BLOG: Everyone has a windmill at which to tilt
As much as the general election was successful for DFLers, there were several DFL candidates who lost state house and senate races. Now that’s especially embarrassing when everyone else is doing great. They’re going to victory parties, you’re partying alone in your basement.
One of our community editors interviewed one of those DFL candidates who didn’t win last week. She said, in so many words, that it was our fault (as in the Sun Sailor) that she didn’t do better. We should have assigned someone to do an investigative piece on her opponent and exposed his horrible record in public office. Or so she said.
So we talked with her opponent (the guy who won) later in the week and he was aghast at the negative campaign his opponent (the DFLer who lost but would have won had we done our job) waged in the final days of the campaign.
Obviously running for office can be a frustrating experience.
I can sympathize a little with the first candidate. If you ran as a DFLer and lost on Nov. 6, it’s right to wonder if everything possible was done in the campaign process. But to blame defeat on the newspaper was a novel accusation. Actually, I’ve been accused of this in previous elections as well.
So let’s review the newspaper’s role. First, we didn’t launch investigative forays into the backgrounds of any of the candidates. I’m sure if we had, we might have discovered things that would have been newsworthy. If you dig hard enough, you can find something on anyone. We did have several people send us “dirt” on one candidate or another. In one district, one candidate sent us a poop sheet of legal entanglements his opponent had experienced – most of them decades ago.
Secondly, we’re talking about a state legislative race here. While there is an amount of importance attached to these seats, it’s not like being elected President of the United States, governor or U.S. Senator. That’s one of the things that drives me the most nuts about politicians – their overblown sense of self-worth. It’s almost a Don Quixote syndrome.
I have often had the opportunity to interview first-time candidates for lesser offices who believe they have found dozens of windmills at which to tilt. After the election, reality sets in. Suddenly they are one of 100 to several hundred people all of whom have windmills, and few of them are tilting at the same ones.
The degree to which a candidate overcomes that reality is the degree of effectiveness that elected official comes to exhibit over his or her term in office. I’ve seen it go both ways. Some candidates are so overwhelmed they simply assume they will never accomplish anything and others learn how to cope, work strategies, build alliances and do the job for their constituents.
Thirdly, almost no one running for office at the state and local level becomes a candidate for the wrong reasons. By that I mean very few who run for office have as their motive to “get rich” or to “get even.” Usually those folks flame out during the campaign, and their motivation becomes painfully clear.
I believe that a two-year term for most of these seats was part of the early wisdom of those who settled Minnesota. Give ‘em a two-year evaluation period, if they don’t do the job, vote them out. That’s what happened to the GOPers this time around. Our founders certainly didn’t see fit to give us a practical method for recall of candidates or initiative or referendum, for that matter. So the ballot box is all we have.
I would dearly like to believe that Sun Sailor can play as determining a roll in the election outcome as the candidate who criticized us claimed. The day when newspapers have that much power is mostly over – for good or bad. And believing that would be a windmill at which I would be tilting.