Observations on the Campaign Trail: “Deer & Debates, Debt & Donations, Death & Taxes”

If you’ve never been a candidate for public office, you should try it sometime. It’s incredibly exciting, frustrating, energizing, enervating, educating, and exacerbating, all at the same time. Quite an experience. In fact, I recommend adding it to your “bucket list” (though that’s becoming quite a trite phrase). In our democracy, the more people who have ever fun for anything (whether win or lose), the more we’ll all have a common investment in improving our community.

As I put thousands of miles on my trusty vehicle campaigning around West Virginia, I have plenty of time to reflect on what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, what I hope to accomplish, whether I’m actually achieving anything, and on odds and ends in the course of hours-long drives.

On recent road trips, I’ve had some pretty “deep” thoughts as well as some casual, fun “stream of consciousness” riffs in my head.

Very recent deep thought: death. Scary topic and awfully sensitive. In August, I drove to DC for a funeral service for a dear friend. I had worked at a federal court. My friend, Ellan, was the judicial assistant to the judge for whom I clerked. She wasn’t in great health and, though she wanted to keep working for financial reasons, she told me last spring that she was going to retire at the end of the summer because her health was taking a toll on her ability to get to work, etc. Then in July, during surgery to attend to a blood clot, her heart stopped and she lost oxygen long enough to do severe damage. In a coma for about two weeks, she passed away in August. She had been set to retire on August 31. She never even got to retire. A beautiful soul, generous, selfless, loyal to a fault, sweet; she and I were good friends.

Her death hit me hard, because it reminded me that, despite our political differences, despite the ups and downs of occupation, family matters, finances, whatever, life is a precious and beautiful thing and we somehow have to find time to appreciate whatever good things we have while we have them. It’s just not worth getting caught up in the small stuff.

That was August. Just recently (a day ago), I was in Charleston, heading to a candidate forum several hours up I-79. I was a bit ahead of schedule, so I stopped at a rest stop to review directions (somehow my GPS always has a blind spot for the specific addresses where I need to go!). I sat in the car and caught up on some emails. A terrible tragedy: a Libertarian Party candidate for Congress in Montana, who had almost single-handedly kept the Montana LP alive by running as a candidate for one thing or another every election for 20 years, had died in a head-on car crash while driving home from a candidate forum. A very good guy and his death is quite a loss.

I’ve long worried about being on the highway so much as a candidate. I’ve come to hate night-driving. The glare from oncoming vehicles is awful. The strain of getting home quite late at night, the discomfort of fast-food congealing in my gut, the mental checklist of what’s on the agenda for tomorrow, all make for restless sleep and physical and mental weariness (so, when people criticize Gary Johnson for a mental lapse on “Aleppo,” I get defensive. Sure, you try being a candidate sometime, on the campaign trail constantly, with little time to yourself to relax and see if you’re on top of your game every single instance of the day).

Anyhow, I worry about deer jumping out in front of the car. What did I just read, is West Virginia the worse or almost the worst state for vehicle/deer collisions? It’s scary. I think deer are wonderful in theory and dangerous in fact. My mantra when I see a dead deer on the side of the road (ok, animal-lovers will get all in a rut over this) is: “look, oh dear, poor dear, dead deer, good deer.” October and November are the worst months of all and happen to be the busiest time for candidates. Oh, dear.

Upon reading of that Montana tragedy, I decided to head home and skip the candidate forum. If I had gone to the forum, it would have meant a 2 and ½ hour drive home late at night. I hadn’t made plans for a hotel room to stay over and I wasn’t sure where or when I would have had a chance to get dinner. Now, I’m committed either to stay over somewhere to avoid the late night drive home from a far-away event (and incur the expense of a hotel stay) or, unfortunate for a lesser-known candidate, skip the candidate event.

I hate to miss any opportunity to make it to a candidate forum. I seek out any occasion to speak out on the ideas and philosophy that motivate me to run for office. I look forward to any forum to contrast my views with my opponents (the major party candidates hate having to deal with us pesky independents and third-party folks). I also like meeting people and taking their questions. I pains me when I can’t make it to everything.

I know my co-candidate, David Moran, the Libertarian candidate for Governor, feels the same way. He has a very folksy, down-to-earth demeanor, and is especially great one-on-one with people. But he’d also welcome any larger public forum to compare his views and beliefs with his competitors for Governor. Unfortunately, the West Virginia Press Association and the West Virginia Broadcasters Association have decided, in their almighty wisdom, that only the views of the Republican and Democrat candidates are worthy of airing in a public debate. What a shame and disservice to the people of West Virginia.

David Moran and I chatted about this state of affairs over lunch two weeks ago after campaigning in Elkins. But what can you do, except make the point over and over: exclusive political debates are one of the major mechanisms by which the Republicans and Democrats maintain their “duopoly over politics in America (campaign finance rules and ballot access restrictions are their other schemes to keep down the competition).

By the way, anybody have suggestions of non-chain restaurants in Elkins for lunch or dinner? I’d really like to sample the “mom & pop” places that oftentimes offer excellent, inexpensive, and convenient food. Same with bed ‘n breakfast places. Suggestions for the Elkins area?

While I’m at it, what about the same in Fayetteville? We’ll have a Libertarian booth at the big Bridge Day event and, if I make it for that, I may just want dinner in the area before driving home (I’m figuring that bed ‘n breakfast places are fully booked by now, so I’ll have to drive home – or maybe just drive part-way and stay overnight at a bed ‘n breakfast in Elkins!).

After my last campaign for office (U.S. Senate in 2014), I had great intentions to write up a long article about my experience. Sorry, I never got around to it. That’s part of the reason for these shorter “observations.” Easier to do it in installments. Anyhow, I only got as far as the sub-head of my planned article: “I ran for office and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!”

This time, when I write my post-campaign thesis, the sub-head is going to be: “I ran for office and all I got was a sunburn.” At the state fair in August, we had a Libertarian Party booth (thanks to Zane Lawhorn, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. House in the 3rd Congressional District). It was a really great way to greet thousands of voters. People were quite friendly and seemed to be very receptive to our message of small government and more individual liberty. But, oh man, was it hot! I think it was the worst week of the summer. I was drenched in sweat within the first 15 minutes of what turned out to be 10-hour days. And my arms and neck were sunburned.

But I survived and am here to tell these stories of the campaign trail.

The most recent of my random thoughts has been about the rage of politicians of all stripes to solve the problems of West Virginia by increasing jobs, jobs, jobs. One candidate for Governor seems to have a secret plan and advertises his ability to produce jobs for West Virginians by repeating the word three times on his campaign signs! If that’s effective, then the next election someone’s going to do him one better and repeat the word four times. And maybe in italics, underlined, and in bold to boot!

Anyhow, part of the “jobs” rage is to promote programs to teach “entrepreneurship.” Somehow that strikes me as a bit phony (but it sounds so promising and makes for the kind of campaign blather that newspapers love to report). Can you really teach entrepreneurship? Depends on what you mean by “entrepreneurship.” If you mean to teach some of the technical aspects of opening a small business and getting around the ridiculous rules and regulations that inhibit business formation and growth (rather than simply eliminate those rules and regulations), then, I guess, yes, you can teach entrepreneurship. One small business owner in Fairmont told me that some bureaucrat actually regulated where he could put the bar stools in his coffee shop! But I think the essence of entrepreneurship is self-reliance, initiative, calculated risk, and hard work. Not everyone succeeds in business, but the drive to succeed comes from below, not from above. It’s kind of like teaching “spontaneity.”  A self-contradiction.