Letters to the Editor

Unhappy we receive so little information about our political candidates — so much of its sound bites or mud-slinging — I wanted to participate in politics the old-fashioned way.

I volunteered to accompany Katherine Gaulke, Assembly Candidate for the 32nd district for a day. I drove the car with her political handouts and signs so she could walk her precinct and talk one-on-one to the district’s constituents. It reminded me of the Netflix serial, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Ok. There was no coffee. And neither of us was very funny. But in between my driving her in search of independent voters, we talked about our lives, the weather, and politics — just like the show. Eleven days left until the midterm and my candidate was finishing her 91st day of walking. She was determined to reach over 10,000 potential voters in her district, either in person or through the colorful flyers she rubber-banded to their front door knob. She lost 30 pounds in the walking effort and that made her happy.  As to winning, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

She’s a Democrat in a historically Republican district. A healthcare advocate, Katherine worked during past legislative sessions to craft a bill to get healthcare to the people in the district. She asked for the incumbent assemblyman’s sponsorship. He refused to answer her calls, let alone see her. Then in 2016, she watched the Wisconsin State Insurance Commissioner request bids from the insurance companies. Once received, the commissioner returned them to the companies asking they mark them 12 percent higher. That additional cost overpriced the Affordable Care Act in Wisconsin. It also caused the state to overpay for its services — though it claimed otherwise. Frustrated with rising healthcare costs and the lack of common-sense leadership on both sides of the aisle to address this, Katherine switched parties, threw her hat in the ring as a Democrat, and opposed the assemblyman.

We stopped at the home the mobile app indicated was “independent.” She carried a handful of the flyers. I waited and watched. At the first connection, Katherine’s animated hands indicated she was excited. She leaned into the conversation. The voter came out the front door to listen, took a flyer, and smiled. As the candidate climbed back into the passenger seat, she said, “That young woman wants to be a teacher. She should definitely vote for me!” I knew Katherine selected two or three items that referenced local control of education and noted the voting record of her opponent.  We pulled over to a ranch-style house. While she was gone, I hole-punched her flyers and then looped a rubber band through each. When I looked up, she and the homeowner were running to catch the dog that escaped through the front door. Katherine offered a dog treat, which she carried for just this sort of emergency. The two women got the dog back into the house. I thought about the number of volunteers a political candidate needs. In addition to supporting Katherine’s daily walk to meet constituents, supporters held fundraisers, Meet-the-Candidate sessions, and phone banks. Volunteers managed every aspect of her campaign, from helping Katherine get endorsements from the Sierra Club and the Wisconsin Education Association to putting up yard signs. When I paused in my task, Katherine was nowhere to be seen. We were on a safe-looking cul-de-sac, but I didn’t want to lose the candidate. I went in search. I saw Katherine’s silhouette inside the house. She waved to me.

About 20 minutes later, she reappeared and explained, “The dog owner was adamant she wouldn’t vote for me because my party supports abortion. I first asked her, ‘What woman would ever want an abortion?’ And then explained if a woman couldn’t find affordable healthcare with maternity coverage or work at a reasonable wage, often times she had no other option. Creating financial and medical stopgaps eliminates the need for abortion.” Katherine breathed tiredly, her emotions tied up in this. “She knew illegal, dangerous abortions would still happen if we can’t get women the proper support.” Katherine finished with a tiny humble smile. “She said she saw my logic and would vote for me.” It was a long day. Connecting meaningfully to a voter was a real delight. We drove to a home where a man in a winter coat, boots, and what looked like only underwear, got off a motorcycle and went into a house — the one that Katherine was to approach. She knocked on the door. It opened. I couldn’t see his face, but I saw him thrust out his hand to shake hers. She left a flyer.

“And?” I asked.

“They were just very short shots. He was positive. We talked about guns — how my family hunts and how the Second Amendment meshes with common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence,” she said.

“Are you ever afraid?” I asked.

“Yes, I try to avoid strong voters — lots of political signs in their yards. If they’re my party, they’ve already made up their minds. If they’re the opposition, they’re angry and not very nice to me.”

Katherine walked towards her next potential vote. She knew as did her supporters, that the time, money, energy, and support they gave might not yield a win for her. But she had to make the attempt. She felt morally obligated to try and do what was best for her family, her neighbors, and her state. I understood why my afternoon with Katherine Gaulke was similar to Jerry Seinfeld’s. On his program, he doesn’t have another chance to re-work his conversations. He’s got to nail his humor on the first take. Katherine’s situation is similar. She doesn’t have a second opportunity to make an impression. Each conversation offers her only once to ensure the vote is hers. It was 3:45 p.m. Katherine walked since 11 a.m. but still looked energetic. She stopped to change clothes and then head to a 5 p.m. Meet and Greet.

J.O. Haselhoef ,  a social artist who writes, travels, and lives in Lake Geneva.

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