COLUMBIA, Mo 11/14/14 (Op Ed) -- As the Recall Ginny Chadwick campaign kicks into higher gear with a signature-gathering event this weekend, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a young challenger to Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller 10 years ago.
It illustrated the importance of money in politics, and the hopelessness of campaigning absent a well-established base of committed donors. Recalling the First Ward Councilwoman is one thing; running a viable candidate to replace her is something else entirely.
I was planning to run for Columbia School Board, and I wanted to know how door-to-door canvassing -- low cost but labor intensive -- was working for Mike Asmus, pictured on his bike in the Columbia Daily Tribune photo below, campaigning for Miller's seat.
"It would be much more effective if Karen hadn't already visited every house I'm visiting," Mike said. "I pull up, and in she goes with the mail."
Miller did little or no door-to-door canvassing. But her big money advantage made hoofing it on-the-cheap unnecessary. Thousands of mailers got her message out. "There's no doubt that when your opponent has already been to every house before you even get to the street, that's a huge advantage," Mike said. "And she went inside most houses, where I only stood on the porch."
Mailers are expensive -- a typical local run can cost $30,000 -- and Mike's campaign had neither the donors nor the funding to afford them. His advice: spend more time raising money than going door to door. Money buys mailers, radio, TV, and other critical advertising. "You just don't have the time to cover everything the way a few good mailers do," he said.
Social media has changed that equation somewhat, but not nearly enough, and it's rarely used to its best advantage in local races.
Like most budding politicians with grand plans to "do things differently" and change the system, I didn't listen. Instead, I went with my friends on the People's Populist side of the Columbia political debate, who insisted that if I just worked hard enough, I could go without much money.
My undaunted footwork -- visting thousands of houses -- would make up for my paltry purse, we thought.
I ran headlong into a then-unknown Darin Preis, who was about to become a well-funded juggernaut. He had the Boone County Democratic political machine behind him. Signs, mailers, radio ads -- everything I failed to fundraise for, Preis had. As I sweated or froze during a topsy-turvy Missouri spring standing on porches and walkways, the now- longtime School Board member kicked my political butt.
I'm left wondering if the People's Populist movement has thought about the need to run a well-funded replacement for Councilwoman Chadwick. She has been a powerful establishment voice during her short time in office, earning her Town Boss chops in several ways, most notably with her undying promotion of the Opus student apartments.
In retrospect, it appears she's just dancing with the ones who brung her. Her top campaign donors included Landmark Bank scion John Landrum, in for $300; Rader Operating Co., an owner of downtown restaurants, bars, and the buildings that house them: $200; Realtor Don Ginsburg, $200.00; Landmark Bank president Andrew Beverley, $250 to Chadwick for Council.
Notably absent: donors from the People's Populist community or the Pro-Marijuana lobby, forces now calling for Chadwick's head. Had they donated to her campaign -- or helped fund someone to run against her -- I can't help but wonder if they would be recalling her now.
But forget hypotheticals. It's doubtful Ms. Chadwicks's Council seat will merely become open for the taking if the recall succeeds, given her voting record and with her swing vote, position as "the most powerful woman in the city," according to Inside Columbia publisher Fred Parry.
Chances are a well-funded "Chamber of Commerce" candidate will emerge to fill development land with giant signs, airwaves with attack ads, and the postman with armfuls of mailers.
Hold the Phone! Parry himself lives in the First Ward and has a history of successful campaigns for the Boone County Hospital Board, former political home of none other than Mayor Bob McDavid.If the thought of another "Fred for First" doesn't motivate the People's Populists to raise money for the candidate of their choice, I can't imagine what else would.
-- Mike Martin