With ten days to go before all of my signatures were due to the Board of Elections and I could finally file for the office of North Carolina House of Representatives, I heard something that just about floored me. I heard about a person (who shall remain nameless but is related very closely to a current county officeholder) who had asked somebody I know why I didn’t just pay the money to file instead of putting myself through such hell in getting all these signatures.
Say huh? I remember standing there dumbfounded wondering how in the world somebody so close to the political action would not know why I was getting signatures. They thought I chose signatures over paying a measly $140 filing fee. By my calculations, that would have been the worst financial decision a man can possibly make. I figure I spent about $1200 or so of real money, but that doesn’t include the hundreds of hours I spent on this. I probably averaged at least four hours a day on signatures if you averaged weekends and weekdays, and over the span of a hundred and fifty days, that’s 600 hours. If my time is worth a conservative $25 an hour (because I’m actually priceless, HA!!), that means I spent $1200 in real money and $15,000 in “lost wages” all to avoid a $140 filing fee. Wow.
But I was also glad this episode of baffling misinformation happened. It reminded me of how thankful I was that this was almost over. If even the people that should understand why I was getting signatures had no actual clue, can you imagine the hell that I went through for five months before that trying to educate the voting public about why I had to get signatures?
After five months of spending three to six hours a day during the weekdays, ten to twelve hours every weekend day, overcoming roadblock after roadblock, overcoming the hordes of people who chose ignoring me over helping me because politics is just that icky, hearing literally thousands of “no’s” because people are somehow terrified of letting the voters decide the fate of people who want to serve, after repeating myself over and over and over again about why I had to get signatures, after finding as many mediums and people as I could possibly afford to get that message out, people still had no idea why I had to get signatures.
I was so floored I just laughed one of those borderline committable laughs and just shrugged it off.
For a quick recap just in case anybody is reading this who still doesn’t understand why I had to get three thousand signatures, it’s basically this. I chose to run for office without a political party. I have been unaffiliated since 2014. Unaffiliated IS my political party. (And yes, most people refer to this affiliation as Independent, but neither the word “Independent” nor “IND” will be on the ballot in November; I will be listed as “UNA,” thus the reason I will continue to use that term.)
I also did not want the burden that came with pretending to be either of the two major parties or the insignificance that came with choosing a lesser party just to avoid a little hard work. I wanted to be a lone wolf in the political game, a guy that did not have to answer to anybody but the citizens of my district should the unlikely actually happen and I won.
I did not want a political party to control me as they seem to do with so many of our Democrats and Republicans these days. It’s heresy to vote against the party, you know? Heck, it’s heresy to even challenge the leaders of said parties. And that means politicians are more loyal to political parties than to their constituents. They’re more loyal to the hands that fill their pockets and campaign coffers than to their constituents, too. And it’s really hard to dispute me on either of those statements. There’s simply too much evidence from which to choose to support either claim.
So as I winded down those last few signatures, and as I prepared for a new journey as CANDIDATE Denton Lee, here’s eight reasons why I now see nothing but the good that came from these last five months. Because the bad of these past five months is over. I learned from it. And I’m thankful for that.
To get well over three thousand signatures, you have to ask at least ten thousand times. I wish I was joking, but I’m not even a little bit joking. You also have to repeat yourself ten thousand times. Believe me when I tell you that that is FUN!!!!
But when you contact ten thousand people, whether in person, over text, on Facebook, through email, or even through snail mail, you get one very significant perk: contacts that can help you later.
Those contacts I just spoke of? Yeah, they might be really, really sick of me right now, but that won’t last. They won’t remember me asking them ten times for the same thing or coming at them three or four different ways because I just couldn’t get people to respond.
No, I think when these signatures are in the rearview a little ways, they’ll remember a dude that worked his ASS off to get on the ballot because the reasons why I NEEDED to run for office were important enough that a few uneasy or awkward interactions were simply a price I had to pay. I did what I had to do, and if people avoided me because of it, it was a risk I had to take.
I learned a lot about voters. What I learned is not so much about the makeup of parties, though. I still believe nationwide that there is 20% of the population on the left that are straight ticket Democratic voters. Likewise, there are 20% on the right that are straight ticket Republican voters. That means – and I truly believe this – that there are 60% of voters who are either true centrists, personality/principles voters, non-voters, they have a poor voting record, they are registered unaffiliated just for the anonymity of it, or they simply just do not care about politics.
