graduate school

Blacklisted, by Jen Sorensen

Beretania Consulting Begins

I officially started my own consulting firm early in 2018. At the time, I had a stable job, but one that was growing less fulfilling by the week. Then, by a stroke of luck, I was approached by a candidate. One that I not only knew personally but one for which I have an enormous amount of respect. And so I went to manage a progressive campaign for Kim Coco Iwamoto, who was running for Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor.

Though we were ultimately unsuccessful in our primary bid, the experience, while stressful and challenging, was also tremendously rewarding and educational.

In the wake of that campaign, I went forth looking for more work while I finished my Masters’ Degree in Political Management from George Washington University.

Eventually, I found a couple of clients and continued my work as a political consultant. I’ve joined the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC).

Choosing Clients & Clients Choosing You

For me, there’s no doubt that this work is a two-way street. Yes, I have to make a living and that means working for clients. But I also have the ability to choose the kind of work that I do, and for whom I do it.

I know consultants and lobbyists who take any client that walks through their doors. If the price is right, they’re for hire. There are others, including myself, who are discerning about for whom they work and which issues they choose to champion.

In much the same way there are defense attorneys that really seek to defend the wrongly accused, so too are there consultants who really want their work to be meaningful and fulfilling. Then, of course, there are those who seek only riches. They’ll defend anyone. Similarly, some consultants don’t care who their clients are, their motivation is little more than a big paycheck.

DCCC Blacklist

In the wake of recent news reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is blacklisting any consultant who has worked for a Democratic primary challenger, I’ve found myself outraged.

Even before this most recent insulting stance, I’ve never been interested in working for the DNC, or any of its national partners (DCCC, DSCC, etc.).

They’re threatening the livelihoods of a lot of people. And doing so to protect themselves, their friends, and a political establishment uninterested in challenges or change. So be it.

Say ‘NO’ to the DCCC

The AAPC is the professional association for people like me and according to their own website:

the AAPC is a multi-partisan organization of political and public affairs professionals dedicated to improving democracy.

“Dedicated to improving democracy”. And yet the DCCC seems less interested in improving democracy as it does protecting its members from other Democrats. We saw the DNC do this during the 2016 Presidential Election. How do you think that worked out for them?

And so…. While the DCCC flexes its muscles to force political consultants to sign with them exclusively, forever and always, I’m calling on AAPC members across the country to take a stand.

Yes, I’m relatively new to this profession and this organization. But what the DCCC is attempting is nothing less than financial coercion. They’re asking us to abandon the principles of our profession for power and profit. Surely there will be some of us who will succumb. Either out of financial necessity (kids gotta eat, mortgages gotta be paid), or blind obedience, some will quietly go along.

I WILL work to defeat incumbents who I believe have become too comfortable and familiar with blind power and ambition. I WILL defy the DCCC blacklist and endeavor to work with candidates who are truly inspiring and hungry for real change.

As the young and poor and underrepresented stand up against a system that has abandoned them, I will choose to stand beside them. Together we will work to fix the American Democracy stopped working quite some time ago.

I’m hoping, though, that as a group, as a profession we can stand up, push back and say “hell no”. I hope you will join us.

Boycott the DCCC.

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I’ve been an introvert, avoiding crowds and mingling with new people, since I was young. For a long time, I though my shyness a hinderance, something that needed fixing. Like so many things about me.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve learned to accept, to a certain extent, the way I am, rather than trying to “fix” myself. This isn’t to say self-improvement isn’t a good thing, but within realistic expectations. I will never be an extrovert. I’ll never be completely comfortable in crowds or with new people. But over the years with help and practice, I’ve gotten to the point where I can overcome these character traits in limited bursts.

And I think I’m fairly good at it. I know how to be polite, personable, and how to talk to relatively large groups of people without freaking out. But it comes at a cost. One I didn’t completely understand until I went to Washington D.C. to complete my Masters Degree capstone project.

D.C. Was a Tiring Blast

I had a great time in D.C. I, for the first time during the two-year program, had the opportunity to meet some of my fellow classmates. Because the program is entirely online, we took classes together, but resided all across the country: Virginia, New York, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, and more. With different backgrounds, career paths, and political ideologies, we were quite the hodge-podge of folks.

While I enjoyed the days spent together with these fine people, being “on” as it were, for eight to 10 hours a day was exhausting for me. Yes, there was moving around, getting up early, and having to be mentally sharp during the day, but it was really the social interaction that took the biggest toll on me each day.

Constant Reminder

Though I learned better my limits during the D.C. Residency, I was nonetheless reminded about those limits just a week ago.

It was Opening Day of the Hawaii State Legislature. A day for pomp and food and talk-story. And glad-handing and lobbying.

In the past when I’ve attended the Opening Day festivities, I’ve usually done so with friends and long-time colleagues. Though socializing is involved, it has always been easy because I’m around people I know fairly well. But this year, as I branch out doing some consulting on my own, I travelled the halls of the Capitol with a new client.

