“Government should do as much as is necessary and ONLY what is necessary to ensure that its people enjoy the freedom and opportunity to excel.” – Misty Plowright
Misty Plowright is the Democratic Congressional candidate running for the 5th district against current Republican Representative Doug Lamborn in Colorado. A first-time candidate, a Bernie Sanders supporter and an Army veteran, Misty took some time off from the campaign trail to speak with Politisite’s Jennifer Williams and answer some questions:
Jennifer: As a first-time candidate for Congress, how has the reality of a Congressional campaign matched up or not matched up with your expectations?
Misty Plowright: Well for one thing, I knew our campaign finance system was completely corrupt. I didn’t realize that as corrupt as I thought it was – it was worse. I’ll give you an example…
As a candidate, you can loan your campaign as much money as you want. You can also set whatever interest rate you want. If/when you make payments to the loan, you can choose to pay ONLY the interest. So when you see some of these campaigns where someone loans huge sums of money to their campaign and they take mountains of special interest/PAC money, they can literally live off of their campaign war chest via special interest/PAC money [and] never actually paying back the loan. A campaign cannot be concluded until the financial balance sheet is zeroed.
I also anticipated that the party would be at least somewhat supportive of its candidates. Maybe it’s because I’m a rabble rouser, maybe it’s because Democrats drew up this district in ’72 and intentionally made it “unwinnable”, but [for] whatever the reason… I’ve received 0 financial support and virtually zero organizational support from the party. Local party members have been very supportive, but local party leadership (until *VERY* recently) and state/national party have completely ignored me.
Which is really unfortunate because I think this race is completely winnable, ESPECIALLY this year. As it is, I think people might just be surprised.
Jennifer: The Colorado district you are trying to win runs quite conservative, but has some Libertarian sensibilities. In some ways, could this work in your favor for your campaign as you are a Bernie Sanders Democrat rather than being a Clinton Democrat?
Misty Plowright: The Libertarian streak in this district is GROSSLY undervalued/underestimated. There is a huge Republican presence here that is undeniable, but that doesn’t automatically mean conservative. I would say the *MAJORITY* of the Republicans I know/meet tend to be fiscally conservative/moderate, socially liberal/libertarian. Hell some of them are to the left of me socially and there isn’t much room there. There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the Berniecrat philosophy and the general political bent of this district it is staggering. Against Clinton, Trump will win this district by probably 20-30 points. Against Sanders, Trump would have had a much tighter race in this district, if not lost it entirely. The Democratic Party missed a huge opportunity here.
I think, overall, it does help me. I don’t think it’s any accident that when I talk to Tea Party groups, Republicans and Libertarians [that] they tend to like me. I don’t try to talk down or past them and I don’t pretend that I know everything. Because of that, I’m also open to new information and perspectives. In some conversations I’ve had with voters (generally Libertarians), I’ve been forced to reevaluate where I stand on some issues or examine my stance with additional information.
I think it comes down to what Bernie Sanders represented and that is someone who listened. Someone who wants to work WITH you instead of in opposition to you. Governance should be a cooperative effort rather than a contentious one. There ARE solutions to our problems, but before we can get to them we have to stop talking past each other, start talking TO each other and listen to differing viewpoints, concerns, and issues.
It’s a radical departure from politics as usual and that resonates with people.
Jennifer: One of the issues you have talked about during your campaign is the technological gap that exists in rural areas versus more urban areas. Please fill in our readers on your thoughts regarding this subject.
Misty Plowright: I grew up in a rural area, and it really saddens me to see the decline there. It’s the same story that has played out for decades. Huge growth in urban areas, economic expansion, the inevitable crash (because we still haven’t learned boom-bust economics is bad), rural areas largely left out of the expansions and devastated by the crashes… it’s been the same pattern for decades. It’s a systemic problem and I’ll give some examples that I’ve highlighted in my campaign.
We tend to fund schools via property taxes. Personally I think property taxes should be abolished entirely, but regardless – they are an absolutely ABYSMAL way to fund schools. You end up with incredible divides between urban/rural, but also between urban/suburban. Areas with high property values & taxes have phenomenal schools, well-funded, and with all the latest stuff to help ensure student success. Areas with low property values and/or low population density and you end up with schools that don’t do as well.
