Sunday, May 1, 2011

Frank Politics - Interview with Sloan Callen, District 3 Denton City Council Campaign Volunteer Sloan Callen

One of the great things about being C.E.O. of your own blog is that you are not restricted in the range of content you wish to cover. Politics is something I am interested in, at a local and national level, so it is something that I would like to cover here.

This may manifest itself in a blow hard opinion piece or an interview like the one you are about to read. Denton City Council elections are coming up with early voting set to begin Monday. There are numerous issues facing the Denton area that has some younger citizens up in arms. Luckily there seem to be at least a couple of candidates who are representing those positions.

To find out what exactly those positions are I spoke with  Sloan Callen, a volunteer for District 3 candidate Mike Sutton. I wanted to find out not only what issues he felt affected Denton County most but also why he decided to play a roll in the candidates bid for local office.

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FP: What roll have you played in the campaign to elect Mike for District 3 council?
SC: The first thing I did in my capacity as a campaign worker for Mike Sutton's city council bid was becoming a Deputy Voter Registrar. Mike felt that if got more students to the polls that would form his base. Typically few people in Denton at large vote in municipal elections and students in particular shy away from the polls. Many students are transplants from other areas and still list their parents' addresses as their residence. I think a lot of people feel they are only passing through Denton. The reality is many of them stay in this town longer than they expect to. So a lot of my work is the same even if it is different capacities. I inform people of the upcoming election. I offered people the opportunity to register to vote before the April 14th deadline. I point people in the direction of election resources such as the Denton League of Women Voters voters guide. I talk to people. Other acts of participation include writing positions, placing signs, making literature, and researching issues in the election, or rather how we can make them relevant in the election. During the election we plan to organize actually driving people to the polls.

How did you become involved in the campaign?
I was a walk on recruit. My friend Chad was helping him initially just from his ability and willingness to help in the campaign. Also he typically spends his business day in Big Mike’s Coffee Shop so again it was a natural fit. Basically I just started doing the things you should do when you run for office.

Did you have any prior experience working in politics?
I did some marginal work on the Obama campaign. However I live in Texas so it was really just a grab for primary points against Hillary since we split them up here which I am all for. But that is just the way the Democratic Party is organized. I’m okay with Hillary as well I just preferred Barrack. Aside from that I organized anti-war student groups in the wake of 9/11. I don’t know if I would consider that participating within politics but there was certainly some political organizing going on.

Additionally I have a bachelor's degree in political science but again I don’t consider that working in politics either. Political science is a discipline founded upon the analysis of statistical data. My passions, and certainly at the time I started my undergraduate, are more oriented toward political philosophy. I don’t think political philosophy empowers you to run a campaign either. However, in political science classes you will learn certain things about how campaigns and elections run.
You hear about trends in election cycles and the history of elections in America. So on the margins I think there are some valuable insights in those degree programs and experience that you follow but eventually it becomes common sense and not the application of a technique for campaigning. Communications studies also concerns itself with elections. 

I think I absorbed some wisdom there as extra-curricular debate participation is based out of communications departments. This particular election I think is unique and certainly different than a typical national election.

What made you get involved?
I have lived in Denton for the most part since 1998. I travel quite a bit but really feel at home in Denton. When I started helping Mike I had a sense of how important a city council seat is. Since I started I’ve learned how much more important it is and I think my next phase would be more about learning limitations of local procedural power. 

It is natural for me to want representation I feel is representative of me, myself. I will support a representative that is an outgrowth of myself. If not I will settle on the representative in the race that I prefer. Sometimes you have a douche bag and a turd sandwich, and I could see some people seeing the district 3 election in those terms. I do not look at it that way. The more I learn about the candidates running, the more I put a human face on Jim Engelbrecht, Mike’s incumbent opponent, the more I appreciate a situation where you may have several well qualified candidates.

I think that is going to be the reality of local politics. The candidates are more humble than national figures. In the end I think I got involved because I love politics. I don’t paint, I don’t sculpt, I don’t spend a lot of time making music for performances, but rhetoric is an art as well.

What is it that you like about Denton? How does your candidate reflect those ideals?
Denton is small scale. When I moved to the North Texas Metroplex as a senior in high school I encountered many indistinguishable suburban towns. I came from Tulsa which is more or less one city. It has suburban outgrowth as well, but nothing near the scope of the metroplex. When I started college and came to Denton I found a single city again rather than uncultured sprawl. Since then I have learned a lot about Texas and have been all over the country and still prefer Denton. I know more people here than anywhere else. I feel like I am aware of more possibilities in Denton and would be limited anywhere else. I think sometimes it is hard to be productive in this town, but right now I could not see being productive anywhere else.

