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Risk & Sacrifice separate grass roots activists from insulated party professionals

In 2009, like many other citizens shocked at the sudden, dramatic changes and corruption re-shaping America, I greatly increased my political activity.

Part of a grass-roots wave of citizen activists that year, I ran in a four-way US Congressional primary.  It’s a long story, and in short I ended up liking one of my opponents so much I hoped he would win.  Along the way, several people closely affiliated with the Republican Party tried to dissuade me from running, assuring me that a certain sitting state senator would beat the incumbent Democrat, congressman Tim Holden.

Our campaign still netted about 25% of the vote in a four-way race, which is solid performance, especially considering that one of the candidates had run before, one was a sitting state senator, one was a well-known political activist, and we had gotten a late start and spent little money.

In the general election, Holden crushed the Republican state senator who won that primary race by 400 votes.

Fast forward to January 2012, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects a new, heavily gerrymandered Republican redistricting plan.  At the heart of the court’s decision was the “egregious” and grossly unnatural shape of the 15th state senate district, where I happened to then reside, and still do now, too.

The PA Supreme Court called the new district “the iron cross,” and indeed it looked like a cross shape and was iron clad against upstart citizens asserting themselves in political races reserved for establishment members only.

(My current congressional district is the same, with only about ten blocks of Harrisburg City included in what is otherwise a large, rural district reaching the Maryland state line. Guess who lives in that ten-block area. Yes. Me. )

Given my previous public interest in running for the 15th senate seat, it was obvious that excluding our family’s home from that district was purposeful: It was an attempt by political bosses to artificially silence and thwart an otherwise good candidate who does not see his job as serving political bosses.

The court’s ruling allowed a handful of us to wage a tremendous grass roots 11th hour campaign for that senate seat, getting our start two days into the three-week ballot petition process.

Although we did not win, we did give the political bosses a hell of a challenge by winning a huge number of votes with only pennies spent.

A year later, York businessman Scott Wagner beat those same political bosses for his state senate seat, in a historic write-in campaign against a million dollars of party money. The race, and its remarkable result, drew national attention.  Clearly the voters responded to Wagner’s grass roots campaign in the face of a party juggernaut.

This evening I spent some time speaking with an NRA staffer.  We met at the Great American Outdoor Show, which is the former Eastern Outdoors Show and now NRA-run at the PA Farm Show complex, and he gave me an opportunity to vent a bit and explain my frustration with the NRA.

To wit: An increasing number of grass roots activists now perceive the NRA as merely an arm of the Republican Party establishment political bosses.  The same bosses who oppose conservative/ independent candidates like me and Wagner.

See, back in 2012, I was the only NRA member in that three-way primary race (to be fair, one candidate had been an NRA member for several months, which could never, ever be construed as a political move, even though he was the candidate selected by the same political bosses who created a safe district for him to run in), but the NRA refused to get involved.

If there was any endorsement that was deserved in that race, it would have been the NRA endorsing their one and only member, and a decades-long member at that – Me. (Firearm Owners Against Crime did endorse the one pro-Second Amendment candidate, thank you very much, Kim Stolfer)

And then tonight it dawned on me on the way home from the Farm Show complex…two basic but defining experiences separate grass roots activists and candidates from the party establishment: Risk taking and making sacrifices.

By definition, grass roots candidates take many risks and make many sacrifices, both of which are seen as signs of weakness by the establishment.

Self-starters motivated by principle and passion for good government, the grass roots candidates and activists have to reach into their own pockets to get any traction, and they often risk their jobs and businesses in challenging the establishment power structure.  To get invitations to events, they have to reach out and ask, knock on doors, make phone calls.  They have to cobble together campaigns made of volunteers and pennies, and they usually are grossly under-funded now matter how successful they are.

On the other hand, party establishment candidates have the ready-made party machine in their sails from the get-go.  Money, experienced volunteers, paid staffers, refined walking lists, the establishment can muster a tremendous force in a relatively short time.  Establishment candidates also enjoy artificial party endorsements (formal or informal) that give them access to huge pots of party campaign funds or a leg-up in other ways.

Establishment groups like NRA view grass roots candidates the same way as the party establishment views them- trouble makers.

In short, few if any establishment candidates put in their own money to drive their campaigns, take risks, or make sacrifices in their pursuit of elected office. Everything is done for them by other people.

So long as party establishment staff and officials and groups like NRA maintain this artificial lifestyle and view, this alternate reality, this disconnect between the grass roots voters and the party that needs their votes will continue and deepen.

So long as the voters see grass roots activists and candidates struggling against an unfair arrangement that is created solely for the preservation of political power and profit, they will continue to migrate away from the party and support people they can relate to the most.

