From the trenches: Discouraging words

In keeping with the full transparency I promised, here's an update on my campaign activities.

The mainstream media blackout on my campaign for governor continues, even as regular people from around the state reach out to ask how they can help. Folks are finding me through friends of friends and in online forums. The Indy Week article by Bob Geary is still a major source in inquiries.

When I ask people what interests them about my candidacy, their answers are pretty similar. They like the fact that I’m an independent Democrat, and they like that I am more than willing to call a spade a spade. Those two things alone may be enough to doom my campaign.

Many people want to know why I’m not accepting contributions, and whether I eventually will. That’s a tough question to answer. Having contributed tens of thousands of dollars to other candidates in recent years, I know that it takes money to run effective campaigns. Yet at the same time, I can’t ignore the corrosive effects of “democracy for sale” everywhere I look. Money is a malignant cancer in our political system. That’s why I returned contributions of more than $5000 this week to well-intentioned donors.

On occasions when I’ve been able to connect with people who don’t live and breathe politics, the experience this week has been mostly discouraging. People don't seem to think things will get better. They understand that we have auctions instead of elections, but they don’t believe there’s anything that can be done. They are resigned to a system where the rich get richer and everyone else gets run over. They resent celebrity politics, but see no practical alternative.

Even good friends of mine smirk behind my back at my unconventional ideas and my outsider campaign. Well-connected and well-heeled, they relish their insider status. “It is what it is,” they say, as they write big checks to corporate Democrats. “If you don’t play the game, you don’t count.”

I say screw the game. There has to be a better way.


I say change the game.

Render the big-money donors to the flabby corporate jackasses irrelevant.

How exactly that's done is a different question, but I admire the stand you're taking.

That's the aspiration

the challenge is getting there, as you say. The primary isn't until May, 2016.

No risk of peaking too early.

: )

There is a better way

I say run your campaign the way you feel campaigns should be ran. And when you do decide to start taking donations, tell prospective donors they are buying a better future for all North Carolinians, not just for those who can afford to buy a better future.

But to temper that, I would tell them you'd love their feedback on whatever policies they consider important. If they already know you, then they'll know you will genuinely and objectively deliberate on their words. If they don't already know you, at least they will come away from that conversation knowing where you stand on pay-to-play politics. I think a lot of folks (even lobbyists) would find that refreshing.

Democratic Party

The existential dilemma with money is at the front of this challenge. I'm a Democrat because the Democratic Party looks more like North Carolina than the Republican Party or the Libertarian Party.

But money introduces a different variable in the calculus. People who give money don't look at all like the Democratic Party or any other party. They look like people who give money. Accepting money means accepting that bias as the foundation of politics.

I get that it IS the foundation, but I also believe it is a foundation that is morally and ethically corrupt.

Elected officials spend half of their time raising money. Time they are theoretically, at least, supposed to be spending at work on behalf of people.

It's a sick system.


Financing a campaign with many small contributions can help trans-formative progressive leaders get in the "game" and, simultaneously, give "ordinary folks" skin in the game. I send you $10 because I want you to be my voice. There is nothing wrong with accepting contributions from those who expect nothing more than your best.

There is NO denying that financing is needed to make a serious run at public office; how do well intended visionary leaders hope to break the grip of big money if they remain neutered? Some compromise must be made with extreme ideology.

Is it possible that the media "blackout" of which you speak is nothing more than outlets not wanting to waist their time and money covering a campaign that will most likely die on the vine? It's like a grocery store not offering shelf space to a product that won't be around to fulfill orders no matter how potentially high the demand; come back when you have a factory that can supply demand.

I loath the auction process that our elections have become as much or more than anyone, but may I propose that you should give the public a chance to fight back. Folks want to give you contributions because they long to be represented honestly; they like your ideas and want to help you gain momentum.

- just my humble opinion. I wish you all the best whichever way you choose to go with your campaign.


Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You're right as far as you go, but I think the challenge may be more systemic. I'm reminded of tribes organizing themselves to reject disruptive outsiders.

On the media side, reporters have been busy keeping track of the insanity in Raleigh. What's more, many don't like me. I've been harsh critic from the earliest days of BlueNC, and still am. With the governor's race three years away, they can comfortably make the case that this campaign isn't worth attention. They are "very serious people" who know how the game is played. Anyone who doesn't go along is sidelined. This is true even of my friends. As I said in the original post, it's been discouraging, but not surprising.

