The Second Dumbest thing I Ever Did.
No, I don't talk about it much. But occasionally someone reminds me it happened and I sort of shudder. So I'll just give you the short version, and leave it at that.
There was a short period after Sam Farr left the 27th District Assembly seat to join the House of Representatives and there was a new election coming up. The Republican candidate, Bruce McPherson, was running unopposed in a generally Democratic region. The local Santa Cruz candidate who people were expecting to run (Fred Keely) had dropped out, and there were no other local Democrats yet interested in filling the spot.
I'd been listening to Jello Biafra's spoken word CD on how to run for public office, and was unemployed. So on a lark I went down to the County Election office and said "Hi, I want to run for State Assembly."
The county workers were very nice to me, and laid out exactly what I had to do to get on the ballot. I had to either gather 1500 valid signatures (which really means 2000 signatures and a statistical verification that typically declares 25% invalid) or pay $500. At the time I wasn't in that kind of financial bracket.
Friends gathered about 80-100 signatures, and I personally gathered about 400 myself. They had to be from registered Democrats, since I was running for the Democratic primary, but I brought along voter registration forms and registered about 100 Democrats, 30 Greens, and a highly suspicious Republican.
Him: "Are you going to let me register, even though I'm a Republican?"
Me: "Sure, I've got plenty of forms."
Him: "How do I know you won't just throw the form away?"
Me: "The form has prepaid postage, and there's a mailbox right behind you."
Him: Grumble...grumble... "I guess I can respect that. You must not be a real liberal."
I held a geek fundraiser at my house to get some money (you can gather half the signatures and pay $250, or 300 signatures and $400, or any combination you can manage). It rained like hell that night,, very people showed up, and my total contributions included two $20 checks, a $50 check and a $1 bill. Rather than go through the paperwork involved in declaring campaign contributions, I returned two of the checks and tore up the third.
Then a relatively big-name Democratic candidate named Bill Monning joined the election. He had a real campaign staff, and ran on an "I don't take special interest money" platform. (This was a popular tactic in the early 1990s, until it became rather clear that it was a sure-fire way to lose.) He even called me up, offering me a job on his staff, which I politely declined. But it was pretty clear at that point I wasn't going to end up on anyone's radar, and I ran out of steam before I was able to put myself on the ballot. To his credit, Monning's workers gathered all 1500 signatures. McPherson just wrote a check, ran a well-funded campaign, and wiped the floor with Monning in the election.
To be honest, I don't really like talking or thinking about the experience, because I hate the feeling that I just did it to have a funny story to tell when I was older. (Which is probably, truth be told, why I did it.) I hated stopping people on the street corners, grubbing for their signatures, firing out the same ten-second sound bites on why you should vote for me to each person as they approached. It gave me a quick understanding of why politicians sound as fake as they sound, and become as fake as they are. You stand by the bus stop. You wait for the bus to unload. You have twenty seconds to stop as many people as you can, and a lengthy discussion with one interested individual means losing the signatures of five less interested voters. It's a microcosm, sure, but I firmly believe the principle scales all the way up.
I'm not really sorry or proud that I ran. I feel like I understand the process a little better, and in the end the part that makes me happiest is registering a few more voters.
And for the record, I kept the $1 bill.