Enough about me. What are some other people saying about Tuesday’s results? Here’s a sample:
There’s a certain amount of bitterness and disgust expressed in some of those posts about the more ridiculous results from Tuesday. I understand the sentiments, but I don’t think we really understand why these things happen. Frankly, as hard as some of those Harris County results are to swallow, I’m still reeling from the lopsided loss by first term SBOE member Michael Soto, who was clubbed by a novice candidate who basically ran no campaign and had no online presence. Maybe it was being connected to my alma mater that was the reason; in addition to Professor Soto, Trinity alums Brianna Hinojosa-Flores and Leif Olson also got thumped. Makes as much sense as anything else, right?
Obviously, that’s a silly reason. What can we learn from this? I don’t believe turnout level is a factor – remember, Mark Thompson waltzed to an easy win for the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 despite running against a former elected official and a two-time nominee for the office, both of whom collected all the endorsements and had actual, organized campaigns and simple names to boot. Arguably, the way to avoid these bizarre results is to have even less turnout, as long as it was the right turnout. Surely we agree that the subset of well-informed voters, however big or small that group may be, would not have nominated Lloyd Oliver and Kesha Rogers. Clearly, there were enough voters who didn’t know enough about the candidates they were presented with. What are we going to do about that?
What we should not do is reflexively dismiss these voters as stupid. As is often the case during a non-partisan election, I was asked by numerous friends for voting advice. These are intelligent, connected people, with busy lives and limited information before them. Most of them had likely not had the chance to meet a candidate in most of these races. I think the last time I was visited by a candidate was for the 2009 special election in District H. They might have gotten some mail and maybe a couple of calls – mostly of the robo variety – but there was nothing on TV or the radio or in the Chronicle. Sure, you can find some information online – if you know who the candidates are to begin with – but let’s be honest, many campaign websites and Facebook pages are crappy, and again there’s not much news coverage out there for these lower profile races. How is someone who wants to make an intelligent choice but doesn’t have the time or the opportunity to attend a bunch of campaign events to know?
For starters, I suggest we all need to come to grips with the fact that campaigns and candidates really do need money to effectively communicate their message. More basically than that, candidates need money to introduce themselves to the voters in the first place. A familiar name means a lot. More than endorsements, clearly, which brings up a tangential matter, namely that far too many endorsing organizations do a piss poor job of communicating their preferences to their presumably intended audience. Take a look at the endorsements linked on my 2012 Primary page. See how many of them are Google docs and not links? Many of them were created or uploaded by me from the email sent out announcing the endorsements. I’d often hear of an endorsement from a candidate’s email or Facebook page, and I’d have to go hunting high and low to find it online, or I’d have to send an email requesting a doc be sent to me. And usually, that would be the end of it. How exactly does that help the organization’s preferred candidates? I continue to be boggled by how capriciously these things are treated. Not all organizations are this way, of course – the AFL-CIO and the GLBT Political Caucus are two shining examples of how to do it right – but far too many are. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Every endorsing organization should at the very least have a regularly updated webpage on which it posts its list of endorsed candidates for all to see. This is an incredibly low bar to clear.
I digress. An online presence, for candidates and for endorsing organizations, should be a minimum for being taken seriously. It’s a cheap and efficient way of communicating. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that having a Facebook page with a couple hundred Likes is a sufficient communications plan. Speaking as someone who has a regularly updated webpage, getting people to actually look at your online content is not so easy. It’s a component of a good communications strategy, not the be all and end all of it. Which gets us back to money, because a candidate who tries to do communication and outreach cheaply is a candidate who isn’t doing much, if any, communication and outreach. We can gripe all we want about Texas being a big ol’ ATM for national Democrats, but what are we doing about it? We need to put our own candidates first and help them help themselves.
This is what I’ve come up with after 24 hours of thought. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Complaining may make you feel good – Lord knows, I understand that feeling – but ultimately it’s not helpful. This is where we are, and it’s not where we want to be. It’s up to all of us to figure out how to get there.