By Royal Calkins
Throughout Casey Lucius’s suicide mission, her 2016 run for Congress against a shoo-in candidate, she reminded me of a puppy playing with a toy while a big dog looked on. Everyone knew how it would turn out. The big dog would end up with the toy and the nice young pup would be left with a story to tell the other pups.
Two years later, Congressman Jimmy Panetta is fairly ensconced in Washington while Lucius is off to a new start in Florida having learned that numbers, particularly registration numbers, don’t lie. And, now, like our puppy, she has produced a chronicle of her political experience on the Peninsula. It is a tale of gumption, faith, disappointment and glaring naiveté about how things work.
Her book is part of the Scrappy Campaigning series of advice books, Scrappy Campaigning: 10 things I learned about life and leadership on the campaign trail. I’ve only seen excerpts, but they’re pretty long and detailed. From what I have read, she mostly writes about the same thing she emphasized during the campaign — about how difficult it is to run against heavy favorite, and how unfair it is that candidates don’t get extra points for earnestness and pluck.
She writes — repeatedly — that it simply isn’t fair that Panetta started out as a heavy favorite because his father, Leon, is a former Central Coast congressman, Secretary of Defense and CIA director, and all-around favorite son. Not fair, either, that Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 hereabouts. In the parts I read, she neglects a couple other factors that worked to Jimmy’s advantage, his military service in Afghanistan and his successful record as a county prosecutor.
Central casting couldn’t have done much better finding someone to follow Leon.
It is true that Lucius didn’t have a chance against Panetta despite several pluses. She also has strong and impressive military experience, even a PhD in defense matters, and she sat for four years on the Pacific Grove City Council. But that pretty much was it except for pluck, which we already mentioned. If strong military experience and pluck were all it took, we’d have to greatly expand the congress.
She basically doesn’t mention what made her think she had a chance, what research she performed into upset campaigns, what trends might have blown votes her way. It is as though she thinks people should be elected based on how hard they work and how much they want the job no matter the opposition’s strengths. She never explained why she thought it was helpful to be a conservative in a region that is not.
Her question: “What happens when you are doing everything right, following your well-thought-out campaign plan but get hit right in the face by the political machine?”
The answer: A vote of 181,000 to 75,000.
To her credit, Lucius finds villains other than Panetta’s lineage. For starters, she is no fan of the GOP apparatus at the local or larger levels.
She wrote that she approached the local GOP leadership early on and got nothing more than a poke in the eye. She doesn’t name names but seems to be writing about longtime GOP Chairman Peter Newman. She said he told her that if she wanted help from the party, she needed to hire a certain campaign manager. Again, no names, but she described him as having “a very bad reputation as being unethical and generally kind of a sleaze.”
If you’re thinking Brandon Gesicki, I’m not going to argue with you.
She said she soon found that she couldn’t count on help from other GOP leaders, not even Republican women in office, factors even more significant than the number of women who asked during the campaign how she expected to balance office and family.
“Wrongly assumed that women legislators at the state level would step up to show their support for a female candidate. None of these women at any level came through for me. Perhaps they didn’t like me, or maybe they just didn’t want to support my campaign for whatever reason. Fair enough, but as women, we do need to decide whether we want to see more women in office, and if we do, let’s put our money where our mouth is! Let’s stop talking about it, get moving, and start helping qualified women who put their names on the ballot. “
But to a large degree, the “boys” were worse.
“I hoped to never utter the words ‘good ol’ boy,’ but the truth is, I was fighting against the ultimate good ol’ boy network. I’ve come to believe that the only way women will make headway in politics, in Hollywood, in the media, in the military, and in many professions, is if we kick down the door to the good ol’ boy clubhouse and let men in leadership positions know that more is required of them on the issue of gender. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to kick men out of their jobs or out of public office, but I want them to know that our standards must change, their leadership style must change, and women must be treated fairly and equally. As Reese Witherspoon’s organization says, ‘Time’s up’! We mean it, and we expect results.’“
Lucius also takes the opportunity to complain about various forms of harassment she and her family received,.
“There was also one incident in which someone drew a penis on my (campaign) sign and spray-painted the word ‘Whore’ across my face. On another sign, someone painted boobs on my chest. You can’t really do much about these kinds of attacks, and you can’t control them. But they really irritated me because, like the ‘good mom’ questions, I knew these were annoyances that only female candidates were likely to encounter. No one was painting ‘whore’ on my opponent’s signs. (I was tempted to add a tricycle to his signs, but I resisted.)
“Throughout our campaign, people tried to intimidate me into dropping out of the race. In addition to the threatening tweets, negative comments on social media, biased press coverage, and vandalism, I also had my car keyed from bumper to bumper while it was parked in the driveway at our home. It’s amazing how vicious people become regarding politics. I was not expecting any of this. I had quit my job to run for Congress. I thought people would thank me for stepping up and making this sacrifice for our community. “
Though Lucius served conscientiously on the Pacific Grove City Council from 2012-2016, her book suggests that she didn’t have a clear understanding of what that entailed until she was deep into it. She wrote that there were no controversies going on at the time and that she was interested in council service because, as a young mother, she wanted to see more investment in the city parks, more family oriented recreation activities, more accessible public meetings and more decision-making by young men and women. But if she saw no local controversies at the time, she must not have been looking. The region’s water crisis was a heavy issue in every city on the Peninsula, downtown development issues were hot and city leaders were struggling with ways to address the huge and growing pension shortfall.
Finally, and here’s where more of the naiveté comes in, she writes that she couldn’t figure out why some political figures endorsed her and then pulled their endorsements or why some groups avoided taking a position, such as the Farm Bureau, CalFire and the Monterey Peninsula Hospitality Association.
“Not endorsing at all was better for me than if they had endorsed my opponent but staying neutral is a position that lacks principle,” she wrote. “I had the courage and tenacity to jump into this race, so the least these organizations could do was have the courage to state publicly who they thought was the best candidate.”
She goes on, with what might be the most interesting sentence of the piece:
“It wasn’t clear to me why they wouldn’t but it was perfectly clear that there was some underlying intimidation going on that was quieting their voices.”
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