I Am Not Qualified to Serve in Congress (And Neither is Anyone Else)

Video version of this blog post.

The Constitution of the United States does not have much to say about the job for which I am now applying. In Article I, Section 2, there are three requirements:

  1. You must be at least 25 years old.
  2. You must have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years.
  3. Upon your election, you must be an inhabitant of that state.

This is unlike other positions in our society. Doctors and attorneys must complete an accredited educational program, pass a difficult state exam, and maintain an active license. So must teachers and cosmetologists, architects and civil engineers, pilots and nurses. In the State of Indiana, massage therapists must have 625 hours of supervised classroom and hands-on instruction. To join the military, a candidate must meet physical requirements and earn a sufficient score on the ASVAB–the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Running for Congress, however, is something most anyone can do. Getting elected is about getting votes. Whether or not I am qualified to serve is not about the approval of test makers, but the approval of the people.

Approval can only be sought earnestly through humility. I am not qualified to serve in Congress. No one is. No amount of study nor any set of life experiences can prepare a person to represent their fellow citizens. That requires something far more difficult than passing an exam or convincing a small panel of experts. To serve in Congress with honor one must be trusted by the people, and trust must be earned.

I believe you should trust me and I’ve answered this question here before. I’ve talked about how trust in politicians is short supply. This is, I believe, a qualification of sorts. I am writing and sharing my views. As of this moment, eleven months before Election Day, I have 72 blog posts. I am launching an issues section on this site next week with over ten thousand words and dozens of videos. Trust is about transparency and politicians don’t often commit to sharing what is on their mind. I aim to be different.

I believe you should trust me because I have worked to be a contributing member of our community. I have served on various non-profit boards and volunteered, worked jobs and run a small business. Ask most anyone who knows me, and they will likely agree that I have made a significant, positive impact in the places I have been. But trust is also about honesty. My record, as is everyone’s, is not flawless. I have made mistakes and certainly have my professional and personal regrets. And while I do not see a benefit in broadcasting the errors of my past, I will answer when asked. This is not what politicians often do. I aim to be different.

I believe you should trust me because of my dedication. We all know the relief of a team member that shows up and does their part. Of a loved one that calls when we are struggling. Of the friend who is on time to meet for coffee. This is the person I try to be, and it is the person I want to be for the people of our district in Congress. If we have been friends on Facebook, you know that I have asked a Question of the Day virtually every single day for over ten years [1]. Trust is about reliability. I believe you can count on me. This is not what politicians often do. I aim to be different.

I am not qualified to serve in Congress. No one is. But I do seek a sliver of your time and attention. To share my thoughts and listen to yours. To travel throughout the district and show you the person I am.

Because there is one qualification that is real and essential: yours. You are qualified to make a decision. Each and every day you get to decide if I am the candidate you trust.

Thank you for your consideration.

[1] Starting August 30, 2011 and continuing for a decade, and then some.

Thankful for Traditions and Truth

Every year, we celebrate. Families travel across the county or the country to be together. Friends assemble and recipes are dusted off. We rush to stores and dig through our pantries to get the perfect ingredients. And for one long day, we give thanks. This is Thanksgiving.

Of all of the American cultural traditions, Thanksgiving stands alone. It is a modern remembrance of a harvest festival from exactly 400 years ago. The story about that event is one we all learned in grade school: a group of the first European settlers arrived the year before at Plymouth Rock, endured a harsh winter, but survived through the generosity of the local indigenous people. As a symbol of gratitude, those who survived hosted a feast of friendship. And ever since then, we Americans have done the same.

Not much of that story is true. The Pilgrims arrived on the continent four centuries after the Vikings and ninety years after the first British colonists. That winter was mild. And the Wampanoags were far more strategic in their engagement with the Pilgrims, as their community had already spent the last twenty years dealing with the annual landing of English ships. Also, we didn’t really start celebrating Thanksgiving as Americans until after the Civil War.

The real history, albeit fascinating, is not what matters. Today we are doing something which we admittedly should always be doing. Reconnecting, relaxing, and most importantly: giving thanks.

Thanks that today, we are able to be with each other.

Thanks that while we could always have more, today we have enough.

Thanks that we have a past to study, and a future to create.

And thanks that what we do not need for ourselves, we can choose to pass along to others.

Happy thanksgiving.

Television is No Place for Justice

Video version of this blog post.

Cops and lawyers fill the airwaves. CSI. Law and Order. Perry Mason. NYPD Blue. These programs have been a staple of American media culture for as long as we’ve had television. Before that there were police radio dramas, and now there are murder podcasts. We love stories about crime.

But the actual, real-world machinery of the legal system does not make for good TV. Attorneys spend most of their time doing research. Detectives write reports and deal with paperwork. Most cases are resolved long before they ever get to court [1] . This isn’t dramatic; it’s tedious. And if you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, most of what you do is wait. And wait. And wait.

