Expose’ From Inside the Kander Campaign – What I’ve Learned in Working With the Kanders

Sorry, friends and readers, this is going to be a long post, so either click to another page or settle in for a few paragraphs. The primary votes will be cast in 10 days, and I suspect that what I type here will be too late to either show up on a campaign post card or change the minds of anyone who reads it. So this post is not an attempt to sway voters or to impact a campaign. This one’s for me.

When I first spoke of supporting Jason Kander to seek Jenee Low’s seat when she was “termed out”, several people cautioned me against it. A political insider told me I would be wasting my time, because the “insiders have found a lobbyist they like”. An old friend assured me that the Kanders would run a dirty campaign. Several people told me that the Kanders had an awful lot of enemies, and it would be unwise for me to associate with them. One person emailed me and told me that they would try to destroy my life if I crossed them.

My own experience, though, suggested otherwise. I had met Jason a couple times, and he was bright, straight-shooting, and honest. Where he disagreed with me, he asked questions to make certain he understood where I was coming from. When I pushed him on topics, he didn’t candy coat his perspective or try to be all things to me. He promised to work hard and run a clean campaign, and he looked me in the eye. I believed him.

Was I getting scammed by a smooth politico? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone I admired turned out to be something less than what I thought he was. As an enthusiastic delegate for Gary Hart, I’ve learned that you cannot judge politicians by looking at them.

I also had some experience with Jason’s wife, Diana. Diana worked for Doug Gamble when he ran for City Council against my friend, Beth Gottstein. Diana and I had several conversations throughout the campaign, and, even though we both strongly wanted the opposite side to prevail, she was always respectful, thoughtful, and honest. I once posted something that I mistakenly attributed to the Gamble campaign, and when she telephoned me to point out my error, she was calm, accurate and professional. She impressed me as intense but absolutely fair and upstanding.

The campaign was a tough one, though, and the lowest point, in my opinion, was reached by a campaign piece that I thought was anti-Semitic. A lot of people attacked me for making that accusation, and many local politicos thought I was being oversensitive, but I call them the way I see them, and that was definitely the way I saw it. After the campaign, I had an opportunity to discuss the matter with her. She is a Jew who fled Odessa because of anti-Semitism, so I wanted to know the background. Our conversation was confidential, but I can say that I walked away from it satisfied that her integrity was beyond reproach.

So I volunteered my time to help Jason Kander on his campaign.

This may seem an odd choice to some. Why would I volunteer to work to elect a guy I didn’t know incredibly well, when my friends were telling me he was bad? Why would I affiliate with a guy who the “insiders” weren’t supporting?

Those are fair questions, and they get to the very heart of why I blog and why I am interested in local politics. In a nutshell, I think a lot of local politics is controlled by a relatively small group of not-incredibly-bright insiders, and they are accustomed to getting their way. Second, I think that reputations are often completely unearned, both positive and negative. Reputations, by their very nature, reflect mob mentality. Third, the whole reason I blog is to stroke my own ego and perhaps have a positive impact on my corner of the world. As such, the Kander campaign offered a no-lose opportunity for me.

If I got involved early for Jason, and I was right about him, I would have the opportunity to support a great, hard-working candidate who has the determination and skills to be HUGE in Jefferson City. I win, and the citizens of the 44th win.

But, if I got involved early for Jason, and I was wrong about him, I would have an opportunity to make a huge impact by loudly breaking with those evil Kanders. I am not one who believes that bloggers generally have much influence on anything, but I’ll flatter myself and say that if I loudly denounced the Kanders and wrote about bad tactics they had employed, after having loudly been on their side, it would have had a major impact on this local race. The local insiders would love me, and I would help cut short the career of an up-and-coming slimeball. I win, and the citizens of the 44th win.

So, my little win/win scenario dancing through my head, I called up Jason and told him I’d like to help on his campaign.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know both the Kanders a lot better. I’ve stuffed a few envelopes, filled out a few postcards, made a few phone calls, put up a few yard signs, and hosted a small neighborhood event. I’ve participated as a volunteer – not a great volunteer, or a spectacularly dependable one, but I like to think I’ve helped. I’ve traded emails with the candidate on a couple policy issues, though not too much of that (he’s better thought-out than I am, and needs my input like he needs another tour of Afghanistan), and I’ve been around at the end of long days in the unguarded moments when exhaustion and camaraderie allow you to say whatever you want to say.

