A local perspective

Sun 17 August 2008

Well, since it's made it's way to Slashdot, I should probably blog about Sean Tevis's political campaign. Tevis is running for a House seat in the State of Kansas legislature. His district is practically down the block from where I live, so I'm kinda affected by who wins that district, even if I can't vote.

Tevis created an homage to XKCD about what he thinks is the Matter With Kansas. It briefly touches the absurdity of Kansas politics (go see how many Republican seats go uncontested in Kansas), mentions a brief platform, and introduces his internet based campaign donation system as something newsworthy. Perhaps it's simply the nature of technical fiction, where "writing it causes it to be," but it has indeed been featured in the LA times, NPR, and now Slashdot. He's received numerous donations, many of which were under 50 dollars.

But besides understanding young people, what's he going to do? What's his platform? If you only read his website, you might not know, but he's a Democratic candidate. His comic subtly presents his platform: real science standards, progressive tax reform, and government efficiency. He's a promoting some sort of 'best schools evar by 2020' plan, but you don't need a house seat to instill pride in Kansas schools. You might also wonder who exactly is against good schools, although a few School Boards have earned Kansas a... reputation.

Maybe his opponent is against good schools? The comic suggests it, but the only platform available on Arlen Siegfreid's site says "Quality Education" which is vague enough that if Arlen loses he might consider a new career in writing patents. Does Siegfreid's "quality education" endorse creationism or fully funded schools?

Arlen's front page also contains the curious paragraph:

Arlen Siegfreid's liberal, Mainstream Coalition-endorsed liberal Democratic opponent has gained national attention raising tens of thousands online from out-of-state donors. You can visit his report here and add up the out-of- state numbers yourself -- plus an additional $67,000 of his donations are unidentified as they are under the $50 limit required by the state.

You're in a bad place when your platform is based on your opponent rather than what you stand for. They are at least smart enough to know what really helps in local elections: name recognition. This is why they never mention this opponent's name. Here we see two forms of democratic action in opposition: engaging the undecided and uninvested, and rallying the base constituency. Arlen isn't writing to the greater public; he writes to the people who recognize the "Mainstream Coalition", or at least think it's a bad thing. Apparently these people have money to donate. I doubt it will work; the average citizen here is far more angry about property tax appraisal than Roe v. Wade.

Of course, we don't vote with money in Kansas. Campaigns have to translate those dollars into people in voting booths. Those out of state donors can't vote here. Hell, I can't vote in that race. His platform, at the end of the day, has to appeal to the people voting. The good news is, as I alluded to above, name recognition is half the battle in local elections. The other half is party recognition. I look forward to discovering how one of the largest campaign bankrolls in Kansas translates into votes.

One interesting thing about this system is that his major expenditures thus far has been ~$4,000 to Paypal. Barack Obama says to look at how he runs his campaign to tell how Barack would run his administration. Tevis's platform includes government efficiency -- is 5 percent a good deal for an online donation system?

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