Mudflats Chats – After the Election With Scott McAdams
I had the opportunity to sit down with former U.S. Senate candidate Scott McAdams and talk informally with him about the campaign. It was so informal, there was ice cream involved – the best way to interview someone if you ask me. It was only a few days after the election and I wanted to get his thoughts and reflections on the campaign while it was still fresh in his mind, and before he traveled back home to Sitka. The former Mayor has now resumed his job as the head of the local Community Schools program. His immediate goal? To establish a top-notch youth basketball program. His future goals? I asked him in our interview.
Jeanne Devon: So, the last time I officially interviewed you was June 1st, five months ago.
Scott McAdams: Five months ago… yeah.
Devon: It’s been a crazy ride.
McAdams: It has been crazy. Boy, that was a very different time five months ago, but you know, my view of the world and on many of those issues remains the same.
Devon: I remember that one of the things you said that really struck me in our first interview was the fact that you said you wouldn’t be “running to the right” on issues you said were important to you. And I have to confess that when the race became a different race than what we thought it was going to be, I thought it was going to happen. I was so pleased that the Scott McAdams I was talking to then is the same Scott McAdams I’m talking to now. And I think that people saw that and perceived that – that you are a genuine person, that you are the same person on and off camera, that your story didn’t change.
What did you hear from people about that – about integrity, I guess.
McAdams: Certainly it’s very flattering when people say things like that. I’ve been serving as a locally elected leader for 8 years, in a natural state. I hear people talk about how they see politicians who believe one thing and say another. I guess I don’t know what to say… people have been very gracious, very thoughtful in sharing that they embraced some of the things we ran on in this campaign, and shared some common beliefs and some core values with me.
And the press loves a story. Almost every national press person I talked to throughout the course of this campaign had the same five or six stock questions about Alaska the Red State, about Alaska the Home of Sarah Palin, That’s not the Alaska I see every day. I grew up here, and certainly my views of the world have been influenced by my time in this state, having lived here, and so if people perceive me as having integrity because I say what I think and say what I believe… I think that most people try to be honest with themselves. And so I guess I just think it’s normal behavior.
Devon: Maybe not so normal in politics.
McAdams: Certainly in a state-wide race where you have resources, you can see where politics has been reduced for some people to nothing more than money and polls. But, we expect our leaders to be visionary. We expect our leaders to have vision, to have purpose.
When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address, he didn’t have a focus group, and a series of messaging polling. That was his vision for the country at a critical time in our history. I think that’s leadership, not this retail politics and political branding.
I think that’s definitely a huge issue. One of the other things I see as being a question as our democracy and our Republic moves forward is the capacity of our free press to be able to really capture the imagination of people, to be able to function and pay their bills while at the same time as doing the critically important job of informing the public of the issues that really matter. I recognize that on the one hand we’ve got this great liberating trend of citizen journalists. You are among the ranks of those. And our traditional news media are getting smaller. I’m not sure where the balance is. I guess it reflects what’s consuming the news, and ultimately people are free to make their own decisions but in this election, so much of the attention was on the drama. So much of the attention was on Joe Miller’s personal life… You know, we are at such a critical juncture in this state’s history. We don’t know what will sustain us a decade from now, and it’s a conversation that nobody’s having, and it should be part of our political discourse, and of our civic discourse. It should be something that our press covers, but doesn’t. And so it’ll be interesting to see who the next Sarah Palin or Joe Miller will be who will appeal to the sort of national enquirer element of the news media.
Devon: Do you think that your press coverage throughout… would you consider it to have been fair for the most part? Critique how you think the press covered your candidacy
McAdams: I certainly don’t have any sour grapes and I’m not going to come at it from that angle, other than to say regardless of whether or not the press took as much interest in our candidacy as they ought have, I’ll leave that for someone else to analyze. But the fact that the press didn’t take interest in the issues at hand, and what’s really important… The fact that Lisa Murkowski has been able to consistently vote no on projects, take credit for them, and never be held to account by the fourth estate? And it’s not just Lisa Murkowski, but she was just my political opponent in this race. I have concerns about the way big business is covered. I have concerns about the fact that we’ve got a stable of talent throughout this entire state that’s unknown to the Alaskan electorate. I have concerns that there is not enough depth and breadth in the media dialog regarding the issues that are critically important to Alaska.
