CO-7 Hanging out with John Kerry
I was sitting on my backpack and waiting for the number nine bus to take me downtown. I missed work the other day, and if I was late today my boss said I could kiss my seven dollars an hour plus tips goodbye. It was already one o'clock, and I worked at five. Adding in the travel time, that would leave me about two hours with Senator John Kerry. I guess that would be fine. I was trying to keep the dirt off my pants as best I could, and I thought, "this must be what they mean by grassroots Democracy." About fourty five minutes later in an opulent room surrounded the rich and powerful I was the only guy without a tie, but I was not feeling out of place one bit. I may not be powerful, and I am certainly not rich, but like the first timid mammals of the Triassic period, I know that fast little creatures like me are the future. To paraphrase Churchill; I know I will go down in history, because I intend to blog it.
I met John Kerry in the staggeringly beautiful home of Brooke and M.J. Banbury. They have the second floor of a highrise in LoDo, the lower downtown area of Denver. They are supporters of Ed Perlmutter, a former Colorado State Senator who is now a candidate for the House of Representatives for Colorado's seventh congressional district. This swing district in this swing state is considered by many to be the best chance the Democrats have to pick up a seat this cycle, and both parties are doing all they can to get the race to fall their way. Dick Cheney flew in to do a fundraiser for the Republican, and just a couple of days ago President Bush came by here as well. All told, I have heard that this race will consume five million dollars, and most of that will be spent on television. Still, as hard as it is to believe sometimes, politics isn't really all about money. It is about information and access, and for a very long time money has been the gatekeeper to both of those things. I guess that is why they waved the five hundred dollar a person ticket price for me. To them, I am the electronic crackle of the internet. I am information and access, and if they can figure me out, I might just be money too.
When I got to the room, one of the first hands I shook was that of former State Senate President Stan Matsunaka. In 2004 Stan was in a battle against Marilyn Musgrave for the congressional seat in CO-4. Musgrave had just authored a homophobic constitutional amendment and the netroots responded in force. He was chosen by the Daily Kos community as one of their DKos Dozen, and by the end of the campaign the blogosphere had sent him over $50,000. Matsunaka understands the growing power of web communities better than any candidate I have met, and today he spoke to me about some banner ads he was thinking of buying. I told him that I was skeptical about most ads. What he wants is buzz, and how to get that is by stepping into the community and making himself available. Information and access. Screw advertising just start communicating. Buy an intern a cell phone and a laptop, and you will reach more people than with a static website and all the banner ads in the world.
But it was time for me to shut up, the guest of honor was coming up the stairs, he stayed a long while in the stairwell talking in private with Perlmutter and a couple others. A Perlmutter staffer handed me a camera and asked me to play paparazzi, so I started getting shots of Kerry hugging Ed, and Kerry greeting Jay Fawcett the congressional candidate for CO5. Rollie Heath, the 2002 Democratic candidate for Governor was at the event, as were many other party officials and union and community leaders. I did my best to try to capture what I could in the small space and with the varied heights. John Kerry is just as tall up close as he seemed when I saw him on stage during his run for President. Aside from that, this was a different man. His voice had a better timber than when worn out on the campaign trail, and less arrogance than I remember from television. When I had first seen him live I remember thinking that I would rather he switch places on the ticket with John Edwards so we could have a candidate with some charisma. I was always very happy that I voted against Bush, but for the first time today I felt good about having voted for Kerry. He was relaxed. He was warm and friendly. He was intelligent and engaging. He was, dare I say it, human. I mentioned the change to Ed Perlmutter, and Ed nodded. "That is one of the drawbacks about running for office. I don't care who you are, it tightens you up."
Perlmutter had seen Kerry through many phases of his career. Kerry wasn't just flying in to put in a political good word for some stranger. When he was first thinking of running for President, Kerry came out to Colorado to measure his chances in the West. He and Ed got in a car and they spent the day driving around Denver seeing what there was to see. Ed made it a point to drive Kerry out to the Eastern edge of the city to show him how far the sprawl was encroaching into the open areas. "This is what we are facing. These are the challenges in our future." Kerry continued working with Ed and his wife Dena, and when the votes were counted, fifty two percent of Colorado's seventh district voted for Kerry, and that during a year when they sent a Republican to Congress. A lot of people wanted Ed to run that year, and perhaps if he had he could be the incumbent today, but he felt that it wasn't yet time. Now that it is time, Senator Kerry came back to stand beside his friend and strongly endorse him.
The Senator was asked about the PATRIOT Act, and his answer made me bristle. He said that it had been deeply flawed, but that the most troubling parts had been since removed. He said that as it stood now anyone who read it would have to agree that most of what was there were things we would want in there. He said it may not be the perfect piece of legislation that anyone of us in the room would most want, but that he thought he could live with it and he would probably vote for it when it next came up. I am sorry, but I do not want any law I am legally barred from reading. I don't care if a Senator tells me that if I could, I wouldn't object to most of it. That is just not good enough.
