech by the day of the event.
That day, I took time off from my job in order to prepare. And by “prepare,” I mean I read my speech over and over and over again in order to get my timing and inflection just right, and to make sure I could reliably deliver the speech in under 5 minutes. (If you’ve been to events where people give speeches with a time limit, you know how frustrated the crowd gets when the speaker goes over their time. I did not want to be that person.) I practiced the speech in many different ways, and I even got to the point where I could almost give it without the script in front of me.
Almost. While I’d love to have been able to give the speech without my script, I know that I’m much better at writing and reading than I am at memorization--especially in front of a crowd. It’s part of why if you’ve met me you probably think of me as a quiet person: I feel the need to always think about what I say before I say it, which often means I don’t say anything at all. Which is why I prefer to communicate via text and email. And, of course, via a pre-written script.
(Which isn’t to say that I can’t hold a conversation, just that doing so doesn’t come naturally to me. It takes conscious effort on my part, and it becomes exhausting after a time.)
As the time of the event got closer, I changed into my signature hawaiian shirt. I wasn’t sure what the expectations were as far as attire goes, though, so I brought along a suit and tie just in case. The plan was to show up in my casual garb, greet people, and, if it became obvious that most of the candidates were dressed fancy, I’d change before going on stage.
MEETING AND GREETING
I arrived at the event location (a YWCA) and almost immediately met Alison Jones, another candidate. She told me that she liked my website, and that like me she’s originally from South Louisiana. She’s a hydrogeologist, and naturally as a scientist she has… concerns about the direction the county is headed.
I liked her immediately. Which, spoiler, is basically how I felt about all of the candidates I met. I’d be happy to support any one of them, except that I think I can do the job better myself. And, if I lose the primary I intend to rally any support I’ve built and support the winner in my stead, unless the winner somehow turns out to be truly reprehensible. (Seems unlikely.)
From there I walked around and greeted folks I’ve met before, as well as introducing myself to new people. I’m still bad at “grip and grin” politics, and I definitely didn’t use my time as well as I could have. I spent a decent amount of time sitting on the stage and watching people come in.
I noticed that the stage did not have a podium. That made me nervous. There was a podium next to the stage, but it was clear that the candidates were intended to sit on the stage. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, since I could already feel my speech draining from my memory; I knew there was no way I’d be able to recite my speech without my script. I also knew that standing on stage and holding up my script as I read it would look like something out of grade school. (It doesn’t help that I already look too young to run for office.)
As I pondered this problem, I met Chris Wright, another candidate. He arrived in a polo shirt and khaki pants, which made me feel like maybe my hawaiian shirt wasn’t so out of place. Chris seems like a very frank and straightforward guy; very down-to-earth. Definitely not what you’d expect from a politician.
The other candidates for the event were Mary Sally Matiella, Billy Kovacs, and Bruce Wheeler. I didn’t speak to any of them before the event, but I recognized Mary and Billy in the crowd. I didn’t know what Bruce looked like, so I couldn’t gauge my attire compared to him, but I did see Billy in a suit without a tie. So, when the time came, I decided to go the same route. I left the meeting room and changed into a nice shirt and jacket, but left the tie in my car.
I’m flattered to say that I got a few looks as I entered the room again. Apparently, I look much sharper in my suit. Who knew? I’m much more comfortable in a regular button-up shirt, but alas, this is the uniform of the trade. Plus, given the contents of my speech, I think delivering it in a hawaiian shirt may have detracted from the serious tone of my words.
Eventually, it was show time. The candidates took their seats on stage: two young men (me and Billy), two older men (Chris and Bruce), and two ladies (Alison and Mary Sally). We didn’t have assigned seats, but we ended up oddly symmetrical.
The presentation began with the president of RepresentMeAZ, Marion Chubon, introducing the organization. RepresentMeAZ is a SuperPAC: a political organization that can’t directly support candidates with monetary donations, but which can otherwise support candidates in indirect ways including promotional advertisements, negative ads against opponents, and all sorts of other things. RepresentMeAZ in particular is dedicated to having southern Arizona represented by someone willing to communicate with their constituents, which effectively means that they’re actively opposed to Martha McSally. Which is why they showcased her competition at this event.
The event also featured some audio from a couple of meetings people have had with Martha McSally, in which she made some… unfortunate comments. Not the least of which being times when she’s whined about people expecting her to talk to them. To me, her refusal to take any sort of responsibility for this backlash against her is the most damning mark against her.
And then the speeches began.
First up was Alison, who became my hero when she set the standard of leaving the stage to use the podium. She spoke passionately against the anti-intellectual direction the country is headed with the election of Donald Trump, and she got the crowd fired up with some of her comments. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember what they were. I wasn’t in a position to take notes, so I can only recount based on remembered impressions.)