In legal matters, boring is a good thing. We want justice to be balanced, fair, and cautious. We want the professionals to follow the rules precisely and without prejudice. And if a judge and jury must make a decision, it should be sober and methodical.

But when courtrooms go on television lawyers and witnesses inevitably become performers. They know that millions of viewers will hear their words and see their faces. They are no longer working to convince twelve jurors, but to win over the public. TV trials are always a circus. Those of us watching at home cannot possibly make a truly informed decision, but that’s what the coverage is guiding us to do.

As I write these words, a murder trial is blanketing our screens. Countless Americans have already decided if the accused is guilty or innocent, even though none of us are on the jury. Whatever the verdict, there will be outrage and vindication. There will be protests and celebration. And there will be condemnation again and again until the media frenzy returns for the the next trial of the century.

Certainly, lawmakers and judges could ban cameras from courtrooms. Indeed, the Supreme Court has resisted any kind of broadcast, only permitting live audio streaming due to the pandemic [2]. But the best answer may not be one of legal restraint, but of self-restraint. Instead of obsessing over a developing trial which we cannot possibly influence, we could choose to do something else. We can turn off our screens and talk to each other.

This is not a football game, where amateur commentary is fun and mostly harmless. Where the losing team still gets paid. This is justice. This is real people whose lives and freedoms are at stake. What is right and wrong is unlikely to be discerned if they are playing for the cameras. The legal process, imperfect as it is, must be humbly followed.

The simplest way we can help is not to watch.

[1] Usually claimed to be upwards of 90% of cases or even 97% of cases, but probably somewhere lower although it depends on the location.

[2] https://epic.org/supreme-court-to-continue-live-audio-streaming-of-arguments-through-fall/

That Door is Locked, But It Shouldn’t Be

Video version of this blog post.

I’m sitting in a local cafe doing some writing for the campaign. In front of me is a glass door to the outside. It’s a side entrance for patrons, used mainly to reach the patio but also for those who are coming from that end of the parking lot.

Today, this door is locked. Which means on over fifteen separate occasions in the last two hours, I’ve seen someone walk up to it and pull the handle—only to discover that they cannot enter this way. Each one of them correctly deduces that the restaurant is in fact open, and they walk around to the main entrance at the front of the building.

The likely reason for this problem is that the person capable of fixing the issue is not one of the people affected by it. And that individual (who is probably the manager) is not paying enough attention to unlock the door.

Institutions of all sizes have locked doors, from the Federal government to your own employer down to this small business. A locked door, in this case, simply a pathway that should be open, but isn’t. Often it is because the person who has the keys isn’t paying attention. They aren’t trying to make it easy for everyone who needs access.

As a candidate, one of my driving principles is to be accessible. If people ask me questions, I try and respond. If they make comments on my Facebook page, I try to reply. I am not going to lock the door.

Speaking of which, last week I released a 45-second campaign video and posted it on Facebook. It was about the recent accusations made against Dr. Anthony Fauci [1]. My message was that we should pursue the truth, but we should not spread rumors.

If you click that link, you’ll see hundreds of comments. Many were personal attacks and horrific insults. But I tried to respond to as many as I could, because I will do everything I can to not lock the door. No matter what people say, I will try to respond. Because to me being a public servant means being accessible to the public.

I’m here for all the people, not just the people who agree with me.

[1] Dr. Fauci was accused of being connected to animal cruelty in medical experiments. So far this comes from one source that got a lot of the details wrong.

Small towns, big needs

Video version of this blog post.

As part of this campaign I am visiting local towns throughout the district. These are tiny municipalities. Tipton has 5,000 residents. Sheridan has 3,000 people. Arcadia has 1,500.

The people in these places have needs for their communities. They want clean parks, good schools, and the potholes to be filled in. This is what I hear when I talk to everyday people.

In Cicero, it’s the pool at Red Bridge Park that is the current hot topic. It was built in the 1980s, and fell into disrepair over time. Like many similar facilities across the country, maintenance costs continued to increase, and eventually between these problems and the pandemic, the pool was closed for a season.

Replacing a 30-year old pool is like replacing any structure of a similar age. It’s going to cost more than it did, because modern projects do more than they used to do. Filtration and security systems are more advanced, materials and design considerations make pools safer than they used to be, and the amenities we want in 2021 are not the same we wanted back in 1985. When the town council made calls to get estimates, they found price tags that pushed into six and seven digits. For a town whose budget is about $8 million a year [1], that’s just not something many councilors feel they can focus on right now.

And so, they ordered the pool to be torn down. And if you ask the residents who have been swarming these meetings and talking on the various local Facebook groups, that decision was made hastily, without enough input or sufficient transparency.

