Running for the very first time
Massachusetts candidate describes his run for state representative
by Mark Miller, Green-Rainbow Party
One April morning in 2010, I became a Green Party candidate. I was one of many supporters out to help Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein lobby against a proposal allowing casino gambling and slot machines. After an encounter with Chris Speranzo, the non-responsive Democratic state representative from my district, I decided to run for office to replace him.
When informed that Green-Rainbow candidates didn’t accept contributions from corporations or lobbyists, people were even more receptive.
In two weeks, by the April 28 deadline, I had gathered more than the required 150 certified signatures of registered voters needed to get a line on the ballot. My name would appear on the ballot in the 3rd Berkshire District with Green-Rainbow Party (GRP) below my name as a candidate for the state House of Representatives. With no Republican or other candidate running, I was the first post-primary opponent for Speranzo since his election in an April 2005 special election.
My run was predicated on being a former Democrat (until October 2009). I was able to articulate Green positions on issues including single-payer health insurance, and the un-sustainability of “free market” economic growth. I was also able to help the statewide ticket in Berkshire County by becoming a second GRP candidate for the House (in addition to Scott Laugenour in the adjoining 4th Berkshire District) and possibly unseating an incumbent Democrat.
Locally, as elsewhere in the country, incumbency is not an automatic advantage. Fairly or not, Speranzo was not seen as a particularly energetic or hardworking representative. Throughout the United States the hope that Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign engendered was turning sour after a year of a presidency in which he pursued wars abroad while collaborating at home with Congressional Democrats to forbid discussion of single-payer health insurance.
In a January 2010 special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death, Republican state Sen. Scott Brown had defeated Democratic Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley by a comfortable margin. Many voters who normally voted Democratic either stayed home or voted for Brown as a protest.
While collecting signatures for myself and for the state-wide Green-Rainbow ticket, I learned that many people seemed not only down on incumbents, but on both major parties. When informed that Green-Rainbow candidates didn’t accept contributions from corporations or lobbyists, people were even more receptive. Many indicated they would sign just to get some new people on the ballot, a hint they would probably vote for another candidate if they voted at all. Some brightened at the opportunity to sign for a minor-party or independent candidate. I increasingly described the GRP as a party independent of big money and politics as usual.
A surprising number of people I approached for their signatures expressed disgust with politics, with office seekers of any stripe and with government in general. Typical comments were: “I never vote” and “Don’t want any part of it.” They were incredulous about either the genuineness or efficacy of the Green-Rainbow Party’s clean government bent and seemed to have a mixture of pride and bitterness in their apartness. My soliciting their participation and support only confirmed to them that I was a politician to be avoided. Some indicated they felt betrayed. Others were simply apathetic, tuned out.
In this climate my poor excuse for a campaign began. It was conceived late, ill-planned, underfunded, and understaffed. I didn’t start running nearly full-time until about ten weeks before the election and it was a one-man show until the last few weeks. Nevertheless, on Nov. 2, I got 45 percent of the votes to my opponent’s 55 percent. I won only my own precinct (not by much), while he took the 11 others (also not by much).
I did as well as I did because of a combination of the incumbent’s negatives and my positives. It was leaked that Speranzo was seeking the position of District Court clerk magistrate, which would have nearly doubled his legislative salary, but required him to leave the job for which he was running. He wouldn’t comment. He didn’t campaign. He declined to appear in the only debate scheduled. He did not respond to a local weekly newspaper’s brief published questionnaire. The grandson of a respected union leader, he declined to appear at an annual labor breakfast or at a candidates’ forum given by the retirees of two union locals. I did.
I got favorable publicity by The Berkshire Eagle, and The Pittsfield Gazette. Speranzo got the opposite. I benefited from years as a reporter, editor and co-owner of The Eagle, whose reporting declined sharply after its sale in the mid-1990s. Also I had a website I updated nearly every day, advertising its URL — markmiller2010.org — in a small, green ad in the local weekly for a few weeks before election day. I took out a good, full-page ad in the weekly two weeks before the election. A popular columnist for the weekly supported me vigorously and depicted the incumbent as a hack. The Eagle published a strong letter endorsing me by a former city councilor who had nearly won the last mayoral election. A dozen or so volunteers emerged in the final weeks of the race – a few doing “standouts” with my lawn signs, others going door to door. Some were Green-Rainbow Party activists from eastern Massachusetts, but most were locals with no connection to the party. In the last days of the race, the Stein for Governor campaign made an effective radio ad that ran for a day or two.
I lost because of a combination of my opponent’s positives and my negatives: Speranzo had a college degree, a law degree and had attended the London School of Economics. He was House Vice Chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and close to leadership. His last name may as well have been spelled O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-E-D L-A-B-O-R. He had the support of the mayor and the Democratic apparatus. The pressure to get Gov. Deval Patrick re-elected to a second term helped to turn out Democratic voters. He had a war chest that he had not needed to use for himself, for lack of Republican or primary opposition. He may not have campaigned publicly, but had professional advice.
I had no campaign in the military sense the term implies – at least a few people planning, organizing and executing a candidate’s effort. I did everything myself. In the last several weeks of the race I ran out of steam and time. I did no ad for local A.M. radio. (When I heard a professionally made ad, which ran for a week, in my opponent’s voice three days before election, I knew I had lost.) I neglected to replicate for the daily newspaper the successful ad I had run in the weekly. I didn’t begin spending close to full time trying to get elected until mid-August because of my prior commitment to gather signatures, get them verified and mailed for the statewide GRP ticket. I had no organized fund-raising beyond a “Donate” button on the website (which proved faulty); the roughly $1,000 of donations from others came in entirely of their own volition. My campaign materials were not particularly well done. I turned out just one press release, which was well received, in response my opponent’s saying in a news story that my candidacy lacked credibility. My association with a gubernatorial challenger, who was seen as a potential “spoiler” in that race, was to some extent a detriment. I failed to take advantage of my opponent’s decision not to campaign. I spent too much time updating by website when much of it would have been better spent in direct contact with voters.
Nevertheless, I could have won by doing a few things differently – most importantly, forgoing collecting some 1,000 signatures, which were unnecessary for the statewide ticket. I would have had more time for putting together a good radio ad in my own voice, duplicating the Gazette ad in The Eagle, and personally campaigning.