Elections in America are about our democracy and creating our future. This last spring I had an amazing and very American experience – I ran for public office. It was my first campaign and I would like to share my gratitude and what I learned in five incredible months.
First, I would like to thank all those good people who supported me in my campaign for district attorney. I greatly appreciate meeting you and your help. I thank each of you, you know who you are. I look forward to meeting you again, I love you all.
As to what I learned, here it is: I set out to run a clean, honest and intelligent campaign, based on people and our common future. I consistently stated my beliefs and values, and my priorities and vision for prosecuting crime. As publicly promised, I did not attack or smear, nor employ guile or anger.
My appeal was to vote based on character, capacity and reason, not fear or angst. Nor did I solicit or accept large amounts of money (except from my mother--check the records).
Everywhere from Redway to Trinidad, I personally knocked on almost 4,000 doors. In order to better learn, I always let the people decide what the conversation would be about, I never led it.
My simple pitch was always the same: I introduced myself, asked for comments or questions, and then listened. I also met groups in peoples’ homes. I answered honestly and directly every single question put to me. Many people taught me many things, and I was shown many kindnesses. While I came in third, I believe my campaign succeeded.
Through these thousands of face-to-face conversations, I learned about the peoples’ concerns in the district attorney’s race, and about democracy in Humboldt County.
As to the Humboldt DA’s race, I learned there are two main issues: 1. Plea Bargaining, and 2. Marijuana.
Regarding plea bargaining, many people are angry. They are frustrated and cannot understand why drug crimes and abuse crimes are sentenced so lightly. They believe the DA’s office runs a “revolving door” operation and they don’t like it. This I heard--over and over.
Regarding marijuana, virtually everyone agrees that Prop 215 is badly broken. Most agree the Humboldt DA’s unique 99-plant prosecution limit exacerbated things and led to very bad consequences – undeniably so to those whose neighborhoods suffered.
I was educated at peoples’ doors in just those neighborhoods; I learned they are everywhere. When I explained this November’s marijuana ballot initiative, people county-wide showed concern about the future. Many are in favor of legalization, although for different reasons. There is great uncertainty, with leadership sorely needed.
Having been a criminal prosecutor for over 11 years, I already knew that many people have a very underdeveloped understanding of how our criminal justice system actually works. It is complex and secretive, and while it operates “in open court,” understanding its insides is very difficult for citizens in general.
Sadly and not to my surprise, I learned that few people really know just how very poorly the current DA is still running criminal justice in Humboldt County--as ever he will.
As for this fall’s DA’s election, here is what I think: The questions facing those voting are not so simple as being “tough on crime,” nor taking unjustifiable credit for movements in crime statistics, etc. So what? This is a very complex and important job, and by definition anyone offering sophistries as rationale for your vote is not up to it. I submit that the more any candidate avoids an honest, straight-on answer, the more a voter should be distrustful. The core issue is always the ability to lead honestly, so demand it.
Alexis de Tocqueville said that “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “We live in a democracy--use it or lose it.”
If you believe as I do, that we actually create our own future, then the most important issue in any election is really the character of the candidates as leaders. After our decades of culture wars, I submit that character is far more important than political prosecutions. I urge everyone to look beyond canned rhetoric and shrewd tactics.
Instead, look very carefully into the intellect, beliefs and values of these two human beings as you decide your vote, as these traits are what will truly guide them once in office and determine our common future.
My deep thanks to you all.
Paul Hagen served as a criminal and civil prosecutor in four North Coast district attorney’s offices, including Humboldt’s. He is currently is an attorney in Eureka and believes deeply in participatory democracy.