Thankfully, temperatures have fallen a bit. Residents who want a new pool are working to create a non-profit foundation and conduct a survey. But the point remains: small towns have big needs. And one of the greatest needs is for people who care about the community to show up.

As a member of Congress, I will not be able to attend as many town councils as I have been. But meeting and connecting with local leaders is absolutely essential. And understanding how Federal resources can and should be used to help communities is, to me, a critical part of this role.

Because even small towns have big needs. And their biggest need of all is to have people who care.

[1] Financial information for many parts of Indiana municipalities is available online at https://gateway.ifionline.org/public/FD/overview.aspx.

Why I’m an Independent

Many people ask me why I’m not running with one of the main political parties. They want me to be a Republican, a Democrat, or perhaps a Libertarian.

I am not. And answering this question is like working your way through a buffet. You might not like the taste of every morsel, but each is sufficient to satisfy your hunger. And you know this. You know this because every time you hear about something in politics, you can’t help but think about political parties. You wonder about private meetings and secret alliances. You know that every official who is a member of a party is being pressured by that party.

It’s happening in the news right now. The Democrats are pushing a couple of their own senators to get in line on spending bills. The Republicans are pushing their own members on the topic of the 2020 election. Federal elected officials don’t just represent voters, they represent their party. You know this.

You know that parties are a huge problem because bills have to be labeled “bipartisan.” We can’t assume they are a good idea. We have to be told that both parties are working together on these proposed laws.

You know that parties are a huge problem because research organizations have to be labeled “nonpartisan.” We can’t trust groups to do honest work without that extra adjective.

None other than George Washington thought that parties were such a terrible idea that he warned about them in his farewell address:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

George Washington, 1796

Doesn’t that sound like what’s happening today? Each election cycle is the “alternate domination” of one party “sharpened by the spirit of revenge.” That many “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.” This is what Republicans and Democrats seem to do.

I’m an independent because I’m not looking for any of those things. I don’t want to dominate. I am not out for revenge. And I certainly don’t think we need to centralize more power in elected officials.

I’m an independent because we are all, in our hearts, independents. We were created as a nation of independents when we first broke away from England, and we’ve been coming up with independent ideas and new ways of thinking ever since.

And I get that a lot of people affiliate (or even register) with a political party, but that’s not what the polls say [1]. In fact at present there are more independent voters (44%) than there are Democrat (30%) or Republican (25%).

It’s no wonder we don’t feel represented.

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/343976/quarterly-gap-party-affiliation-largest-2012.aspx

No Money Means More People

There is no problem in our political system more pernicious than money. This is what politicians do more than anything else: ask for donations. According a slide deck from the Democratic National Campaign Committee [1], freshman members of Congress should expect to spend four hours on the phone every weekday—dialing for dollars. Plus another hour at fundraising events in person.

This a real PowerPoint slide. Seriously:

It’s no wonder Congress doesn’t get much done any more. Members are spending much of their time asking people for money. And for the most part, they ask the same people for money over and over again.

It’s also getting worse because the limits of how much a person can donate keep going up and up, and because of a wide variety of campaign finance vehicles [2] that allow money to be raised and spent without much transparency.

But the main problem with money in politics is that it does a great job of keeping people out of politics. Yes, that’s right. You can’t get much access to candidates or elected officials if you haven’t spent a ton of money supporting them. Which means that most people will never donate to a political campaign, which means that most of the political process is about focusing on people who (a) have money and also (b) are willing to give it to politicians and political parties.

That doesn’t sound like democracy. Politicians should be responsive to everyone, not only donors.

And that’s one of the main reasons I’m not accepting campaign donations. I want to be available to everyone. No matter the size of your bank account.

I am running for Congress, but I am not for sale.

[1] From https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/01/14/the-most-depressing-graphic-for-members-of-congress/. It’s worse now, and of course both parties do it.

[2] Like super PACs, which you’ve probably heard of, and a bunch of other examples that are more obscure.

This Campaign is Working (And What’s Next)

Let’s review:

  1. I’m running for U.S. Congress.
  2. I have no background in politics.
  3. I’m not raising money or spending oodles of my own money.
  4. I’m promoting my campaign by word-of-mouth.
  5. It’s working.

Why do I know I’m getting traction? Lots of reasons. But first my favorite, which is data. Here’s a quick snapshot from the dashboard of my campaign website:

Ten thousands views is solid. Over three hundred visitors is solid too. And its not just here. Take a look at something from my campaign Facebook page:

And it’s not only online. I’m going to lots of community events and people recognize me from the last community event. Simply by showing up at town council meetings, for example, I’m doing something that other candidates aren’t doing.

Slow and steady progress is appealing. What I need next is to get the message out to more people in huge waves. Being retweeted by someone who has a few more followers than I do. Getting more coverage in the media. Finding a way to get exposure.

