Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meeting Paul Lang

I wrote some time ago about criteria I used for evaluating candidates, especially those I can see in person. In a later posting I used the criteria to evaluate a specific candidate, Patrick Murphy (running for the 8th Congressional district). It’s a time consuming process, finding opportunities to go out and observe a candidate, how they speak, what they say, how they relate to people, especially since so few campaigns will actually post information on when and where they will be.

Over the past several months I’ve had a chance to see another candidate enough times to do a thorough observation. Paul Lang is the Democratic candidate for the 6th state senate district, running against incumbent Republican Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson. I’ve been to 6 public events that Paul has attended and at 5 of those he spoke, even if briefly (link to posts where he spoke at length here and here). At some of these we exchanged a few words but did not have extensive conversations. This was my choice as he usually asked open-ended questions to which I could have given lengthy answers but didn’t. As a rule, if I interact with people as Jane I avoid talking with them in my civilian identity. He answered questions for an email interview and we’ve had a consistent email correspondence for several months.

The Utility Test

Regardless of how useful I think I may be to a candidate or official, when I meet them for the first time I take a very low profile and keep credentials to a minimum. Why? Because no matter how useful I may be at any given time, there will come a day when I am obsolete or replaced. I want to know how this person treats those who they think are of no particular interest.

Paul did very well here. He is uniformly pleasant and welcoming. He’s also very hospitable, making sure people have a place to sit, can find what they need, and so on. It’s important to say that up front because one of the things I like best about Paul is that he doesn’t fawn on people. It is sometimes a fine line but he manages it well. He gives the impression of being very grounded with a solid core of values. His parents have been at a few of the events I attended and they have the same sense about them. In this case it seems the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Paul is polite to everyone equally. Meet him more than once and he’s likely to remember your name, even if you aren’t a big donor or influential in the community. He doesn’t hold himself back and participate only in the “important” things. He pitches in where help is needed, talks to whoever is near and will walk across the room to greet someone he recognizes or someone who just appears lost. If you spend a little time watching him you quickly pick up on his organizational and planning abilities. He scans a room and can zero in on people he hasn’t talked to and where the forks are and what might be needed at the next two steps of the event. Plus, he can keep all these details neatly arranged in his head and retrieve the information as needed. If you are at an event that Paul has had anything to do with you will want for nothing and he will be sure to wander over, say hello, and ask how you are.

It is common in politics for candidates and campaigns to expect those interacting with them to keep track of when and where they met and what their common business is. If I am emailing someone at a campaign regarding a topic that we emailed about more than a day ago I give them the background on it because they will have undoubtedly forgotten. Political campaigns move at light speed and they just can’t remember. Paul is unique in that he will mention or send me a link regarding something we emailed about weeks ago, with clarity, and all details correct. Trust me, this is impressive.

The Staff and Supporters Test

People who has a high level of expectation for themselves is likely to hire staff with similar behaviors. You seldom see an ethical, efficient, and engaged politician with a sloppy staff. If you do, chances are they are patronage hires and the official is beholden to a powerbroker or party boss somewhere. While all candidates have to constantly troll for money, most will have a core of loyal supporters. See if these are local people or special interests. Talk to others who attend an event. What kind of people are they? The character of candidates is sometimes also reflected in the character of their supporters.

Paul is running a low-key campaign and I’ve had few interactions with his campaign manager and none with other staff. The people who attend his events or events that he attends are diverse, in age, education, life experience, and so on, but they share an attachment to the party and to Paul. He is, without a doubt, a hometown boy, and many of his prospective constituents are very possessive and protective of him. This is a good sign. They know him. They like him. They look out for him. They tell me how wonderful they think he is. By and large the people at Paul’s events are proud of their district and proud of Paul. They are nice people, the liveliest and sometimes the most boisterous of the audiences at political events I’ve attended. They are also the most down to earth. While the conversations I’ve had with people at events where Paul or his prospective constituents predominated may not have been the most polite they were almost always pithy and practical.

The Motivation Test

One key skill that can be a big help to an elected official is the ability to persuade people to do things they may not want to do, to involve people in a cause, or in their community, to get people who don’t like each other to talk. Paul is one of those people you want to do well for. Remember in school there was one teacher whose homework you always had done even if you blew off all the other classes? Paul is like that. He works hard himself and holds himself to high standards. He’s one of those people that you always want to be on your best behavior around. Getting out enough to write this blog post has taken a lot of time and effort, not to mention some money, but it has been a priority for some months now, because Paul is someone that I think is worth it. Paul often sends me information on events or mentions candidates, never with an explicit request to attend or look into the person or the race, but just a note that I might find it interesting. He’s very knowledgeable about regional politics and often passes along tidbits that have nothing to do with his race but are still useful. One thing I have consistently heard about Paul is that he has a talent for building goodwill and loyalty and bringing together people who otherwise disagree and by example, nudging people to take the high road. This is a rare quality indeed.

Paul’s diverse life experience lets him speak with authenticity to a wide audience. As a veteran he can speak to veterans. As the son of an established family he can speak to those who have lived in the district for generations. To those who have faced adversity he can relate his own experiences with physical rehabilitation after a serious accident in the Coast Guard and his potential exposure to anthrax in Washington, D.C. He worked his way through law school and picked up an MBA as well. When he talks about dedication and hard work and encourages people to, at least temporarily, pool their efforts for a good cause, he has some knowledge of what he is asking. As has been pointed out, he is a novice to elected political office, though not to political activity generally. In some ways that allows people to get a better view of him as a person. He doesn’t have that spray on social polish that seasoned pols have.

The Rope Test

My mother's basic judge of character is to ask this: If you were dangling over a cliff and hanging on to a rope, would you want this person to be holding the other end of the rope? It's a good question. Having watched Paul and seen his ability to plan ahead and his attention to detail, I am fairly certain that Paul would have foreseen that someone might be dangling over that cliff or a cliff in general. Any rope he handed down would have knotted handholds on it, perhaps a loop at the bottom to hang on to. There would be food and water waiting when you got back up, if not tucked away on a nearby ledge, and he would have arranged for you to have a ride home. This is all in addition to hauling you up and organizing a team to help with logistics.


It is important to look at policy positions, campaign finance reports, press releases, votes, and the like, but it is also important to look at the person. If you find someone you can trust, you can skip a campaign finance report now and then and feel comfortable that if he or she didn’t vote the way you like on an issue, there is probably a good reason for it, even if you never know what that reason is.

I have no doubt of Paul’s moral compass. I have tried to think of examples to support this conclusion but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what behaviors or words formed this opinion. There are no individual actions; it is pervasive in everything he does. He is far and away the most connected person as far as regional matters I have run into and he has been very willing to share what he knows. If you mentioned a state house or senate race anywhere in the region I’m sure he could tell who was running and why. When I have questions about regional politics Paul is my first stop for questions; he often has the answer or at least an opinion. He is informed on the issues and when I have heard him speak on those issues most important to his district he has marshaled his facts and explained his views and arguments well. His deep and abiding love of the 6th district is clear in his choice of issues to champion and the way he talks about the families, the children, and the older widowed veterans who live there. I think the 6th district would be well represented by Paul.


eRobin said...

Paul is, without question, my favorite of all the candidates running this year. Tomlinson will be hard to beat, I really hope Paul can do it.

Anonymous said...

He should hire you to work in his campaign. He gets my vote.

AboveAvgJane said...

eRobin, I hope he wins, too.

PB, I thought you would like him. He reminds me a little of our friend GFH.