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Notes from my 2010 Campaign for Congress

Notes from my 2010 Campaign for Congress

I was the Democratic Party’s nominee for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, 32nd District in Texas, in 2010.  I decided to run in part because I thought Congress would give me a bigger megaphone to influence public policy and legislation concerning energy use and other environmental issues.  I also thought I would be a better Congressman than the incumbent, Republican Pete Sessions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called and told me that I was fighting for election in a “swing district,” and the DCCC wanted to help.  The DCCC visited our campaign headquarters in Dallas, and I went to Washington to see them in October 2009. The political professionals there told me repeatedly that raising money was key to winning election to Congress.  Martin Frost, who had been a Democratic Congressman for over 20 years before Pete Sessions defeated him in 2004, put it this way: “Without a lot of money, nothing makes any difference.”

I returned to Dallas and started raising money, and my campaign manager reported weekly to Washington about the totals.  The DCCC wanted me on the phone raising money for at least five hours a day. This seemed like a lot of time on the phone, and after a few weeks I called Congressman Patrick Murphy, who was head of the “Red to Blue” program to win Republican districts.  I told the Congressman’s chief of staff that five hours a day phone fundraising did not leave me enough time to think about public issues, do speeches and otherwise campaign.   The manager’s response:  “I have my Congressman on the phone five hours a day raising money, plus he’s going to three fundraisers tonight given for him by different defense contractors.”  Congressman Murphy was a member of a defense appropriations committee, and corporations seeking defense contracts logically sponsored fundraisers to court his favor.

So what chance do advocates of clean air, clean water and environmental sustainability have in Washington?  The American oil and gas industry has many billions of profits each year available for lobbyists, campaign contributions, and public information campaigns like Exxon has sponsored on climate change.  There are no comparable economic powers fighting to limit energy consumption or otherwise protect natural resources and our environment.  The experience of my 2010 campaign convinced me that the United States Congress, and the way its members are chosen, is not well equipped to serve the common good.  Paralysis in Congress since then has reinforced that conclusion.

This is, however, the only world we have.  I like to call myself an optimist, and my take is that even strong self-interested beliefs can be changed by rational argument and effective presentation of facts, if the arguments and facts are packaged with enough emotional power.  The thrust of this blog is to appeal to the “better angels” in our natures, angels who tell us to look beyond our immediate gratifications into our futures and into the futures of our children.  It’s just not good enough to throw up our hands, and we’re not going to.


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