An elder in my family once told me that taking risks and making sacrifices build character and lead to success, and although a 26-year career full of both risks and sacrifices has often left me wondering at the truth of that claim, I increasingly see it bearing out in electoral politics.

The voters are not dumb; they can see the pure American earnestness in their fellow citizen fighting City Hall.  They respect risk-taking and sacrifices made in the pursuit of saving America.  That is a strong character which no establishment candidate can or ever will have.

Those political parties and groups that ignore that strong American character do so at their own risk, because they will lose the supporters they need to be successful.

 

Oh, those funerals…

If you live long enough, you get to go to increasing numbers of funerals.

Friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, leaders you admire, they all begin to fall as time marches on.  Because each of us is already “born terminal,” dying is a natural part of living.

Of course, it is not necessarily the dying part that is upsetting at a funeral.  Unless the particular ending is unexpected, violent, or tragic, what gets me is the sudden absence of the qualities that particular person brought into the world around them.  The absence of their warm personality, their humor, their bravery, their way of thinking or looking at and solving problems, friendliness, and so on.  Whatever vacuum suddenly appears in the wake of a deceased person is the foil to the wonderful qualities the person had developed over a lifetime.

Recently I participated in several funerals, all for older people whose families loved them very much.  At the last one, hardly anyone cried during the eulogies or the burial, not because the person was so horrible, but because they had lived such an utterly full and meaningful life.  She had squeezed every available drop of opportunity, family, love, and community from her time on Earth.  No one felt sad, because she had lived so well and had made so many people feel so good about themselves, and instead, there was much laughter and chuckling.

At each funeral I find myself somewhere in the back, musing, contemplating, listening, and reflecting.  There is not one deceased person I know, or knew, whose abilities, talents, personality traits, character, and strengths I did not wish were my own, in some way.

I am a pretty hard-charging person.  Trying new, entrepreneurial business models, speaking out about my own ideas and beliefs, challenging political orthodoxies I believe are destructive of American liberty and individual freedom, not to mention the outdoor adventures I do each year that put some wear and tear on my increasingly stiff frame and joints…all of this makes me the person I am, now.

Hopefully, with the increasing number of funerals under my belt and the personal qualities I see getting buried each time, I will be a better and improved person as I try to take on some aspect of the person we lost.  Bear with me…

Was today’s MLK event in DC a sham and partisan pep rally?

How odd that none of the following black leaders were invited or present to speak at today’s MLK event on the DC Mall: Clarence Thomas (US Supreme Court), Condoleeza Rice (US NSA), Dr. Ben Carson, Professor Thomas Sowell, Congressman Allen West, Alan Keyes, or sitting US Senator Tim Scott, the only black US Senator…among many other candidates who might have had something to say about MLK and civil rights.

Partisan activist Donna Brazile coordinated the event, but exclaimed surprise that no Republicans spoke much less attended.

Wonder if today’s event was really just a partisan pep rally?

On the other hand, THIS was a genuine human rights rally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs

50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr march

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s nation-changing march, let us look closely into what has been achieved since that time, and what has failed.

On the list of achievements we have the definite growth in black voting and a far-reaching acceptance, even embrace of dark skin color among European-Americans. The Negro saga in America is both a painful story, and also a story of redemption, as blacks have found their way into any and all professions they desire, including baseball, football, tennis, track and field, medicine, technology, theology, law, academia, entertainment, and government.

That said, there is a key failure that King would have never imagined, and that is the self-segregation of much of the black community, and the seeming desire for perpetual victim status contrary to the facts and opportunities presented. Today, despite enormous advances on every front, black unemployment is three times higher than whites.

I say this in the wake of months of debate about Martin and Zimmerman, and newly surfaced and long-suppressed news items about black-on-black violence and nakedly racist black-on-white violence.

The failure of much of the black community is no secret, and people like me are not going to stand by idly and watch it happen, and we will not fear being called “racist” for identifying the problem and proposing solutions. Nor will I become a racist in reaction to someone else’s racism.

Racists believe in racial determinism. Racists believe that skin color is an indication of both physical and mental ability. Like the vast vast vast majority of European-Americans, I reject those goofball notions. I do embrace a color-blind America that rewards citizens for the quantity and quality of their work, and for the content of their character.

My commitment to the success of the black community is to say that good, well-meaning people like me are here to help, to lend a hand, to support you and your local institutions. I will say that the anti-white racism in the black community is both sad, and alarming. But I will not say that America is a racist nation. Racism is a corrosive, destructive, evil thing, and it eats the people who live it.

When I watch MLK’s speeches, I am overcome with feelings of inspiration and love. MLK saw an America that had potential, whose equal opportunity was the signature of a free society that the American dream promised. Call me naive, but I am sticking to my silly ideas of equality and brotherhood. MLK wanted it that way.