Today is a day to address the concept of endorsements.
While it is usually great to be endorsed by a group, the best advice to independent and third party candidates is to graciously accept any that are given, but do not seek them.
Endorsements, in most cases, do not come for free. They are not legally tied to the endorser, but they are tied inherently to the endorser. Since this ‘wink and nod’ is usually in the form of a quid pro quo, avoid it.
This does not mean that you reject invitations to speak to a group. I usually accept all of them, and often go into these meetings with a broad disclaimer along the lines of “I am here to speak to the issues of concern expressed by your group. I am not asking for your endorsement. I am a candidate and would like to understand the issues. Let’s talk.”
This approach makes few friends, but you will see that they will adjust to the curve ball and start to speak to you as to their agenda. It is very insightful for a candidate and I highly recommend it.
There are several strategic reasons for doing this. First, you show them that even though you may completely disagree with them, you will give them the time of day and give them the respect that they deserve.
Second, you can learn from the experience. Do not waiver or bend. They, as you, believe strongly in their position. They will tell you why you are not in sync with their position. You will tell them why you cannot support theirs. Do not go unprepared to these meetings. You will be hit with one or two questions that you may not have a full grasp on, but if you have at least made the effort to read their materials, you may not get their vote, but you will gain their respect.
Third, by taking the endorsement off the table, you can speak your mind. You don’t have to kowtow to the audience. You are not there to make friends, you are there to speak the truth as you see it.
Humor me a bit while I tell my favorite endorsement story. In one of my runs for Lieutenant Governor, I was invited to speak to the National Education Association. I went. The NEA was the teacher union in Warren during the 1985 teacher strike. I entered with the premise outlined above.
We spent my interview discussing actual issues related to education and where I agreed with their education positions and where we disagreed. It was a thought provoking hour which I think benefitted both sides. We didn’t talk about election politics, we talked about education.
I had, prior to the term on the school committee, been a classroom teacher. I had degrees in teaching fields and had done my PhD coursework in Comparative Education. I could speak their language despite our disagreements over funding.
A few days later I received a telephone call. The caller asked me if I would accept the endorsement if it were offered to me. I indicated that I had not been seeking it but would accept it if offered. I asked why they would endorse me in light of the past conflicts. The answer was that they had interviewed candidates and found that my understanding of education and its concerns were superior to the others and that despite our disagreements over funding, at least they knew me and that, while they staunchly opposed my funding, they knew they could count on my word as my bond. They preferred dealing with the Devil they knew.
After a discussion of how their endorsement would not really appeal to their membership in that there are, even to this day, open wounds from the 85’ strike, I told them I appreciated their offer but they should reconsider it.
I was not endorsed in that race. That union withheld its endorsement. Now that is a nicely negotiated compromise, wouldn’t you say? I respect them for their professionalism.
My point is that endorsement meetings can be worth the time.
LESSON FIFTEEN: DO NOT AVOID ANY OPPORTUNITY TO MEET AND DISCUSS YOUR ISSUES, EVEN IF YOU PERCEIVE IT AS AN EFFORT IN FUTILITY. WHILE THERE IS OFTEN TREPIDATION PRIOR TO MEETING WITH THOSE WHO HAVE A DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE POSITION TO YOU, SPEAK YOUR MIND, THEN, PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANLY, LISTEN. YOU DO NOT GO TO THESE MEETINGS TO MAKE FRIENDS, YOU GO THERE TO SHOW MUTUAL RESPECT AND GAIN UNDERSTANDING.
In this campaign I am seeking only one endorsement, that of the people. While it may sound somewhat trite, I cannot avoid the honesty that it represents for me. I want the people to unite in an effort that will right the ship of state. I cannot say it will come without pain, but I can say it comes from a place where the brain and the heart meet.
No one likes to cut back. No one likes to pay past due bills. No one likes to be chided for past errors. No one likes to be told no. I understand that, but such avoidance of the problems will never lead to solutions. Rhode Island must take its medicine, like it or not.
My point here is that if you are sincere, people can sense it and your opponents will be set at a disadvantage. They have spent the last few months, if not years, putting on the fakeness to raise money, making alliances to gain endorsements, and selling themselves for a few bits of campaign gold. It cannot feel good and don’t let them justify it or rationalize it. They are internally awkward where you can be stable.
Today the campaign is firming up its calendar, getting out a letter to supporters as to campaign help, researching a few issues to validate a written piece coming out next week, answering correspondence where possible, and attempting to write a position paper on education.
Also, today I will be attending the polo match to interact with folks. And, I am told that the Democrats for Healey are hosting a “Bowling with Bob” event in Johnston, and I have accepted the invitation. The public is invited and all profits are going to charity. I’ll be there.