I preferred his answer to a question about the Dubai Ports purchase. The question began, "Is it possible that the President is so clueless that...", and Kerry didn't need to hear any more before saying, "The answer is Yes." After the room laughed, and the question was finished, Senator Kerry explained that while Bush is a hands off president, it still surprised him that so few people on any level seemed to give this any sort of inspection. Not even the Secretary of the Treasury who is required to chair the meeting that runs the mandated investigation even attended any meetings about the deal. It was another example of the Republicans dropping the ball on security issues. In fact, when asked to sum up the message of the Democratic Party he said he could do it in one word, "Security." He said ours was the party of national security, economic security, and personal security. Their party wanted to block the Department of Homeland Security. Their party damaged our security by over-extending in Iraq. He felt we must not yield the issue to the Republicans, but should rather get out the message that it is the Democratic Party that actually the defender of the security of our nation, and we should connect the dots for people so they can see that the funds pouring into the war are eroding every single other program back home and are endangering our country.
Senator Kerry shared his views on the last election. He admitted he had made some mistakes, particularly not spending enough money to push back against the lies they were telling about his military record. Still, he said that he was winning that election with just a few days to go when a recording of Osama surfaced. The media talked about nothing else for several days, and it flattened out his momentum. He felt that it cost him just enough votes in Ohio to save Karl Rove from looking like the poor strategist he really is. I have my own theory about Ohio, but then I have a theory about Florida too, if Al Gore ever wants to hear it.
He answered a few more questions, and then mingled through the room being introduced to some guests and already knowing others. He and I spoke briefly about his blogging, and he was very affable. I still am not sure if he actually writes it himself, but he certainly seemed to think so. Maybe he does, but I do not see how he could have time, his entourage seems to keep him moving at a fairly brisk pace, and it was already time to go down to the street and have a few words with the news cameras.
It was a perfect day out in Writer's Square, and Perlmutter and Kerry were all smiles in front of the wall of cameras. They each said their piece as I skirted the peripheries trying to get a picture that made either of the men look photogenic. Kerry is an imposing figure and Perlmutter has a certain intensity to him when speaking on issues that matter, but my camera was not particularly kind to either man. I kept catching Ed in the middle of the word 'future' with his lips pushed out like a goldfish. I was glad that tape was rolling, because he really is a great speaker when he gets moving, and I have even seen some good pictures of the man. I just regret that I don't have the skill to catch the right moments.
I circled around behind them to get a picture of them standing in front of the media. I was standing over by a candy store called the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The employees were speculating on who the men in suits were across the square. I told Chuck and Jen that it was Senator Kerry, and when Jen said she had guessed that, Chuck said, "You did not. You said they looked like Republicans."
When the press conference was over, Senator Kerry stayed and greeted everyone who came up to him. He signed autographs and he posed for countless cell phone photos.
A couple of ladies came up: "This is my friend, she is a Republican but she voted for you. I voted for you too, but I am a Democrat."
A man walked over and had this bizarre conversation with the Senator: "Who is that?" "I'm John Kerry." "I knew it was him."
Two other women wanted autographs: "I was standing over at that railing and I looked over and I knew it was you. I saw you from behind but I knew it was you." "I looked down from my office and saw your hair and I said I think that's John Kerry's hair."
The Senator took time with every person who came by and he listened when they wanted to speak and he spoke when they wanted to listen. In a way I thought it might not be such a bad thing that he was not the President. If he had been, I think our country would have been a better place, but there is some compensation in seeing him being able to be present in a community in a way that George Bush will never know. I am clear that George doesn't want to, but even if he did I am not sure he could. John Kerry seemed to enjoy his entire day, but he clearly was charged by the energy of these happy friendly people who wanted nothing more than to say hello and share their stories.
Kerry ran out of time, and had to run. He asked his people what was next on the agenda, "Do we have a meeting at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory?" "No Senator, we have to get going." "Are you sure? Check your schedule, I think there was some sort of event over at the Chocolate Factory." "Sorry Senator, we really don't have time."
As his staffers were whisking him away to other things I finally got the picture I wanted. He and Ed were away from the reporters and the fundraisers and did one of those rockstar handshakes where you punch your fists into each other's. "Run a good campaign my friend." And then Senator Kerry continued on his trip out West, while Ed Perlmutter went back to work winning a fight that he hopes will send him East to the real fight out there.
I shuffled off in my own direction walking a ways with Stan Matsunaka. He and I spoke about Angie Paccione, who is running for the same Congressional seat that he once did. He likes her, and he had some ideas about where she might be strong and which parts of her district she might find "a tougher nut to crack." His insight into the race was really worth hearing, and I hope to sit down with him again soon, but as I said at the start; today I had to get to a job, and in this Republican economy I can't afford to mess with that.