Campaigning at the Deadline: Experiential Learning with LEAP

By Brian Aldaco

With early elections around the corner, more and more  candidates on the November ballots are upping the ante in order to secure a victory this November 8th. This is especially true of Congressman Will Hurd’s campaign in District 23 against Pete Gallego, which has made it the most contested district in Texas. As Congressman Hurd’s re-election campaign draws to a close, Republican officials from varying levels of government have assisted in his efforts, including Paul Ryan, Gregg Abbot, Tom Mechler (Chairman of the Texas Republican Party), and others.

This past Friday, Congressman Pete Olson and his staff flew from DC to join the list of party officials to contribute to the Republican success in the district. Among the staff members and the Congressman who convoyed from Sugar Land to Del Rio there was a group of volunteers ready and eager to help in Hurd’s Campaign.  I spent my Friday afternoon completing the six-hour trip down to the border town of Del Rio and canvassing in favor of Congressman Hurd on Saturday.Congressman Will Hurd, SHSU, LEAP, Brian Aldaco, Pete Olson

With staffers located in DC, many of those in the convoy were more than happy to finally be in their home state of Texas, Congressman Olson included. On the way to Del Rio I was placed with a volunteer from Richmond (a retiree who had worked for the TSA in DC, the Corrections Board in Baltimore, and traveled around the world), a District Director for Congressman Olson, and a DC intern (freshly graduated from A&M who was among those ready to indulge in the Texas spirit). Passing through old Texas towns, vast free-range pastures, and some barren patches, the road became longer and lonelier as we got near border. From pines and oaks, the landscape turned into shrubs, sand, and mesquites, a desolate land with a few settlement’s along the way. After crossing the border patrol check point, marking the 25 mile mark before arriving to Mexico, we remarked how there was still no signs of civilization as we neared Del Rio. Eventually however, we neared a medium-sized building which advertised fajitas and tortilla chips; we had finally entered Del Rio.

As our first time in Del Rio for all of us, and the first time that close to the border for most, Ms. Dana Benoit (Congressman Olson’s campaign manger) deemed it apt, some may say necessary, to dine with a feast of Mexican cuisine. So being we entered Manuel’s Steakhouse, where those DC émigrés relished upon the savor of fajitas, tacos, and margaritas (a taste of authentic Mexican which they had long been waiting for). With conversation about the hectic DC lifestyle, the night soon came to an end. We then retired to our hotel rooms to rest and get ready for the block-walk-filled Saturday.

Upon waking up in the little Del Rio hotel, we packed our bags and met inside the local Chick-Fil-A. There we met campaign staffers from the Hurd team, Hurd’s Chief of Staff included. After a briefing of the day’s plan, and some words of encouragement from Congressman Olson, we climbed into our assigned cars and immersed ourselves within the Del Rio community.

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The team I was assigned to included Stoney Burke (Congressman Hurd’s chief of staff) and Jorge (a student from the University of Houston), who had traveled with us from Sugarland. With a majority hispanic constituency, Being able to speak Spanish was a real benefit for Jorge and me because we were able to communicate better with the voters we met during the day. Like any other block-walking operation, however, the number of constituents that answered the door was minimal. However, those that did answer were friendly and cared about their community, considering it highly important to choose the best to represent them at DC. Through meeting with constituents we learned how their major concerns rested on border security, adequate care of veterans, and the proper maintenance of Highway 277. We continued block walking, driving through houses of all shapes and sizes that resembled Mexican architecture, until we finished two sets of walk books.

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With only a few constituents declaring that they will not vote for Hurd, those from the Hurd and Olson campaign alike considered the day a very positive indicator of what the results would be come November 8.

After we all finished our assignments, we regrouped at Chick-Fil-A to get ready for our drive back to Sugar Land. We then said our goodbyes to the Hurd Campaign, extremely grateful to help Congressman Hurd, and bid farewell to Del Rio. With the sun bearing its last rays on the endless pastures of green and hay, we sped through highway 90 en route to Sugar Land. As we left the border town we sympathized with that dimming twilight which shone its last glimmering lights to make way for the unknown night. With such an uncertain presidential election, all we can do now is wait for November 8th to come and hope that our contributions will at least yield victory at the local level.