Devon: I would agree with you on that. I think it also speaks to the “infotainment” news on TV. I think that the lowest common denominator in humans tends to go to sensationalism and scandal and gossip, and so I think it’s hard to say whether the media drives that or whether people drive that…
McAdams: … and whether the news just responds to that. Yeah, exactly. That’s true. And certainly for those who want to consume it there is – at least on the national level – more in-depth coverage if people choose to go out and find it. And maybe that’s a great niche. Maybe there’s a place for a news service in the state that actually does more in-depth coverage of actual issues.
Devon: What would you say would be the highlight, one of the moments that stuck out for you as a highlight of the campaign?
McAdams: You know, I think the highlights, and it was a reoccurring thing – we mentioned that “everywhere we go, we grow” in stump speeches throughout the campaign. I think the highlights were those moments at Town Hall Meetings, at Unity dinners where you saw people come into the room curious, sometimes skeptical, sometimes uncertain, and leave the room convinced that ours was the right cause, the right message for Alaska. I wish we’d had six months instead of six weeks to continue and hit every town and have a town hall or a meet & greet in every town in the state. I think we ran of time.
Devon: And I think Joe Miller had an extra $600,000 and month and a half of getting his name out there in the primary because obviously was in a hotly contested primary race, and you were not.
McAdams: It is fascinating that Joe Miller was endorsed by Sarah Palin and it elevated him to a position within the Alaska media environment that endowed him with ink. But I mean it’s amazing how and what drives stories and certainly he seeded himself with $100,000 on the front end and got his campaign launched, and he was out there.
But I think through hard work, through having a great strategy a good campaign team we were able to get our name out there. The debates were great for us, those were other highlights. I think that people were kind of conditioned by whatever messages were out there to believe that we were under capacity, and when people saw the debates they recognized that we could be competitive and that’s where you started to see our growth. But it didn’t happen until the last week and a half of the campaign and we didn’t grow enough, fast enough.
Devon: Have you had time yet to even process what it means to have thousands of people and over a million dollars donated to you to put you in the U.S. Senate? If I were in your shoes, I don’t think I’d even be able to wrap my head around that.
McAdams: It is pretty heady and I haven’t had a chance to really sit back and reflect on that, and it’s probably not in my nature to reflect on that too much other than … it’s very humbling. But, you know, people in the state and in the nation recognize that and there was a number of people out in the Netroots that endowed our campaign $5 at a time. There were over 17,000 online donors in this campaign. I learned a lot, and that a lot of the fundraising is just time and work. I don’t think there’s any magic to it, it’s just putting in the repetitions.
I’ve talked about this in the campaign that I used to think that campaign finance reform was one of about 20 important issues… Now I believe it’s THE issue. I think that when you take a look at the national budget relative to what we spend on elections… we talk about a public option, there should be a public option for campaign financing.
Devon: When Clean Elections was defeated in Alaska, that was a sad day.
McAdams: We need it at a federal level too. We probably need it on a federal level more than anything.
Devon: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot already, but have you given any thought to what your next step is? What is your political future?
McAdams: Here’s what I know. I know that I’ll always be active. I’ll always be active in community. I’ll always be active in service. Whether that means I’ll be the Chair of my local Little League Board, or I’ll run for state-wide office… I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll probably answer the call and serve wherever my community or communities think I’m best fitted to serve.
I did throughout the course of this campaign put in those 16 hours a day, seven days a week for two months, I think there is an aptitude and a capacity to be a statewide candidate again.
Devon: I certainly know from my end from seeing how hard you worked, and how dedicated you were to this campaign, and the thing that impresses me the most is the fact that you came out on the other side of this with the respect of both of your opponents and with the respect of the people that voted for your opponents, even if they may not have agreed with you politically. It was the rare comment that I ever heard that was anything negative about you. And that’s really amazing. because politics is so down in the mud, and so dirty and can be so brutal. It can bring out the worst in people, and I think to go through that process and to come out the other side with everybody liking you and thinking you’re a decent person even if they don’t agree with your ideas to respect you I think is a really amazing achievement.
McAdams: I think that what’s true in the person can also be true in the public. Certainly there are those of us that would try to motivate others through shame, and aggression and pressure but I think that the best kind of leadership is the kind that appeals to a person’s better nature, appeals to a person’s better sensibilities. Not everyone is in unison thinking we came out of this as some sort of moral victors. We had our detractors, and those who didn’t care for our message and folks who – as is the case any time you get involved in the political arena – we definitely had our haters out there. It’s pretty fascinating, but of course, we also came in third place.
