April 23, 2017

On the Campaign Trail … Or Trial?

• By John Chisholm •

I’m running for the Maine House of Representatives. Knocking on doors, asking residents for their signatures on my nomination papers is an experience. Even if I’m not elected, I should have done this much earlier.

Why?

It’s an in-depth education.

Misunderstanding of the process is rampant. The number of unregistered voters is alarming. Moreover, it’s clear that the ways of Augusta are completely opaque to far too many residents.

What can I do when encountering the hostility ― even fear ― born of misunderstanding? I have to be nominated to run for office. I move down the street and knock on the next door, shaking my head in amazement as I go.

I’m polite. I make certain to bathe beforehand. (Before anyone jumps at that opportunity, let me assure you that I do that much, regardless.) I explain who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish. Never mind. I’ve been threatened with a gun, sworn at, reviled and cursed.

Seriously. Wow.

The irony of all that is impossible to escape. I’m campaigning on the necessity of civility and reason in public discourse. How else are we to get anything positive completed? Anything at all?

Yes, I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Never mind that. My point? There’s a lot of it. The widespread misperceptions, cynicism and distrust are separate issues. How do I address them?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve met some great people who are both knowledgeable, polite and friendly as well. Before you imagine that I’m politicizing the truth, they come in all ages, genders and party affiliations. Some greet me at their door, pointing to my nomination form. “I can’t sign that. You’re a Democrat!” Then they explain further, “I’m Republican.”

I nod and smile. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. Really. I’m sure that’s there’s still hope.”

Usually we can share a laugh at that. I’ll thank them anyway and try elsewhere.

Surely that’s how the process is supposed to work.

This is a plea for everyone to understand that. I’m not trying to deceive you or have you sign over Power of Attorney. Neither am I at your door with larceny in mind. None of that could be further from the truth.

You may disagree with everything I say. (Certainly my wife does!) You don’t have to sign my nomination petition. You don’t have to vote for me. You can even ask me to leave. I will. But none of that is an excuse for nonparticipation, boorish behavior or obscenity.

Democracy doesn’t work if we can’t ― at the very least ― talk about our differences. To do that, civil conduct is absolutely vital. Certainly that’s true in Augusta.

Please remember that it’s equally true in our hometowns.