(Let me interject here what I have not done. I have NOT served as a mouthpiece for the campaign. I have NEVER allowed Jason or Diana to write anything for me, and they have not even suggested what to write about. I have never offered them an opportunity to review what I write before I post it, and they have never asked me to edit my pieces. I suspect, as some commenters have surmised, that they have occasionally wished that I would shut the heck up, since I have certainly provided those who oppose Jason plenty of opportunity to dish out whatever anonymous abuse they want. The ONLY time that I received a request from Jason regarding my blog was one time he called me up and directed my attention to a comment that described a local politico in nasty homophobic terms, and he requested that I delete the comment. I did so, and felt awful that I had missed the comment when it was made.)

So here’s the news, folks. Jason is running a squeaky-clean campaign, and he really is as bright, sincere and hard-working as he appears.

A campaign presents thousands of temptations, and it takes a person of remarkable character to avoid them. It’s a weird phenomenon, but campaigns attract the attention of nutcases and scumbags from all over. I’ve seen it as a blogger in past campaigns, when people send me “shocking” info about some candidate’s minor arrest from decades ago, or claim that the candidate is having sex with someone s/he shouldn’t be, or that they cheated on their 4th grade math test. It’s even worse in a campaign, because people who have grudges from anywhere along the person’s life feel compelled to call the opposing camp and report all kinds of transgressions, minor to allegedly major. And, in the heat of a campaign, it’s tempting to spread the word about some of them. But a great candidate says, “Really, I’m not interested in hearing that. I’d rather talk about why I am running.” And that is how Jason has handled those calls, and I admire him for it. My friends who told me about how dirty Jason is would be shocked. Or disappointed.

(It occurs to me that in the crazed world of blog commenters, someone could think that I wrote the above paragraph to sneakily hint that some awful facts about Jason’s opponents have come to the campaign, and that I’m trying to plant that seed without making a real accusation. No. Simply no. I have heard nothing about either of Jason’s opponents that is both credible and major. Nothing. So, if that seed has been planted, please douse it with Roundup, okay?)

So, while commenters here have been telling us all that Jason is a lying sack of sh*t and that he and his wife are the local versions of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, I’ve been witnessing something quite different.

One would have expected that the complete absence of negative or dirty campaigning by the Kanders would silence the complaints about negative or dirty campaigning by the Kanders. Unfortunately, such an expectation would be unjustified. Instead, it has only turned the complaints louder and more unhinged.

Tony’s Kansas City did a post yesterday about the gossip attacks on the Kanders. The KC Blue Blog did a follow-up post responding to the bogus nature of the attacks and busted out the red letters for an “easy” endorsement for “Democrat and Veteran Jason Kander for State Representative.”

Rumor has it that the next ten days will see some negative pieces sent out to trash Jason and his wife, Diana. I hope the rumors are mistaken, but the figure of $20,000 has been attached to them, allegedly at the absolute insistence of a local elected official. Who knows? Again, this stuff is circulating at the rumor level, and may have exactly the same lack of credibility that I have seen were behind the accusations of the Kanders engaging in underhanded campaigning.

So, here I am, nearly at the end of my little experiment in local democracy. The people who were shrill in attacking Jason at the beginning of the race for being an underhanded campaigner have shown themselves to be the ones engaging in negative tactics and underhanded campaigning. The rumor-mongers and spreaders of hate, it turns out, have not been in the Kander camp.

When this campaign got started, I thought there was a chance I could be writing a huge expose’ today about slimy tactics, lies, rumors, and underhanded campaigning. Instead, I find myself writing about a candidate I admire more than when I started. When people at the doors have been mean to him, he has been polite in response, and respected their views. When I have been angered, he has been calm. When cheap shot opportunities have presented themselves, he has refused them.

I don’t know how the votes are going to come in next Tuesday. Amy Coffman and Mary Cosgrove Spence have run good races, and they have been supplemented by an enormous amount of gossip and nastiness directed at Jason Kander. Amy’s years of lobbyist experience have paid off in lobbyist money and endorsements. Mary Cosgrove Spence has some wonderful volunteers and supporters who are refreshingly enthusiastic and positive. All three of them are good Democrats who I hope to support in future elections.

As for my expose’ – well, I’m just awfully proud and happy I didn’t get to write one this time.

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