It was fun, to a point, and I think we made some good contacts. When I decided it was time to return home to do some other work, I said goodbye to my client and made my way home. I had every intention of doing work. But once I got home, changed clothes and sat down for a minute, I was hit with a wave of exhaustion. Despite knowing my socializing limits and the toll it takes on me, I was surprised at how tired I as all of a sudden.

A nap was required.

A Measured Approach

Most people I know who are involved in political activism are extroverts. They enjoy the work in all the ways which I force myself to be good at. In all the ways it energizes them, it knocks me out. And though this is something I know about myself, I also think it’s something of which I’m going to have to be regularly reminded. Long days of socializing, meetings, engaging at the Legislature and Council, etc. likely won’t end with me back at the home office doing more work. They’ll likely end with me laid out, mentally and physically exhausted.

Knowing this and trying to adjust for it might mean limiting how much time I spend each day, or week, being “on.” And it might mean late afternoon naps followed by late night sessions at my desk. In any case, Opening Day was a reminder about knowing my limits and doing a better job accounting for them.

I accept these aspects of my personality, though sometimes I wish it was a bit easier. A bit less work. Maybe as I get older and continue to “practice” it’ll become easier. But I’m not counting on it.

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https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/resolution.png

As a general rule, I reject the notion of new year resolutions. Sure, I get why people make them; the start of a new year seems like a natural occasion to make new changes in one’s life. But I’m not sure I have ever met anyone who has successfully kept true to their new year resolutions.

You know what they say; today is the first day of the rest of your life. It seems to me if you are really interested in making a change, why wait for a national holiday to do it? Despite my apathy for new year resolutions, I expect 2018 to be a pivotal year in my life. In lots of different ways and for lots of different reasons.

40 in 2018

Though I haven’t thought much about it (partly because I don’t want to), 2018 will mark my 40th birthday. In recent years, my birthdays have generally come and gone with little fanfare and I don’t know that I expect much different next year.

But for me, passing 40 years of age is a milestone I am not looking forward to. In my mind, I should be much further along in my life. And though I’ve made trade-offs over the last 15 years, because I love this place I live, I feel fairly unaccomplished.

I own no property. No savings and minimal retirement investments. I remain single and haven’t been in a committed relationship since moving to Hawaii; I have no family of my own. And perhaps most frustrating is the feeling I am still struggling to make a career in my chosen profession.

I imagine most people when they reach 40, feel like “an adult”. I often don’t as I feel like I’m still trying to find my place, my purpose.

A Catalyst for Professional Changes

Despite the looming milestone (and potential mid-life crisis), 2018 could prove to be the most pivotal year of my life after 2002, when I moved to Hawaii.

One way or another, I suspect I will see my current employment come to an end.

Governor David Ige, for whom I work, is facing a tough reelection this year. And while I believe he can stave off his primary election challenger, there is certainly no guarantee. As an appointee, I work at the pleasure of the Governor and would have to be rehired by his successor in the event of his loss.

I’ve been in this situation before; four years ago when Ige beat the sitting Governor, Neil Abercrombie, in the Democratic Primary. I was incredibly fortunate to be kept on for the current administration. I seriously doubt I will have that kind of luck twice.

While this situation creates a level of uncertainty in my job, I don’t completely mind it. Without significant changes to my role and responsibilities in the office, I am not inclined to stay to the end of a second term. I’ve gotten about all I can out of my current position and am ready to move on.

This was the case two years ago, which is why I decided to go back to school.

In July, I will complete my Masters in Political Management from George Washington University. I started the program with the goal of learning some new skills, as well as validating with an advanced degree the skills I’ve cultivated as a volunteer activist over the last decade.

Once I decided to do it, I never looked back. Despite knowing the financial expense and that I’d likely be paying for it for the rest of my life. I wanted to move up and out of my current position and the degree was the best way I saw to do it.

And though I am struggling to figure out what comes next professionally, I’m excited (and worried) about what opportunities may present themselves with this specialized degree under my belt.

A Year for Real Change

When I think about what this year has to offer, I am most excited about the progressive political activism that has been building since Bernie Sanders announced his bid for the Presidency. In the more then ten years I’ve been involved in Hawaii politics, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Progressive-minded people are running professional campaigns for elective office across the state in greater numbers than I can recall seeing before. We are organizing, collaborating, breaking down silos across issues. Progressives are coming together for a common purpose and a common agenda: make Hawaii a better place for everyone.

HAPA’s Kuleana Academy has churned out dozens of individuals ready to be solid candidates and activists that can serve as real and useful support to those candidates. I am a graduate of their second cohort.

And the organization I co-founded in early 2017, Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI), is poised to make a marked impact on the 2018 legislative session, as well as the 2018 elections. For the first time, maybe ever, I really feel like I personally will be able to make real tangible change.