On top of that, rural areas are largely left out of one of the greatest creations humanity has ever envisioned. The internet. Broadband (High Speed Internet) penetration in this country is pretty horrible. If you look specifically at wired broadband penetration, it’s something like 28%. If you’re in an urban/suburban area, you’re probably OK. You won’t have much choice in providers and you’ll be gouged for the service, but at least you’ll have decent access. If you live in a rural area? Forget it.
Now how do these two tie together? Well, if you live in a rural area and you HAVE broadband, you have access to ANY educational material/information you could ever need. You could get your entire education online, attend lectures, do research, work collaboratively on projects, etc. I work from home and frequently have video conferences, remote working sessions/walkthroughs, etc. with people all over the country. You just can’t do that over a dial up connection. Economically, it’s the same story.
People like me who work IT tend to make pretty good money. My generation (millennials) are increasingly rejecting the “traditional” workplace. We don’t like the rat race. We’re also fairly entrepreneurial. Now, consider if broadband internet was available everywhere what that might mean economically for rural areas. Instead of people fleeing rural areas to head to cities for jobs, they could stay (or even move to) rural areas. People could set up businesses easier in rural areas if their business was one that lent itself well to an online, connected world. All of this would make it easier for small businesses in rural areas to succeed and bring more revenues to rural areas [as well as] reverse a lot of the decline we’ve seen over the last few decades.
When FDR took office in the 1930s, something like 11% of rural areas had electricity. FDR created the REA (funded by Congress shortly after) and we got electricity rolled out to this entire country, often via public/private partnerships. Later on we did the same thing with telephone service. These days if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have electricity, it’s virtually certain you are specifically TRYING to be away from technology. There is NO reason we can’t do the same thing with high speed internet. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Electric Companies in the 1930s, don’t want to do it because of shortsightedness. They don’t see the profit in it, even though utility companies and telecom companies made money hand over fist from the infrastructure that was built. The same thing will happen with high speed internet.
Some municipalities have actually tried to get into the broadband business and were sued into oblivion by ISPs. They don’t want any competition and they don’t want people figuring out that they’re gouging us. Colorado even has a state law that was written by ISPs to prevent an REA-style program from gaining a foothold here. It passed because it did have a provision that would allow municipalities to exempt themselves from it and do public/private partnerships to bring broadband to underserved areas. In spite of that provision, that state law has radically impeded development and economic expansion that is sustainable and representative of TRUE growth. That impact is felt most keenly by rural areas [since] urban/suburban areas already have connectivity.
Jennifer: How has the issue of cattle grazing or commercial use of Federal lands played out in Colorado and your Congressional race? The standoff at the Bundy ranch became a very big issue for Western state conservatives and Republicans.
Misty Plowright: The Bundy standoff hasn’t come up much in this district. This district has concerns more around extracting resources from public lands. Fremont County is actually home to a Super Fund Uranium site. There is a great deal of resistance to the idea of using public lands for commercial use because we’ve been burned by it before. Cattle grazing is a bit of a different story and so far, most people that I’ve talked to who have an arrangement for grazing tend to think it’s fair (though there is some discontent with taxes around it).
Overall, Coloradans highly value our public lands and we’re home to some of the greatest national/state parks in the country. Colorado is a state that knows how to enjoy the outdoors and we want to preserve that.
There is the thought that the Federal Government owns too much land in our state, so there is definitely some feeling there that it should own less. Personally, I would like to see a 21st century Homestead Act. It’s an idea that has gone over pretty well here when I’ve talked about it to people.
Jennifer: As you are aware, Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans greatly in your district and this makes it hard for a Democrat to win. Some might say that your district is GOP-incumbent proof. This is all very similar to what many urban Republicans in Blue States experience election after election. Are there any lessons you can offer to a candidate from either party who is challenging a strong incumbent? Do you think the new man or woman running for office for the first time really has a chance?
Misty Plowright: First thing I would say is get started as soon as you decide you want to run, but keep it quiet. Get your infrastructure in place first. If you’re within twelve months of the general election, skip this cycle and go for the next. You’ll need that extra time to get name recognition and build support. Especially, if your incumbent opponent has historically completely ignored any challengers (as my opponent does).