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The LEAP Center does not engage in partisan politics.  The Center does provide internship and volunteer opportunities for students.  In the past two years, we’ve worked with students who have interned or volunteered for the Democratic, Republican, and Green Parties. 

A Campaign Diary, Part II: Brian Aldaco

Brian Aldaco is a freshman at SHSU who spent the last month in upstate New York working on a congressional campaign.  For a student who hadn’t spent much time outside of his home state, it was a great window into the world of politics and the opportunities of travel. 

This blog entry is his second addressing the campaign work he did in June 2016.

As the culmination of the New York District 19 Republican Primary drew near, campaign volunteers were tasked to muster up every single ounce of energy to go through our block walking assignments and ensure a Heaney victory.  As before, this included going to the various towns and villages of the district; from the Hudson Valley and through Catskill Mountains we marched from house to house in hopes of being heard.

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Additionally, as a means to operate more effectively, we were  relocated to a country home in the candidate’s home town of Millbrook. With creaking wooden floors, book shelves filled with literature, and antique house decorations, we could get a feel for the home’s historic spirit. This also allowed us to experience the region’s house culture, which is replete with historic homes.  In fact, it’s not uncommon to see the year the home was built on or near the doors of the homes, with many of the years dating back to the 19th century.

Two days before the election we came together to phone bank. This tedious process included being placed on a call queue, waiting for a voter to answer, and hope that the prospective voter doesn’t hang up or yell at you.  Although these were common responses, we continued to call, ever eager to reach out to voters.  On Monday, alone, we were able to reach 1,600 voters.

As dawn broke on June 28, we awoke with a sense of excitement. Finally, the day we had all been working for had come. Finally, our month-long work was about to pay off, to hopefully gain a victory. With these high hopes, we drove 45 minutes to campaign headquarters, in Hyde Park.

Inside the office, decorated with pictures of Winston Churchill and FDR, we were tasked with completing phone banks. Thus began one of the most extensive endeavors in which I had ever participated. By this time, the voters had begun to tire of the frequent calls from candidates’ staffs, and they let us know it–loudly and frequently.  The day progressed, and an assignment of 500 calls morphed into an assignment of 600 calls, then 1,000.  Collectively, we became a calling machine, reaching more than 20,000 voters in a two-day period.

At 7:30, with a sore, throbbing ear and exhausted vocal cords, I regrouped with the volunteers, Joe Williams, and Campaign Manager David O’Connell for one last briefing. It had all come to a close; there was no more we could do but wait for the polling results and head on over to Mr. Heaney’s viewing party.

As we crossed the threshold of the bar and grill we stepped into an assembly of celebrating campaign sympathizers and friends. No matter what the polling results would yield, we had all worked just as hard, the campaign had become our purpose, every single door we had knocked and number we had dialed, we did so as to ensure Mr. Heaney’s victory. For a month we had become the campaign and on that night it would end.

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As the Congressional District 19’s results were posted it was evident that our candidate was not receiving the support it needed to win the primary. After the majority of precincts reported the results, it was clear that Mr. Heaney would not make it to the general election.

Nonetheless, we all held our head high with pride. For the volunteers, it was the first time we had worked in such an extensive campaign. Even though I was not able to see my candidate win the primary, I was just as grateful for being part of his efforts. We all learned an extensive amount of the political world that we could not learned anywhere else. For that reason alone I am grateful to Grassroots Consultant Joe Williams, Campaign Manager David O’Connell, and Mr. Andrew Heaney.

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A Campaign Diary: Brian Aldaco

Brian Aldaco is a freshman at SHSU and a LEAP Ambassador.  After a fun and education filled first year at SHSU, Brian got a call asking for his help with a Republican congressional campaign in New York state.  Showing the adventurous spirit, Brian took the offer and set off on a 30-day learning experience.  This is the first of two blog entries from him on the trip and work.