A Life in Balance – Personal Goals

Maybe for my whole life, I’ve struggled for balance and for mental and physical wellness. 2018 won’t be any different.

It seems I always have a list of things I want to accomplish, skills I want to improve. I’ve never been great at self-motivation, though there are obviously exceptions.

My parents often point out that I should spend more time focusing on my hobbies, more time relaxing, and more time enjoying the special things Hawaii has to offer. They’re right. Between my day job and the work I am passionate about, there seems little time to take a break for other interests. In what time I do have, I struggle to find the energy to do anything other than being at home on my couch.

Maybe most importantly, I need to be more healthy. Though I continue to struggle with some level of depression, it’s in check. I’ve learned over many years how to cope with its ebbs and flows. But I also need to address my slowly rising weight and general lethargy. There’s no doubt I’d feel better over-all if my physical health were better, but I nonetheless battle to find the motivation.

Aside from politics, I enjoy writing, photography, and music. I will try to continue to develop my skills as a photographer. I will take more time to explore new music to appreciate the artists and albums I already love. At the top of this list: continue to write regularly on this blog about the things in my life.

 

I’m excited and nervous for what 2018 has in store. Here’s hoping it’s mostly great stuff.

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So, I think everyone knows I’m currently a graduate student, online, at George Washington University. It’s been a great experience so far, with only occasional stress.

Well, yesterday I indicated which elective courses I will be taking for the remainder of the program. And I’m pretty excited about it, so I thought I’d share.

State & Local Campaigns – Application of campaign strategy and management principles to electoral races at the state and local levels. Staffing, budgeting, and strategic challenges for what are typically lower-visibility contests that involve state and local candidates. Coordinated campaigns and the impact of the national party’s reputation on these down-ballot races.

Fundraising & Budgeting – Raising and spending money in political campaigns, referenda contests, issue advocacy, and lobbying efforts. Budgeting process, standard controls to check expenditures, accounting procedures, and general strategies for use in effective fundraising.

Digital Strategy – Development of an integrated digital strategy for use in advocacy and electoral campaigns. Introduction to the theoretical concepts, distinctive technologies, applied skills, and managerial challenges associated with digital campaigning. Search engine optimization, GPS, online payment systems, customizing back- and front-end systems to meet strategic goals and budget parameters, working with IT vendors and distance volunteers, legal and cultural considerations in the US and other regimes, site rollout and scaling, security and privacy.

Issues Management – Track, influence, and alter politically significant issue-related discourses and policy developments. Legislative, executive, and judicial venues and processes for policymaking; state referendum, initiative, and recall ballot opportunities; organizational structures, including digital procedures, for issue management.

Campaign Strategy – Orientation to the basic systems and technologies that must be created and managed to produce electoral victory. The campaign plan and campaign budget as the foundation for management of campaigns. Focus on development of a campaign plan.

Grassroots Engagement – Strategies and techniques to build advocacy support among and across general civic populations. Identification of potential supporters through database targeting and individual outreach. Motivation and training of interested supporters for grassroots action in campaigns, at public forums, and before decision-makers. Coalition and protest options; analytics of ongoing efforts.

Cool, right?

These are all the courses I’ll be taking, more or less in order between now and when I graduate sometime early to mid-summer.

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There’s a part of me that doesn’t like being busy. When I am, like over the last several weeks, it disrupts an otherwise stable routine. I’m also far more likely to use any downtime to do… well, nothing. So exercise doesn’t really happen and I’m less likely to put effort into eating well.

On the other hand, when I do have downtime I get twitchy. My thoughts become more detached and I have a more difficult time getting and staying motivated. My brain struggles to focus. For me, boredom leads to an increased likelihood that I’ll spend money on (arguably unnecessary) gadgets. Boredom leads to laziness (which also makes exercising a challenge), and depression.

At least partially, my dysthymia has always been tied to my level of productivity; I always feel better when I’m productive. Though I’ve been really busy, a bit stressed, and very tired since I started school, I’ve also felt positive, upbeat.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted here anything regularly since starting school in mid-January. But my first class is nearly at an end and I’m finding I have a bit less strain on my time. And though part of me is pleased to have a bit more time to breathe, I’m now struggling a bit to find tasks to keep me focused.

Earlier today, when I thought it a good idea to sit and write something, my mind was blank. There was no topic that sprang to mind which spurred me to write. Forcing myself to do the work of a post, this is the topic I settled on.

Ultimately, I’m a strong proponent of having some down time at least once a week. The ongoing problem for me is finding a balance. I don’t mind too much being really busy. If I could better manage my time, though, I’d be able to be more consistently productive.

It’s all a work in progress, but as part of my efforts to find balance, I’ve prerecorded two “Music Monday” videos. Hopefully, I will at least be able to post those once a week going forward.

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