Next thing I would say is be prepared to be bombarded by “consultants” and “service providers”. We wanted to work with one that was pretty cool, but just couldn’t get the timing to work right. Depending on your race it may or may not make sense. A lot of these companies charge huge sums of money. If they’re doing fundraising they may want a tremendous cut of the money raised. You have to weigh if it makes sense for you since often they’ll be using YOUR data rather than any that they may already have. It will probably be money you wouldn’t otherwise have, but you may also find that your largest expenditure is their commission.
Forget advertising companies, agents, etc. Here’s a secret we just recently learned. I don’t know if this is true in other areas, but the way it was explained to me I believe it should be. As a federal candidate, you are automatically entitled to the lowest negotiated rate for advertising slots that a media station has agreed to with someone in the previous year. For us that meant in some spots, we were able to run a 30 second TV ad for $2. We didn’t think we’d be able to do ANY media buys because we’d heard numbers like $10,000 or $15,000. Fiscal responsibility, eh? Another thing: if you contact your local stations directly, you *might* be able to get them to give you a discount since you’re not going through an intermediary. It’s a lot of extra work, especially if you do the production on your own (the media stations around here offer to do the production/recording for you, but of course it costs money) – but you can save a huge amount of money.
Show love to your local libraries. We held all of our town halls at libraries. We didn’t spend a dime hosting our town halls (aside from the occasional FaceBook ad to promote them). Compare that to my opponent spending $8,000 on *ONE* telephone town hall.
Basically it all comes down to this. Get out and talk to people, and don’t let your party dissuade you from talking to “them.” Every time you convince someone who would normally vote for your opponent to support you instead, you’ve just gained two votes. Your opponent lost one and you gained one. You can’t ignore your party’s rank and file, but you absolutely MUST focus on getting unaffiliated and ESPECIALLY your opponent’s party rank and file. Having a good infrastructure in place (web site, technical services, data, etc.) is extremely important. The longer you have to get your name out there, the better. Look for the cheapest way possible to get your name in front of as many people as possible. If you have a good online presence and they look for you after seeing your name, you get exposure and that’s what you need most.
I could write a book on this.
Jennifer: What has been the response to your campaign from Republicans in your district? Have they been more open to your message than you expected?
Misty Plowright: Republicans have been very open. I actually have a number of Republicans working on my campaign staff. I have won the vote of people who have NEVER voted Democratic in their lives, and who never thought they would. I have militantly pro-life people who support me because of how I approach the issue of abortion, even though my philosophy puts me squarely in the pro-choice camp.
Remember what I said about looking for solutions? Win-win situations? There’s a solution to every contentious issue we face. If I can find a solution that brings pro-lifers and pro-choicers together, we should be able to find solutions to ANYTHING.
It’s all about talking to people and actually LISTENING. When people know they’re being heard and that you’re not just throwing ideological talking points at them, magic happens.
Jennifer: After bursting onto the political scene and gaining so much media attention suddenly earlier this summer, was it only easier to raise money and support or did it make this harder in some ways?
Misty Plowright: There was a pretty big burst of fundraising for us and it was a great shot in the arm. Unfortunately, it died off almost as fast. I actually received more media attention from international media than I did local media, which was particularly frustrating for me. Our biggest problems fundraising boil down to a few things:
1: I refuse special interest/PAC money. It’s been offered and I turned it down. (I’m pretty sure it’s cost me an endorsement or two as well).
2: We didn’t get started early enough (my decision to run came in March… might seem like 8 months is a long time, but if you’re an unknown it isn’t anywhere near enough in a district like this).
3: Not enough hours in the day. I work for a living, and I’ve actually had some 80-hour workweeks ON TOP of doing this Congressional campaign. Even writing fundraising emails takes time. Get as much help as you can.
Jennifer: Win or lose, what is the future looking for Misty Plowright?
Misty Plowright: If I win, prepare for DC to be shaken to its core. I’m a firebrand and I’ll be rabble rousing non-stop. I’m disgusted at how little of what our elected officials are supposed to be doing – actually gets done.
If I lose… You haven’t seen the last of me. I intend to keep causing trouble. Stay tuned and watch this space.