Blog Post 3: The Beginning-ing


Blog Post 3: The Beginning-ing

APRIL the 10th, 2016 – VOTE COUNT



A lot happens on a campaign. One get preselected and the election is 11 months away, sounds longer and feels closer. The feeling is more accurate than the sound. Campaigns – even very small, forgotten, local campaigns – pass quickly. Extraordinary amounts of time, effort and money accumulated, spent and wasted.

This is what has happened from then until now.

The full extent of Taimus’ campaign experience was not, at all, extensive. He had spent 4 weeks at the Federal Labor Campaign HQ in Melbourne in 2013, calling Australians all over the country and encouraging them with some success to volunteer on an election campaign that had started behind but “saved the furniture”. But it taught him nothing about the logistics, organisation, strategy (political and communicational) needed to succeed in a campaign. He had also spent 4 weeks calling Labor Party members in Brindabella asking them to preselect him, but that was it. So not a lot.

He wasn’t starting from scratch but to use an homage to the Stawell Gift (go Jack Hale) from the Easter Weekend when he started writing this post, he was the backmarker. Fortunately, he wasn’t the only one. In fact, with more Labor candidates running then ever before, there had to be one or two who hadn’t run before and would have to learn and learn quickly. Just like him. And if they could, he could. Which made him feel much better.

He was proud to be running for election to an ACT Labor Government that had been amply demonstrating its vision and capability for 16 years. The difference in energy and amenity from when he had left Canberra to when he returned was evidence enough of this. However, the ability to take the bold risks needed to implement the successful vision was an large part due to the Government’s long term of office, a state which goes and grows against any Government anywhere, but one which Taimus was keen to undermine and overcome by presenting himself to the electorate in the full flower of his youth and enthusiasm, believing in the Government’s ideas and fully prepared to persuade people to believe with him.

Which he set about doing. Immediately.

By teaching himself how to do it. The best way to learn is to learn immersively – on the job – so to speak. Start talking to people, listen to their ideas, pitching them his own, about himself, who he was, what motivated him, why he was running, what he wanted to do, cut out the stuff that was boring and hone the bits of his personal story/his message/his “narrative” that people responded to. He did a lot of this. He needed a lot of practice. He made a lot of mistakes, but he learnt from them and got better, quickly. He surfed a lot of net as well. Because, and this may came as a surprise to a lot of people, the interweb is an extraordinary resource for all sorts of useful and useless information, campaigning and fundraising not least among them. He did a lot of printing, folderising and tabbing.

He studied up on campaigning, message-shaping, stump-speeching, media-responding, campaign administration, volunteer recruiting and fund-raising. It was all of it – most of it – quite interesting. The most intimidating aspect of the entire performance, initially, was the art of fund-raising. He needed to raise as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, to spend on his political materials – t-shirts, coreflutes (the ubiquitous signs that go up everywhere), letters, pamphlets, that sort of stuff – and campaign administration. But if you wanted to spend it, then you had to raise it. Raise it? Yep. From who? Whomever you like. How? Ask. Who? Really…I just answered that…whoever you can. By when? The sooner the better.

Oh my god.

It felt hard. It felt out of the realms of possibilities, until one of the website discussion threads took it down a few levels. “Ask all of your friends. All of your relatives. Everyone you know. It doesn’t matter. They can say no, but many of them will say yes. Many of them will want to support you. Break it down. How much can you realistically expect of that group for friends? How much from your work colleagues? How much from your Facebook friends? $5000 is only 50 of your friends giving you $100. $10000 is 100 of your friends kicking in. Away you go.”

Well, when he read it like that then. Away Taimus went.

But first he needed a team.

“Who is your campaign manager?” was a question often asked of Taimus as he worked on his preselection. “Don’t have one yet” was his laconic reply. He was focused on the immediate, not the important. Which, if he was to do it again,Taimus would have done it differently by focusing on the important, not just the immediate – despite the logic of not wasting time and effort on what comes after when you have no real idea of whether you’ll even get past now. 

But he would have done it differently – like Obama in 2008, apparently, who had the whole transition team and administration locked in and ready to go by the September before the November election. Makes a lot of sense now. He would have had a campaign manager and a couple of other important team-members lined up, instead of having to wait and hope things worked out for him, which they generally did. And did again in this case, but not without some frustration.

He asked a few people, who showed interest, but not so much that they wanted to put themselves through it. He recruited a young, intelligent friend to do it, who on a fortnight’s reflection upon the work involved, decided it was too much and tapped out after a week of being uncontactable.

