November 5, 1998

Republican seeks answers on campaign trail



Want to meet interesting people and work on something greater than yourself? Then consider working on a political campaign.

North Cambridge resident Denise Jillson managed Joe Malone's bid for governor from February of this year through the primary election in September. Jillson will tell you of the many wonderful people she met across the state -- people she would never have met but for the campaign. Working on a campaign will rid you of stereotypes about political activists.

"What did I learn," said Jillson, "I learned that the people who supported Joe were not rich white males, but a good mix of people." Jillson believes that the Republican Party can represent women, minorities, and working-class people but only if we get out into the community to meet people. Jillson traveled the state meeting people who supported Republican principles in her quest to win their support for her candidate.

Primary Election Day proved that Paul Cellucci had done the better job of convincing voters that he was the one to carry those Republican principles into the November contest. I asked Jillson whether, after all the long hours of work and disruption to her family life, only to see her candidate lose in September, she would do it again. "Would I do it again? Sure, in a heartbeat."

Over the course of a couple of breakfast meetings in Harvard Square, Republican candidate Bob Maginn discussed with me his qualifications and vision for the office of Treasurer. He also articulated his love for Cambridge, his home for the past 20 years. As a successful business consultant and partner in Bain & Company, Maginn might be expected to live in an affluent suburban community like Belmont, but he chooses Cambridge, where he indulges his passion for folk music as chairman of Club Passim.

When I spoke to Maginn in the spring, he stressed his business experience as relevant to the office, in contrast to his opponent, a career politician. When we met again, later in the campaign, Maginn revealed more understanding of political skills as different from -- neither better nor worse than -- business experience. Whether he pursues politics or business, Maginn's experience running for office has enriched him. The votes have not yet been counted as I write, so I have not asked whether he would do it again.

Campaigns certainly are a learning opportunity. But they are also hard work, often with little reward. "Would I do it again? I don't know," said Peter Sheinfeld who lost in the Republican primary election to Vincent Dixon. "I met some interesting people, I got some support -- volunteers and contributions -- which is gratifying, but it is a lot of work to run, especially as a Republican in a heavily Democrat district."

The difficulties of raising the money and taking the time away from one's regular job to tackle an entrenched incumbent explain why over half of the State House seats have not been contested in recent elections. State and federal campaign regulations further discourage candidates, according to Sheinfeld. "There are more and more incentives not to run," he said in reference to this year's ballot Question Two, the so-called "Clean Election" law. If the Legislature ever appropriates the money for this system, we would see the Democrat incumbent in a state representative race receive a $24,000 windfall of free taxpayer money for his campaign, while the Republican challenger would likely receive zero.

Candidate and volunteer recruitment is always a challenge, especially when campaigns are being painted as dirty things that must be made "clean." The remarkable thing is just how open the political process is. Anyone can show up at a campaign and volunteer. Show up more than once and you'll find yourself put in charge of something. Politics is one of the most open areas of American life.

On the campaign, no one cares where you went to school, who your family is, or how much money you make. The only thing that matters is can you perform -- can you help your candidate get his or her message out and win on Election Day? Denise Jillson remains very positive about political activity: "People should get involved; it's good for the heart, mind and soul to get involved."


Lee Street resident David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.