The call came late in the campaign season.  Would I fly to New York to work on a campaign?   With only four days notice, I didn’t have much time to think.  Fortunately, I didn’t need much time to think.  Yes!

As with any far away trip, my travel began at the airport. I was to fly from the Houston Bush International Airport, transfer planes in Atlanta, Georgia to finally arrive at the Albany International Airport.

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At 10:00 at night, already having crossed over to the eastern time region, I arrived at my destination in the gorgeous (not-as-much-as-Texas) state of New York.  It was only my second time in a plane, and it was my first time in New York.

The campaign was for Andrew Heaney, a Republican who is running for US Congress in the Albany region of New York state.  My job was to be part of the many volunteers and staff on hand to help him win.  This includes: block-walking, phone calling, assisting with events, and other duties.

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The day after I arrived, the rest of the block-walking brigade and I, a total of six students, woke up early in the morning to get a short briefing by campaign mangers Joe Williams and David O’Connell. As very experienced professionals in Get Out To Vote (GOTV) strategies, the managers delegated areas of the state’s Congressional District 19 to us. Hence we were deployed from our hotel in the village of Colonie, pumped up and ready to meet voters on behalf of candidate Heaney to ensure his victory in this June 28 Republican primary.Heaney_Signs_Web

Riding through the various towns and villages of the district has been a pleasure. As a lover of nature’s wooded paradise it has been delightful to see the congressional district composed of the counties of Ostego, Montgomery, Schohaire, Greene, Rensselaer, Columbia, Delaware, Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess. Amidst woodpeckers thumping in trunks, chipmunks trailing through every garden, beavers bravely rocking across the streets, and the occasional rabbit bouncing through the green fields, the Heaney block walkers have toiled through the week to encourage residents of this gorgeous country side of New York State to support us.

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Tasked with this endeavor, I have met along the way a wide variety of people along with the different tempers they offer when either rooting for our candidate or shrugging us off as if we were pesky soliciting salesman. I might add, however, that regardless of resentment for our candidate from some of the houses, there is still a sense of polite generosity whereupon most of these nay-sayers will end their farewell with a sincere “good luck.”

By traveling through these small upstate New York villages I am getting a better sense of the northern culture. This small community feel was not so much different from a town like Huntsville, for example, where it is always pleasant to visit the town square and enjoy a lunch. This first week this is how we all spent our midday breaks…

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by enjoying such delicacies as Ruben wraps, Philly cheese steak sandwiches,

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classic dinner hamburgers with fries, small town coffee-shop espressos and tea, and much other delicious treats that help illuminate the delightful taste of the different communities of New York’s 19th congressional district.

However, the highlight of the week was having the chance to meet with Mr. Heaney on Wednesday in the city of Oneonta, located in Ostego County about an hour’s drive south of Colonie. There, a debate would be held between Heaney and his opponent John Faso. With the temperature dropping to 45 degrees along with menacing rain clouds trailing along the mountain tree tops which surrounded the city, we were eager to go inside the city’s theatre production center where the debate would be held. The debate between the two New York Congressional candidates was diplomatic with minimal hostility.

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At the end of the debate we were able to shake hands and meet with Mr. Heaney. He shared how impressed he was with our work thus far, which motivated us to work even harder. This motivation would later be demonstrated when block walking through Saturday’s rainy morning. Nonetheless the evening of the debate we chose to relax over an all New Yorker pizza in Oneonta’s very special Italian restaurant Joe Ruffino’s.

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With a week of block walking through beautiful and quirky New York villages it has been a great pleasure to have this great opportunity to be a part of an amazing campaign. Even though at times the steep mountainous roads have caused us consternation, (especially when the pavement ends) it has been rewarding to enjoy the picturesque landscapes. With so much country beauty it’s hard not to get lost in the rolling fields and piny woods of upstate New York from which I have to shake off its trance and continue on this northern grass roots mission to success.

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