I anticipate some blow-back on this blog post, but “since my intent is to write something useful to whoever understands it, it has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it” (Machiavelli 61).
In a previous post, we dared to ponder the question, “Do political campaigns really matter?” We looked at the curious case in Alachua County where two Republican campaigns were run in the same election cycle – one campaign was essentially a name placed on the ballot; the other campaign was a robust campaign. We observed a mere 2.2% difference in the results. We also took note of the complete dominance of the Democratic Party in Alachua County elections.
Hegemony: leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.
But we also noted the recent success of more conservative members of the Gainesville City Commission – arguably the most conservative commission in 15 years.
How do we reconcile these two things and what can we gleam from the situation in regards to campaigns and politics?
The Search for Positive Deviance
Anytime we start a new analysis, we look to see if anyone has already done the work and we look for positive deviance.
Positive deviance (PD) is an approach to behavioral and social change based on the observation that in any community, there are people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge than their peers. These individuals are referred to as positive deviants Wikipedia – positive deviance
We had mentioned before, that since 2002, 4 Republicans have won Alachua County in county-wide, partisan races.
Let’s examine these campaigns:
In the 2010 USSEN race, Senator Marco Rubio was the top voter in a three way race. So, our first strategy would be to split the hegemony’s power with a two way split. For now, we table that suggestion.
In the 2010 County Commission race, Republican Susan Baird defeated long time incumbent and current Democrat county chair, Cynthia Chestnut.
In 2006, long time incumbent Republican Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson beat unknown Eric Copeland after Copeland switched from a CFO campaign after fellow Democrat Alex Sink got into the CFO campaign. (You knew Copeland was in trouble when he launched his Agriculture Commissioner campaign with “The incumbent has done an adequate job representing the interests of Agriculture in Florida.”)
In 2004, long time incumbent Republican Steve Oelrich beat neophyte challenger Bill Davis for Alachua Sheriff.
If we look for positive deviance in all three of these victories, we see the Democrats fielding poor candidates, neophyte candidates or in the case of Cynthia Chestnut – fielding a candidate that did not campaign at all.
However, the one thing the above three positive deviances share : the Democrats screwed up. (It is not my intention to take away from the Republican campaigns because they had to be in a legitimate position to take advantage of the Democrats’ mess up.)
If we also consider the Mayor’s race of 2013, when Republican Ed Braddy beat Democrat, incumbent Craig Lowe, we see a similar event – the Democrats screwed up.
So, we have identified a second strategy : field good, legitimate Republican candidates and hope and pray the Democrats screw up.
But there is another item the winning campaigns share which brings us to the third and I believe the most important strategy: the political environment was formed before the campaigns ever took place.
If we reconsider the case of Craig Lowe, we can observe a series of events that happened well before his re-election campaign ever started.
Criag Lowe’s first term was highlighted by:
- charges of favoritism in hiring Lowe’s campaign manager as a city employee,
- Lowe’s defense of the GREC biomass energy plant and electric rate increases, and
- Lowe’s heavy handed moves to limit citizen input into government proceedings.
Another local example is the biomass issue. Nathan Skop based his campaign on the disaster that is the GREC biomass contract. He is a subject matter expert and foretold all the calamity barreling towards Gainesville. Skop was right on the issue, but lost the campaign. Why? The political environment had not been formed successfully – yet. As the issue matured and macerated, the City of Gainesville has witnessed significant political change on the City Commission.
Yet another local example is from 10 plus years ago with the fight against Alachua’s comprehensive plan – Lee Pinkoson and Cynthia Chestnut were successful in ousting two incumbents because the political environment had been formed before they entered the campaign.
The Recipe for Success
The time voters are most open to persuasion is during non-campaign contexts.
These elected officials must never have a week off. These elected officials must have every move examined with a ruthless intensity and an inexorable contrasting of values. The critique must be unrelenting, and the criticism must garner press coverage. The effort required is a long, uncivil, and confrontational process; it requires resources.
The goal is to drive the negatives of those in power to as close to 50% or higher or strategically place them on the wrong side of public opinion on issues – before any Republican campaign comes into a nascent state.
Here is the catch: There are virtually no organizations or groups willing to pay the price to do what must be done for the length of time it must be done. Not many people or organizations will risk the press labeling them malcontents or gadflies or uncivil.
Not many people are willing to be the “bad guy” for anything other than a single issue and a short period of time.
The political party can not take the lead role, because they minute they take the lead, the issue becomes partisan and it forces voters put on their partisan, team jerseys. The critique must be received before voters put on their partisan jersey because once the critique is perceived as purely partisan, the critique will not be considered. The party and politically partisan groups can play a supporting role.
The local ‘advocacy’ business groups will not play this natural role because they fear retribution and risking their prestigious goodwill. These groups continue to attempt to play an apolitical role in a political system and continue to believe politics is a genteel exercise in rationality that can be massaged and performed outside the public arena. These advocacy groups must understand the role of Solomon can be effectively played only when there are two competing sides presenting.
Political change is not rational, genteel, private nor delicate; it is the opposite.
To review the possible strategies:
- Do nothing and accept the status quo.
- Field good Republican candidates and force three way contests with liberals being 2/3 of the candidates.
- Field good Republican candidates and wait for the Democrats to screw up.
- Put in the long, controversial work needed in the form of a permanent campaign in order to form the political environment well before candidate campaigns start.
I have been espousing this recipe for several years because I believe in seizing one’s own fate. I have discussed these ideas with other political experts in depth and they agree with the recipe. So far the idea has been considered offensive and met with scorn.
I realize this recipe is controversial, but again my goal is to write something useful, not imaginary. To change the hegemony, a “political bad guy” must operate 365 days a year.
Said nicely: To make change permanent, there must be a competing viewpoint offered on a permanent, consistent and unrelenting basis. In order to do it correctly, there must be a institutionalized effort comprised of people that do not fear retribution.
Any community that desires change in a hegemony does a tremendous disservice to any candidate when they complain behind closed doors only or speak up 6 weeks before election day.
The heavy lifting and dirty work must be done before and outside candidate campaigns – after all, even Jesus needed John the Baptist to lay the groundwork for his work to be successful.