Obviously, everybody is trying to do this. If you work for a company or a non-profit, part of the budget goes to marketing. Zillions of dollars are dedicated to advertising, including roughly $10 billion per cycle on political campaigns [1]. Lots of people spend their entire working life trying to promote brands, products, or services to the general public. It’s not easy to do, and it’s definitely not easy to get a “big win” and “go viral.”

But I think I have an advantage over someone who is trying to sell a gadget or get people to listen to their podcast. I think I even have an advantage over all of those other candidates who are members of big political parties. Because I’m doing what all of us want: telling the truth. And I am not asking for your money, but only that you spread the word.

Which again, seems to be working. So pass this along to someone you know. “Regular guy running for Congress as an Independent, not raising money, not pushing a partisan agenda, who isn’t lying all the time.”

Bigger moves are coming. And I need from you is to keep spreading the word.

[1] https://theconversation.com/the-scale-of-us-election-spending-explained-in-five-graphs-130651

Why Apathy Is Winning

Earlier this week I went down to the Indiana Statehouse to speak out on redistricting. This was the third hearing I had attended in person and in each case the experience was the same. Every single member of the public who got up expressed serious concerns about the proposal. If there was the opportunity for the minority party to speak, they did the same thing.

But there were no delays, no compromises, and seemingly no interest in feedback. The vote was held on Friday and it followed party lines almost exactly.

As I said in person, this doesn’t feel like democracy. Watch for yourself:

Is it worth explaining the intricacies of why the district lines are unfair and why the process is less than transparent? Maybe. But chances are if you care about that kind of thing, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

And if you don’t care about the details, it’s only yet-another-example of corruption in our government.

The result is apathy. Most people have decided that politicians are corrupt and there’s nothing they can do about it. The redistricting hearings show that government is broken: no matter what people said, the party in power drew maps that keep them in power.

(Maps they drew behind closed doors, released and voted on within two weeks, for which underlying technical data was not immediately made available—and which will define the next ten years of districts for the state.)

How do I plan to get people to care about politics?

I don’t. I plan to talk to them as people, and work to earn their trust as a person.

Because you can’t be apathetic if you trust someone. You’re focused on them being the person they promised to be.

What Everybody Wants Except The Politicians

Most of the issues that are mentioned in political discussions are extremely contentious. That’s usually what you see presented on the news or in fiery comment threads online. It’s what you see when protestors and counter-protestors clash in public. It’s what you see when current officeholders release messages: scorched earth commentary all controversy and almost zero substance.

But it turns out that there are a handful of issues that almost everyone supports except for politicians. And all of these issues are about power and trust. For example:

Term Limits – A whopping 80% of Americans support the idea of preventing politicians from keeping the same office forever [1]. A few states have managed to do this for a few positions, but usually through citizen initiatives and not via the elected representatives. And as I’ve said before, support for term limits shows how much we distrust elected officials.

Personal Internet Privacy – Almost everyone in America feels the same way. We think that “social media companies should be regulated to protect the privacy of personal data.” And this isn’t a partisan issue: 87% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans and 86% of Independents agree with this statement [2]. Yet, we haven’t seen much lately on this topic. Which is probably because of the massive political campaign donations from tech companies [3].

Special Interest Groups – Pretty much all of us (76%) agree that the government is run by a few big organizations and wealthy individuals looking out for themselves—not by representatives and bureaucrats serving the people [4]. But since 1998, total spending on lobbying has more than doubled and shows no sign of slowing down [5].

Redistricting – This is the topic of the moment (which I’ve also talked about before) because states are required by the U.S. Constitution to redraw their lines every ten years following the Census. If you ask average people, most of them don’t think politicians should be responsible for drawing their own districts [6]. But that’s what’s happening. And if you go to the hearings (as I’ve been doing) you’ll hear citizen after citizen standing up to express concern—but no one standing up to say that they support the proposed maps.

These examples should not exist. Politicians should be talking about controversial topics, debating and studying them, listening to voters. But if an issue is one where almost everyone feels the same way, why aren’t we passing a law and moving on?

Because in many ways, the politicians aren’t here for us. They are here for themselves.

[1] Here’s one poll, and here’s a roundup of other polls from years ago, and here’s a poll suggesting widespread support for term limits even on Supreme Court justices.

[2] This comes from a 2020 poll conducted by Harvard University.

[3] The Observer has reported on these donations which tend to lean Democratic. But there hasn’t been much movement on the topic, beyond a couple of bills (like the SAFE DATA Act) which are stuck in committee.

[4] According to Pew Research in 2018. And that’s 71% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats.

[5] Probably more than doubled. A Statista chart claims an increase from $1.45B to $3.49B in the last two decades. But in truth, we really don’t know how much is being spent on lobbying, because the data isn’t coded correctly. Yikes.

[6] People generally support independent redistricting commissions.