September 18, 2014

Yesterday we had the hearing on whether or not my name would stay on the ballot. It had good press coverage, but I found it hard to figure out how to handle both being focused on the case, as the attorney presenting it, and the media opportunity it afforded a candidate.

Since the campaign depended upon success in the matter, I made a public relations faux pas by trying my hardest to keep focused on the legal issues. It taught me why people hire an attorney. It enables them to play to the media while without having to focus on the issue.

The good news is that we survived. I found the challenge quite worthy in that any action should be able to stand up to scrutiny, that crazy old idea of if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger keeps running through my mind. And, why not? We test in science. We have proof in mathematics. Yet we somehow have little testing of our words.

It was great that we prevailed, but I probably violated a rule of politics. For some reason, I find it hard to proclaim loudly, “We won”. In politics there is no mercy and every positive is inflated. It was the perfect moment to celebrate to the media, but that seemed so wrong to me on so many levels. Celebrate? Really?

The truth is that my actions were challenged and they proved worthy, little more. My respect grew for those making the challenge. In fact, I have a friendship with the person making the challenge in that I often would appear before a local board of which he is a member. In that he fell into the trap set to bring on press coverage, if he had been reading this campaign journal, he could have avoided it. I do not feel guilty that he did, but I am not inclined to rub his nose in it. He was doing his job, albeit in a somewhat predictable manner.

As I write I am trying to work my way through it all. The proper political move here would be to gloat over a victory. Politicians do it all the time, and I am probably giving bad advice to say, don’t. Gloating over a victory does little to move forward. There is pleasure in having your position upheld as sound, but to laud it over others is just plain wrong, especially when you want to bring people together instead of dividing them. Outright gloating makes one seem so small.

Also, there is always that old political gem “Be careful of the toes you step upon on the way up because they are connected to the ass you will kiss on the way down”. Always be gracious in victory. It is goodwill in the bank. You may use it someday or die with tons of it on account. It’s life.

The initial challenging always brings fear and internal questioning. Did I do all that I was required to do? As an attorney, I often get served papers on behalf of a client. No matter how many times it occurs, and even though it is not me, it stirs an internal sensation.

The point here is that one must learn to accept a challenge to what you present. When you get the backlash, take a deep breath, put down the thought for a brief period of time (especially if you were angered or shaken), and then return to it with a mental problem solving mode.   It is always helpful to have sage advice, those people who tell you ‘don’t do anything rash’.

Thus, my point. In politics, you have to make rash decisions. You are often asked questions that make you awkward. Knowing this can allow you to prepare a strategy for interacting with the press.

I have always taken the road of trying to tactfully answer the questions. With the freedom this campaign has afforded me, I am experimenting with a theory of just being what you are. I guess what I am trying to say is that in past campaigns I would not lie, but I would couch my words to blunt them. This time out I am letting me be me. I am not sure how this will work out, so take this with a grain of salt.

Too often on the campaign trail the media will confront you with questions phrased to elicit a standard response. Fear limits the reply. We all have skeletons in our closets. It is just that some of us have bigger closets. If you are going to be in the public, realize that you are living in a fish bowl. This should not limit your life, but know that you will be challenged on it someday.

Never deny the truth because you are uncomfortable with it. Face it. It is easy to raise your guard when confronted by a reporter, but to evade gives them reason to dig further, finding what you were hiding, and then expose what you were hiding and having grounds to call you a liar. The rule here is not to volunteer (you’re not on the Springer show), but work on being direct and firm in giving a reply. On a rare occasion you will get bitten by this rule, but you have always the credibility to have the explanation proffered to be received with far less skepticism.

As to the Board of Elections yesterday, traditionally thought of as a place for political cronies, I was highly impressed by them. Of course this is easy to say because of the outcome, but it goes further. Having been before this board several times in the last twenty years, I noted that the professionalism had grown. The manner in which the Board engaged in serious and thoughtful analysis of each issue made me comfortable. If we had not prevailed, we would have appealed, but I would not feel the members were political hacks as well as being wrong on the law. If we were denied in this case, I would only feel that they had misinterpreted the law. The bottom line is that I was impressed and would have been so even if my position was rejected.

From a strategy perspective, today is the last day of the media fest. There is no more build up to the race. There will be far less coverage. It will be fish wrapper in another news cycle. Don’t get anxious to push. Sometimes it is the best to let people relax. If you pick up three on the front page or the lead news story, count your blessings. You had your moment in the sun, it set, wait for tomorrow.

Traditional logic would seem to have it continue. Go against the grain here. People get tired of the seeing the same face. Wait a few days, a new issue will come up. If not, raise one. The breather is really healthy. Over-exposure is as bad as under-exposure. Make the point, move on. It will be all right.

In the fallow time, catch up with your social stuff. Reply personally to emails. Read up on the policy matters for which your position was requested. Take the time and use it wisely for thought. You will need to be prepared.

Finally, the strategy move of the day was providing the response to the objection to the media when filing it. The media has all the paperwork in hand about two hours before the hearing. They were then able to read it, digest it, and have it played out in front of them. I allowed for clearer coverage, less misreporting, and a heightened interest in the matter.

Legal paperwork is usually a public document unless such is prohibited by the rules. Most lawyers choose to keep the paperwork’s exposure limited. Why? I’m not sure. If you have media in the courtroom and you are merely handing out public documents, who cares? Without the papers they are watching a ball game without a program. You may know what you are speaking about, but without the writings, they don’t. As such, your asking for the media to mess up the story. Unless you have privileged communication, share it freely.

By providing the documents, they will have the names and other vital information related to the story. Their reporting will look more informed and you will not have to waste time on questions that move the moment from the issue. Media people know how to read. The job is made much easier when the facts are at hand and the only discussion with the candidate relates to the real issue.

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