Mike is emblematic of Fry St., he sponsors the type of grass roots associations for community goals I expect, he really sees himself as unconnected from larger interests. Lowell Brown, the politics writer for the Denton Record Chronicle described the District 3 race and the District 2 race as an only in Denton phenomenon. I think that is true. Those two races are wide open. I’d see the guy when he had Voyager’s Dream opened and didn’t feel a large affinity for those counter-culture trinkets but like that they were there. I know he has provided food donation boxes for giving and taking. That is very practical.

As a fixture on Fry St. Mike represents the small businesses that I take for genuine Denton life, but I may be just a vocal minority in this City’s center. I could live in an apartment right off the highway, commute to Dallas for work, and eat at Red Lobster. I bet some people do use it as a predictable automotive based town. Denton city planning will need to preserve low impact pedestrian interaction while accommodating more impersonal, more routinized ways of living. The city is a business.

What difference will Mike make if elected?
Mike will repeal City Ordinance 2010-292 and attack fracture drilling with every weapon in the arsenal. He will be approachable to the population. Code Enforcement will see a complete overhaul in this city. Consultants and developers in Denton will get the first crack at every city project. There will be a better relationship with UNT and TWU. Eminent Domain will not be used again.

Although Mike is just one vote on a seven member council at least having a dissenting voice on a typically lockstep unanimous body will do some good. Perhaps if other races do well then we can form a new coalition and even a majority. You got to remember, even though council members in the district races are only elected by their district, there votes affect the entire city.

Your future in local politics?
If Mike wins then I think I will have a lot of work to do. There are things a city council member needs to know and understand. I think Mike is capable of that. I think incumbents like Dalton Gregory, Jim Engelbrect, and Chris Watts are more or less capable. I don’t think they have any sort of specialization that is out of Mikes capacity. 

As we started to realize we are probably going to win a fear started to creep in. I never thought I would be studying tax law and corporate policy. I always saw myself dealing with crime and civil rights torts like First Amendment violations at best when it comes to civil conflicts. So learning about tax incentive financing and the Texas tax code is a new experience. In the future I think I will be more dedicated to local politics. 

I am 31 years old. My whole life I have been absorbed with national and geopolitical issues that really don’t effect me. I just don’t take advantage of government services enough for that to matter. I don’t participate in business that thrive or die according to acts of congress. 

Months before I started on this campaign I became completely disillusioned with our national legislature. I used to think the President was an overvalued position in public opinion, but I got to the point where I would rather have an executive doing whatever he could then a gridlocked legislature that could do nothing but produce asinine rhetoric. The courts pretty much embody what I would like to representative democracy to be. Even if I hate the logic in decisions that err on the side of law and order, at least there is well articulated reason and a background. 

The double think that goes on in congress is irritating. That being said, this campaign has made me realize how much more important politics at the local level is. Yeah, there aren’t jokes about code enforcement in Denton on the Daily Show. And we will never show up of Fox News or MSNBC’s radar, but the issues involved affect my daily life far more than what Michelle is saying with a fist bump, or the new buzz words the Republicans agreed they would be using this week. 

Getting upset about wars and human rights atrocities around the world can exhaust you. You can scream about the war until you are blue in the face. The electric company asking for a deposit proportional to your credit rating, that is really important. I’m not saying we should ignore the world until it affects us, I’m just saying my focus has been inverted from what it should have been. Now I’m always going to look to local politics first and let everything else become part of the background.

What have you learned about politics?
I think I covered that supra.

What have you learned about the voting Denton population's relation to politics? Apathy? Excitement? Confusion? 
There is a lot of apathy. I feel like this election should be a referendum on fracture drilling at Rayzor Ranch. If you are against gas drilling and didn’t register to vote, don’t vote for Mike Sutton, or don’t talk to your city council about it then I have no sympathy for your position.

I am not the most hardcore environmentalist out there but I can understand the issues. I actually find more people passionate about the electric company and raising fees and charging people with bad credit higher deposits that make bills unreasonable than I do about fracture drilling. I really don’t get it.

Like it says on P Diddy’s tee-shirt: VOTE OR DIE. I don’t see any other solution to this problem then electing a sympathetic city council.

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear your story how you got involved. I have been involved with campaigns and elections for more than a decade and it's always interesting to hear how people have caught the political bug.