And how to choose a candidate in 5 easy steps
My friend Paul Kimball has offered to be the PC candidate in the Nova Scotia provincial riding of Halifax Needham.
Why would he do that?
There are damn good reasons not to...
1/ Becoming a politician puts you in the company of a class of people held in high suspicion and low regard.
2/ It opens up your life, and the lives of your loved ones, to intense public scrutiny where in our new 'social' media age people will say just about anything - there are no boundaries.
3/ For well educated entrepreneurs like Paul there's a real opportunity cost - he could be out leveraging his latest creative business effort into a really big deal of a lifetime rather than working for a salary no matter how generous.
4/ Given the bureaucratic inertia, the sad state of party politics and lack of public support, why would anyone think they could make a difference, or change anything or even help at all. By joining in a person might just become part of the problem.
For thinking people - and Paul is a real thinking person - these reasons not to offer for public service are daunting.
Here's my observation. Paul is offering because over a lifetime he's discovered his conscience simply will not release him from concern for the problems of the day, the rising generation, and the shape of things to come. To put it another way. Paul feels responsible and he straight up loves Nova Scotia. The education he gets from the experience will more than offset the opportunity cost and pay dividends in self-improvement and self-knowledge. He doesn't give a damn what others think of him and has experience taking the slings and arrows of critics, bullies and self-interested detractors. He has the notion that he has the personal fortitude to beard power and the optimism of an activist.
In the 20 or so years I've known Paul I can't think of a single conversation we've ever had on a trivial matter. If you're looking for a gladhandler, baby kisser, or bon homme Paul is not the guy. However, if you're looking for someone who can think, and act in the interests of Nova Scotia, and make difficult decisions, then stand by those decisions even against the stream of contemporary opinion, then Paul is a person you should consider supporting.
Why vote for Paul... or anyone?
The corollary proposition to why someone would offer as a political candidate is how should you as a citizen judge a candidate - who should you vote for, how do you decide?
How to judge a candidate:
1 - First, consciously decide what you are looking for in a candidate and write it down before looking at the people or parties. Do you want the tallest and handsomest? Best hair? The one who empathizes most with you? The one who is strong on your hot button issue of the day? The one most associated with old-timey flag waving party ideals? Write down five things.
2 - Then gather materials and find out about the candidates. Google them. Look at their social media. Have they been in the press or received other attention for their goings and doings? If you can't find where the candidate has taken stands on issues in the past and had the courage, or interest, as a citizen to speak out, then mark that as a strike against.
Try to come up with five things.
This is a really important part of citizenship. I was once at a Barrack Obama rally in Bangor Maine. A woman asked, "What can I do?" Obama walked over to her and I cringed a little because I thought he was going to say GET OUT THERE AND VOTE! But he didn't. He thought for a long moment and then he said, the most important thing you can do is get informed about issues you aren't self-interested in, form an opinion and have the courage to speak out.
We can't all be activists. One way to speak out is by supporting someone who shares your point of view. Since that time I've noticed in discussions and public meetings how good it feels when someone chimes in just to say I support what ... is saying. It's a good way to be involved.
3 - Consider their positions. We're looking for dreamers - not daydreamers. Are they well reasoned. If there are older issues, how did they work out over time? What specific conclusions can you draw based on the candidates personal character and views?
4 - Look at their leadership skills. Have they lead large complex organizations? Without experiential evidence, deciding if a candidate will be a good leader is difficult. How can you know if someone will be honest, open or able to act under pressure if elected to office?
There are some indications. Is the candidate willing to engage with others, particularly others who differ from them or with whom they might not agree? Are they generally emphasizing images or issues?
5 - Consider other people's views and sort what they are saying into the same critical categories in 1 - 4 (including what I've written above!). Ask why they think what they think. Ask why they think certain things are important.
Bonus point... I was once on a plane with Dr. John Savage after he had been 'assassinated' by the NS Liberal party backroom boys. He was on his way to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders in Siberia. One of the most interesting things he said was "Being a politician shouldn't be the best job you ever had". Consider that when thinking about a candidate and the value of career politicians in particular.
Watch out for...
Be prepared to actively look through distortion techniques used by both supporters and detractors. Some examples are:
Name calling/Appeals to prejudice:
These are attacks on an opponent based on characteristics that will not affect performance in office. References to race, ethnicity or martial status can be subtly used to instill prejudice.
These include statements such as, "Everyone says my opponent is a crook, but I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing," which imply (but do not state) that the opponent is guilty.
Guilt by association:
These are statements such as, "We all know Candidate B is backed by big money interest," or "All Liberals/Tories/Dippers/Independents are..." that attack candidates because of their support rather than because of their stands on the issues.
These are phrases such as "Be Bold" or "Naysayer" that are designed to trigger a knee-jerk emotional reaction and shut down thinking and discussion rather than to inform.
Passing the blame:
These are instances in which a candidate denies responsibility for an action or blames an opponent for things over which he or she had no control.
Promising the sky:
These are unrealistic promises that no one elected official could fulfill. Most important among these is a real appreciation for the uncertainty of future events. A lack of appreciation of uncertainty and risk leads to cheer-leading casino capitalist government that will consistently disappoint the public.
Evading real issues:
These include instances in which candidates may avoid answering direct questions, offer only vague solutions or talk about the benefits of proposed programs but never get specific about possible problems or costs.
Sum it all up.
Which candidate performs with dignity and style and appears true to their own values consistently - preferring improving Nova Scotia over their own comfort and interests?
Which candidate is running their own race and not running against someone else - chasing another person, idea or goal?
Which candidate do you agree with the most? Where you don't agree, do you understand why the candidate holds the position they do?
Which candidate displays the most broad-based knowledge, interests and experience?
Which candidate appears the most creative?
Which candidate has the leadership qualities you are looking for?
Which candidate's ideas look most like the tomorrow you hope for?
Choose that candidate! And remember democracy is a long game. There is no quick fix, easy way solution. Choosing good candidates is not a panacea. It's the first step on a long path to better discussion, better parties, better politics, better government and a better Nova Scotia.
I've done all this work for Halifax Needham and I support Paul Kimball.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.