LIFE ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

MONETT (Missouri)TIMES, June 6, 1998, lead article front page with photo of Joe Nix. This article germinated during the closing days of the Missouri primary campaign in 1996 when I described some of my experiences to Murray Bishoff. He recently brought up the idea again and suggested I come in and relate my impressions. I wrote up a list of chief observations and Murray has done an excellent job of presenting them. We covered a lot of other 'ground' regarding area politics which may lead to further articles on real world experiences.


Former Candidate Offers Insights on Surviving Elections

by Murray Bishoff

As the campaign season for 1998 moves into the Long Hot Summer, politicians and those with political aspirations will become a common sight. Anyone who runs for office can expect some surprises along the way, but sometimes, the surprises are much greater than could be imagined.

Joe Nix of Freistatt had one of those 'wild and crazy' rides when he threw his hat in the ring for the state representative's seat for the 132nd district in 1996. He said the experience had many rewards, and he would encourage anyone to pursue the same course. However, there are many discouragements along the way beyond what anyone would anticipate.

Nix was running for the Republican nomination against incumbent Linda Bartelsmeyer, an old friend. He is still friends with Representative Bartelsmeyer and her husband Bob, and finds he still gets comments from people who expect him to have a kind of perpetual antagonism toward his one-time opponent.

Several observations Nix offered on his experience for those who like looking over the political landscape.

"I was appalled at the burdensome campaign finance reporting requirements, " he observed. He spent a lot of time and constant attention on expenses, which he found a significant distraction from what he was trying to do.

Another time consumer was answering questionnaires, which seemed to come in at a rate of one a day for the first two months after he declared his candidacy. Nix thought he'd probably gotten a sales flier from every campaign organization in the country, and he still gets new ones in the mail.

He found the organizations asking him questions often had already picked their candidates, and nothing he said would change their minds. He viewed many of these inquiries as total wastes of time for a candidate.

The issue of money was troubling to Nix, who refused to accept donations from political action committees. He was shocked that groups outside of the county would so readily spend their money here.

Among the regular rigors of campaigning is the effort to go out and shake hands with the public. This effort Nix found to be very draining, and he didn't want to interrupt people's picnics just to impose himself on them.

Nix observed it's his nature to talk to people, not just make superficial contact. He found himself getting into long conversations with thoughtful people, or some who 'looked' unconventional and may not vote. However he valued a good exchange, and felt many respected him simply for taking the time to talk to them.

At age 64, when he was campaigning, Nix regretted running for office away from the district in California where he grew up (correction: 'where he lived and raised his four children for 27 years). If he was younger, he said, he would be happy to campaign more, but those years of contacts local people develop really are a factor in elections, he thought.

Moreover, Nix found himself distanced from serious consideration by those whom he described as practicing 'ancestral worship', believing only those who claim to have always lived in the area, and whose ancestors are buried in the church cemetary. He found such an attitude really blocked people from making more thoughtful choices about who they wanted to represent them in government.

The most depressing experience Nix described focused on sheer ignorance that surfaced from time to time. He said he and Bartelsmeyer both would get asked, "What happened to Earl?", and they would have to explain the beloved Earl Staponski from Pierce City had retired and unfortunately passed away, leaving his seat to others.

Beyond that, Nix found people would get their local, state and federal government officials all mixed together. Many, he claimed, appear to cling to party affiliations without knowing what their party believes in or what its present goals are. At the same time, there seemed to be strong feelings for what party people did not want to belong to, making it hard to know how to campaign.

Putting out campaign signs was a chore for Nix, and something that took a great deal of energy to pursue. Some people told him taking a sign was dangerous because it showed the property owner was taking sides of some sort.

The constant pressure to be in the right place was a regular stress Nix found afflicted all the candidates. He recalled riding in the Granby Old Mining Days parade, then seeing the Bartelsmeyers rush off to Aurora, while he chose to stay and spend time with the Newton County voters. He noted a Congressional race, due to the 15 county territory, is far worse, and candidate Gary Nodler had to have a plane simply to keep running from stop to stop.

Nix lamented the lack of real debate between candidates anymore. He wondered if staged appearances were taking the place of genuine contacts. Moreover, it seemed to him that if the discussion was not on a 'hot button' issue, neither the candidate nor the public had an attention span for the discussion.

Those kinds of discussion are coming back now on the Internet, Nix said. While not a factor even two years ago, Nix felt a candidate today cannot win without his or her own Web page, and there a candidate can post all kinds of ideas for public digestion.

Nix was glad he did not go into debt, for many candidates do, particularly after spending all their money to win in the primary. He spent all the money he received, and bought no more ads than he had available donations. Yet for a personal investment of about $600, he felt the experience was quite worthwhile, and he succeeded in making many contacts that he values to this day.

For those who genuinely enjoy campaigning, such as 131st District Representative Sam Gaskill, Nix said he has the greatest respect. Keeping up the constant stress of trying to keep track of a campaign schedule was hardly the way he wanted to live, and he found he is still getting back to projects he set aside two years ago to run.

Politics is still fun for Nix. He still enjoys attending campaign appearances and asking candidates 'the' question that gets them going. He admitted he probably enjoys that role more, now that he has been on the other side.

"I'm very glad I did it. It gives one 'standing', so to speak, and showed a willingness to serve and the guts to oppose friends with 'power'. I only wish I had started 15 years ago." Nix now hails from the U.S. Taxpayers Party simply to try to get more people involved in the electoral process. Still, Nix is glad he can encourage others to go forward, with their eyes fully open.


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