The thing is, asking people to help you, to give of their time and expend quite a lot of effort, for no guaranteed outcome, possible abuse and considerable irritation without being able to offer them anything other than gratitude and a little bit of fun now and then is not easy. It is hard. And humbling. The latter is the key word.

Politicians always talk at their victory speeches how “humbling” it is, how “humble” they feel, at the support of all the voters. Taimus always felt it was bunkum. But is not. Its entirely true. It was very humbling to have people decide to help him simply because they believed in him. It was humbling…and inspirational. Their encouragement convinced him, during the darker moments, to work better, try harder, walk faster, talk slower – make sure he did his best and tried his hardest every opportunity he had. To never, ever waste a conversation.

He kept asking people to help him, and more often than not they kept saying yes. A couple of people he hoped would take on lead roles, took on lead roles. A couple of people whom he barely knew actually volunteered themselves and took on lead roles and started dominating. Sooner than he thought, he had built the biggest volunteer team of all the candidates, including a campaign manager and a campaign team, and decided he had to start asking people for money.

For the record, Taimus did not find asking people to help him with their credit card any easier than asking them to help him with their time and effort. The random call out of the blue. The 10 minutes (minimum) small-talk about nothing and everything when most of the time both players knew exactly what the point was, especially when at some point Taimus dropped in the old, “well, I’m actually running for parliament! Well, ambling…moseying at this stage…for the ACT Assembly.” 

At that point the pennies would plunge like thunder. 

But while it was as hard as asking people to volunteer, like that, asking people to donate did get easier – and the key, curiously, came from a right-wing-leaning website Local Victory, which basically said just ask, ask for a lot. People can always say no, or agree to give you less, but everyone, generally, finds it difficult, or doesn’t actually want to say no. It’s only weird if you make it weird. Be nice, tell them what you are doing, why, and ask for their financial help.

And some of Taimus’ friends and family were amazing. His Grandma gave him $1500, a friend from his football club asked Taimus to contact him and then donated $1000, the biggest donation but by no means the only one from his footballing comrades. 8 self-identified liberal voters donated $2500 between them to Taimus, because they thought he was, quote “a really good person who would do great things for Tuggeranong.” It wasn’t too bad, and once again, it was quite a humbling but exciting experience having 63 people pay their own shekels into his campaign for no other reason that they respected him enough to believe he could do a good job. There was no way, Taimus decided, he would dare risk wasting their money or their confidence. And like with his volunteers, where Taimus could maximise his advantages, he did, raising the most money the fastest, so by the time the campaign really kicked off in February, money wasn’t an issue. The funds had been raised.

Now, to the campaign.

Everyone on Taimus’ campaign team was a fresher. New to the game, with some familiarity, sort-of, from the West Wing and reading manuals and attending training days, but even still, the training is on-the-job and no one was one the job. So they had to learn quickly, make their mistakes early, learn their mistakes rapidly and keep it very, very simple when it came to a campaign strategy. And the simplest strategy of all was to knock on doors. Taimus had no name recognition, no profile, and not a lot of opportunity to create one, being the youngest and newest Labor candidate in Brindabella during a six month campaign within which there would be a 100 day Federal Campaign and a grand final weekend. 

His best product was himself, no bells and less whistles, his biggest attribute was an ability to work harder and walk further than anyone. Therefore he was going to walk a lot to get himself in front as many people as possible. Due to the vagaries of the Hare-Clark system (another post…about pizza) – Taimus needs at least 5000 votes to give himself a decent chance of getting elected. He needs to talk to 10,000 people (assuming only 1 out of every 2 people Taimus talks to vote for him…is that ambitious?) That’s a lot of people to talk to. But that was it. 

That was, and is, the plan. Anything that got in the way of knocking on doors was pointless, he decided. People talked a lot about exposure – getting your name out there, letting people know you exist – but ask yourself, if you aren’t actually looking for a politician at a shopping centre, have you ever paid any attention to someone handing out “lititcha”? Do you care? Course you don’t.

A street stall, where you might talk to 3 people an hour, was nothing compared to a door-knock, where you had a chat with 15 people an hour. That said, Taimus did have the pleasure in February and March of a couple of very pleasant street-stalls with Angie Drake, a delightful fellow Labor candidate for Brindabella.

So he did a couple of street stalls, which were fine, designed and ordered his merchandise, some of which had a misspelling (and not of his name!), which was funny, but another story, and got knocking in the suburb of Monash. Which is where we find him still, bleeding knuckles and all, at the start of April.

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