Next up was Billy, who likewise took to the podium, even though I don’t think he had notes. He’s very stately: tall, with a coloring that makes him look to me like a young, yet tall and lanky JFK. He spoke about canvassing, meeting people who hadn’t met a politician in years and years, and I thoroughly appreciated his approach in that regard; making people who felt forgotten feel important again. I very much hope to do the same.
Mary Sally Matiella decided against using the podium, instead staying on the stage to give her speech without referencing notes. I was a bit worried that this route would make those of us using scripts look like amateurs, but I don’t feel like that was the case. Mary spoke about her impressive history, working her way from being poor to being appointed to an administrative position by President Obama. Unfortunately, she kinda rambled on for a bit, even after her assistant gave her several signs that her time was up. Then, way past up. In the end, I’m not sure how much of her message really stuck with people.
Then it was my turn. I went to the podium and delivered my speech. You can read my speech here. I delivered it well enough, I think. If I stumbled, I don’t remember doing so. I wasn’t as animated as I wanted to be, and there was this moment when I intended to dramatically snap my finger that didn’t quite have the effect I intended, but all in all I said what I wanted to say with confidence.
I looked up several times during the speech to see how it was going over. And for every person that seemed thoughtful, there was another person that looked uncomfortable with what I was saying. My words were unexpected and, in some cases, unwelcome. Whether they liked it or not, though, I hope the speech was memorable.
Unfortunately, the adrenaline rushing through me after I gave my speech kinda makes the details of what happened immediately afterward kinda hazy. But I’ll recall what I can:
After me was Bruce Wheeler, who spoke about his own political experience and his determination to get involved in politics again after Trump was elected. (He’s a former state legislator.) He spoke about putting his kids through… I believe some Ivy League schools? I don’t recall, but it sounded expensive. Bruce seemed very polished, and he spoke well, but he didn’t stick around after the event, and unfortuantely I never got to speak with him personally.
Chris went last, and I’d say he was anything but polished. He spoke entirely unscripted, and was just generally very conversational for a while. What stuck out to me most was the fact that, like me, he’s got a full-time job to do when he’s not campaigning. He’s got bills to pay, and they won’t wait until the election is over to come due. I could definitely relate to that, and it does make me wonder how people find the time to run for office if they’re not retired or rich.
After the speeches, RepresentMeAZ continued to talk about the work they’ll be doing, inviting people to join their efforts, and allowing presentations from other groups working toward the same goal in different ways.
At some point, we candidates were invited to leave the stage, so we did so. Billy, ever the gentleman, offered a hand to Mary Sally Matiella as she descended the stairs. I was right behind Mary so, as a joke, I waited expectantly for Billy to offer me a hand down as well. He seemed taken aback for a second, saying, “you probably don’t…” But then he smiled and offered his hand, I took it, and those who watched the exchange got a laugh. Cheers to Billy for being a good sport.
Those who were willing to speak to me after the event seemed pretty impressed. Even other candidates told me I gave them something to think about, which was really encouraging to hear.
Not all of the feedback was positive, of course. One person thought my speech was good, but she was pretty frank about wanting someone who would stand stronger for women. And while I think I would stand pretty strong for women’s rights, it’s true that, as a man, I’ll never be able to advocate for women as effectively as a woman can. (McSally notwithstanding.)
That said, while I am campaigning on a platform of discussion and representing the district above my own personal views, there are a few hills I’m willing to die on. Civil rights, including gender equality, is one of those hills.
Another criticism I saw was an accusation that I’m a Blue Dog, which I thought was interesting. Blue Dogs, if you’re not familiar with the term, are a group of conservative Democrats, classically considered to be holdovers from when the Democratic Party was more moderate/conservative. They were originally party loyalists who, even when the party was moving further left, they would “sooner be a blue bog than a Republican.” As a “country over party” politician who was a dedicated independent until about two years ago (when I saw the chance to help an independent candidate become the Democratic presidential nominee), I find the idea of me being a Blue Dog pretty funny. However, I can understand that perception, since my speech didn’t exactly make my very liberal views clear, much less my tentative relationship to the Democratic Party. In making my case for representational integrity, I incidentally come off as a moderate.
And then, of course, I got this lovely (if somewhat backhanded) compliment: “You’ll knock ‘em dead in ten years.” Which reminds me that to many people I likely appear to be about 12 years old despite being in my 30s. (I’ve also been called a sort of Doogie Howser; and since I understand that reference, I can’t be that young.)
All of which tells me things that I need to do in order to more effectively present my message. I think my message is memorable, but I’m not sure I effectively tied that message to me as a person, which isn’t good: people have to both remember me and my message. To do that, and to make people take me more seriously, I need to present more about myself; especially stories that exhibit my experience and qualifications. Luckily, I’ll have more opportunities in the future.
I stayed at the YWCA long after giving my speech, talking with people and shaking hands until the only people left were the people who ran the event. Then, I spent some time helping to clean up a bit before I left. It was the least I could do for the people who gave me this opportunity.
All in all, it was a really good event. I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to speak to a crowd.