Yet the "system" isn't limited to media and friends. The Democratic Party itself is in disarray, torn between its institutional traditions and its obvious need for change. Party stalwarts are waiting for a messiah in a pin-striped suit who will step up, heal the rifts and lead forward. Political correctness is the coin of the realm, and candidates who don't kiss rings don't count. If I were an insider, I'm sure I'd see it the same way.

Finally, for all the talk about transparency and openness, the establishment prefers to operate behind closed doors. Republicans have taken secrecy to an art form, but Democrats suffer from the same tendencies, too. That's why I call myself and "independent Democrat" ... espousing Democratic values, but distancing myself from so many party machinations.

As a candidate, I can report that the Democratic Party, both the old and new guard, has done nothing to welcome or support me. Given the state of things, this is probably a good thing.

I understand that I have made my bed as an outsider and have no right to object when I'm treated as such. Indeed, I hope my comments here and in the original post don't come across as complaining.

My intention with these occasional updates is to report on where things are, inside my head and within my nascent campaign. That's what i mean when I talk about transparency. A campaign fully visible and open to as much scrutiny as I can possibly manage.

That's all good and true, yet

That's all good and true, yet - even if all you want to do is travel to the corners of NC speaking the truth to voters, you still need gas money.

What if ...

You could network and get a set of speaking engagements around the state, with someone in the local community acting as your sponsor - paying for your gas to get there (or the next engagement) and making sure you've got a place to stay for the night.

It's a start.

NC's first indie campaign

Have you ever considered how a political campaign is like trying to get a hit song or movie?

You're not taken seriously as a musician or filmmaker by the media unless you have the backing of a major label or a film studio. These big companies open doors - they have money, a whole system for publicity and selling you to the media and the public, and outlets to sell your final product.

If you're in indie musician or filmmaker, you have to take a different approach. You can spend a lifetime trying to get the attention of some bigwigs in the "biz" or you can reject all that and go out on your own.

However, indie hits do happen. It takes hard work by the artist and a network of friends to push work directly to the public and get attention.

If you've got kids, you might have heard them listening to the number one track on the Billboard charts right now - Macklemore's "Thrift Shop". He's been working as an indie rap artist in Seattle, building a following for several years "under the radar". He's not even signed to a label. But, his YouTube video of the song was the foundation to take his music beyond his small core group of fans.

Similar things keep happening with other musicians. Sometimes, through building networks, they get attention for their work in nightclubs or hitting just the right blogs with their music. Many use this as a stepping stone for a distribution deal with one of the major labels - they're still "indie", without a long term contract, but the major label wants a piece of the action and the prestige that comes from discovering something new. And you see the same thing with the film industry (look at "Blair Witch Project", "Paranormal Activity").

James, perhaps you should be reading some books and poking around on the web looking at how indie musicians, filmmakers and authors are breaking out to a national audience. You're not trying to sell a rap song or a horror film, but you're doing the same kind of guerrilla marketing.

The thing to remember is that even if you don't have money and aren't "blessed" by the powers that be, if the public starts getting interested, the media and the bigwigs follow.

Fabulous thinking

These are some very great insights and feel right on the money to me. Indeed, it may even make sense to tap into musicians here in North Carolina, real people in real towns who may be willing to use their voices to "rock the vote" so to speak.

Thanks for posting this. Much, much appreciated.

PS I'm planning to produce some manifesto-style videos later this summer. Your comments here are causing me to raise that project to a whole new level. Exciting!

I second the comment about small donations.

I understand your desire not to be, or even appear to be, beholding to any monetary source. So, set a limit of $50 or whatever you're comfortble with and let people help you help them.

A few other random thoughts: I sincerely hope you will run and win. However, even if you don't win you can help shape the conversation and that's important too. The New Hanover Dems are having a soiree nxt week I think.. Deb Butler will be there. Maybe you could contact the New Hanover D's or Ms. Butler and get an invite and some time to speak. Talk about your arrest and what's going on and why you're running.

Stan Bozarth

could have been a mistake to return that money.

If you really want to shake things up, you need some seed money. I would have hoped that you had sent those contributors a bumper sticker, lapel pin and a request that they host an event for you at some point in the campaign. If people are willing to help, then you should let them. Returning their money is very deflating. Perhaps you could limit future donations to 100$ - a dollar for each county.
If you are really all in, then be All In. Otherwise you will just be the guy yacking on the sidelines, or, even worse, yelling from the cheap seats.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?