Devon: Do you have any thoughts on the results, other than the time factor?
McAdams: We had the opportunity to introduce ourselves, and so we did that. We also had the opportunity to differentiate from our other two opponents on issues. I had microphone after microphone after microphone put in my face with the question, “What do you think about Joe Miller? What do you think of Joe Miller’s personal life?” And my punch line, which nobody ever reported… maybe they didn’t get it… but after Joe Miller’s press conference and after he said it, I told one or two reporters, “I am NOT going to comment on Joe Miller’s personal life! Absolutely not. I’m done. You can ask me whatever question you want, but I’m not going to answer.”
Devon: (laughs) I get it.
McAdams: Because a campaign is an opportunity for Alaskans to have a great conversation about what’s important, and a great opportunity to talk about what’s next for the state. And we never got there. And maybe that’s a little idealistic, I don’t know. But we never got there in this campaign. In fact a lot of the coverage was better suited for the National Enquirer than the national press.
Devon: This has been an unbelievable journey for you, from the moment at the Democratic Convention in Sitka when the bug was put in your ear about running to today. In less than a year you’ve been on a real roller coaster ride. Is there anything you’ve discovered about yourself that you didn’t know?
McAdams: Huh. I think that it may be surprising to people, but so many elements of this campaign were familiar because of experience. Even though the ADN and others started picking up on Lisa’s messaging – that was one of the other things other than running out of time, that I think led to our loss especially with Democrats who voted for Lisa – was this argument that somehow there wasn’t enough experience there.
I’m trying to think of something that was really unique…. Maybe that is it, the fact of the matter that having spent the last eight years speaking in front of rooms of 20 prepared me to speak in front of rooms of 200.
And this isn’t something I learned about myself, but something I learned about Alaska that I didn’t know is that every one of our communities is more alike than we think, and that the common concerns among people are shared. People attribute different reasons for problems, but the concerns people have even across the ideological spectrum are more similar than you might think. I see people of great conviction who have very strong beliefs who are so much alike, only they just attribute problems to different sources – so that’s how their politics fall out. And I see people who are principled and intelligent and thoughtful who believe that the challenges that we face and the greatest threat to our future, is government. And then there are people who are just as smart, and just as principled and just as thoughtful, and just as aggressive about their point of view that the biggest issues facing our country are corporations. They think that the root cause of so many of our problems is the rise of corporate power. Of course, I tend to fall more out on the latter than the former.
Even communities are more alike than you might think. So, standing up in front of the Rotary in Palmer isn’t that much different than standing up in front of the Rotary in Sitka, even though those two towns are very different ideologically.
Devon: That’s a great perspective because there are so many philosophies that talk about that – that say that people really are the same. We seek to avoid pain and lack of necessities and we move toward healthy communities, a prosperous future for our children, resources that we can depend upon, all of the basic things that people want. They just want to be able to put in a good days work, get a fair paycheck, be able to raise their families and hope for a future that’s better for their kids than it was for them. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or in the Tea Party or the Green Party, everybody wants that. And I’m really hopeful that more people will see things the way you see them in our state politics, and I hope that you will be an influence in that direction for people.
McAdams: Well, thank you.
Devon: People don’t want to see you leave. I’ve gotten tons of input on the blog and conversations with people who just say “You can’t leave. You’ve got to come back in some capacity and keep moving forward.” Because they really so much liked what you had to say. And now, looking at the practical aspect of it, now people know who you are. They don’t say “Who? McWhat?” like they were doing in the beginning of your campaign. Nobody even knew who you were, and it was a huge education in an eight week timeframe to get people to know. It would have been nice if people had started from that point, but now people do know who you are. They’ve heard you and they know your message. Speaking for myself, I hope this is the first step of many for you.
McAdams: Thank you. I appreciate that and I appreciate the good will and thoughts of so many of the supporters we’ve had through the course of this campaign. It’s amazing the energy that’s gone into this campaign.
And I would encourage people to look within themselves, to look around their communities and say an encouraging word to people. I’ve seen the talent out there, and you shouldn’t have to get an endorsement from Sarah Palin to be considered a viable candidate in Alaska. And shame on the people who believe that’s what makes somebody qualified for state-wide office. There are people just like me, with my experience who are ready to lead. We need to encourage and look for these folks because they’re all over. These folks are all around us.