But this is the big thing I learned about voters. In Johnston County, about 30% of the county is politically bright red, and they will show up at EVERY election and they will vote straight Republican. About 20% of the county is bright blue, and they will show up at EVERY election and they will vote straight Democrat. The middle fifty percent – a group in which only about half of them will care enough to even vote – probably lean one way and typically vote one way, but they can be swayed. So if I can get that middle 50% to actually show up at the polls, anything is possible.
I learned a lot about myself as a person. I’m freaking tough, y’all. I honestly didn’t think I was this tough. I mean, I’m a little doughy and overweight by 20 pounds or so and I can’t run too fast or my heart might explode and the thought of sleeping outdoors nearly makes me cry, but I have become one mentally tough son of a bitch.
You don’t get rejected literally thousands of times, you don’t step over countless unexpected obstacles, and you don’t will yourself almost daily to fight long enough just to get through the day without gaining a very odd but reassuring confidence in yourself. The way I feel most days now is a feeling I’ve only witnessed in Hollywood stories where the trailer says, “Based on a true story” because the protagonist must overcome overly dramatized obstacles, but I can suddenly relate. I mean, my own father didn’t think I could do this. He only told me after the fact, but he honestly didn’t think we could pull it off. That’s awesome.
I learned a lot about myself as a candidate. And what I learned is the one and only thing I have to continue to do consistently. I took a risk in doing something that the silenced political middle was not going to do. Most of them were going to sit back and watch (or simply complain on the internet) about the party extremes on both sides, and they were going to feel more and more hopeless and politically nomadic.
But what I learned during these past five months is that they absolutely DO have a voice, and I’m growing surprised at how many voices there are. I’ll happily be their spokesman, but I cannot be heard without the grassroots chatter that they can produce on smaller, everyday scales.
And because of that, I learned that one risk is not enough. It seems quite odd that truth and honesty feel risky, but we are absolutely at that point in our history. The political middle is where legislation goes to find civility and compromise and coexistence and acceptance of all in a free society. And that’s politically risky nowadays. I’m up to that challenge.
I built a relationship with my mom I haven’t had since high school. The past twenty years have produced some potholes and speed bumps and near cliff jumps in my relationship with my mom – all because of me, of course – but to stand by and watch my mom fight for me as hard as I was fighting for myself has been an experience I will forever be thankful that I had. Sometimes when you take risks, even if you don’t win, you win. Thanks, mama. I love you.
I confirmed why I had to do this. I had to do this because somebody had to get the ball rolling. I had to do this because the political middle is being under-represented and the two sides are only represented if they live in an area where their representatives share their same party affiliation. An elected Democrat doesn’t really represent the Republicans in their district, and the same goes for an elected Republican.
I had to do this because the perception I have about education is actually better than what people outside the schools have. That’s scary. And eye-opening. And informative. And an unmistakable call to action.
I had to do this because teachers are nearing a point of disenfranchisement. They’re starting to not care. They’ve been treated so poorly for so long that they are starting to come to terms with this being their new normal. And they’re dropping like flies. And I’m not talking about money either. Money is a whole ‘nother subject. I’m talking about getting out of our way, taking all the BS paperwork and shoving it back up some copier’s ass, giving us manageable class sizes, treating us like professionals, giving us resources with which to teach, and then getting out of the way and letting us teach children.
I had to do this because I refuse to be silent while our politicians on both sides treat us like idiots that don’t know all they are feeding us is propaganda. We deserve truth, we deserve integrity, we deserve transparency, and we deserve to see propaganda, fear-mongering, and theatrical division taken out back and beaten with a nuke. And if nobody else is going to say anything about it, I surely am. The party loyalists just look at the propaganda produced by their side and they’re so loyal that they just believe it, no questions asked. And that’s dangerous. It’s also stupid.
I might be the first independent candidate in history that is not a “throwaway” vote. Some people refer to voting third party as “throwing your vote away.” Well, for twenty-five or more years, the office I’m running for has been won by a Republican. So in theory, if you vote for the Democrat in this race, wouldn’t you kinda be throwing your vote away? In other words, I’m not the only throwaway vote in this race, and that means I am no less a longshot than the Democrat. One other way of saying that is this: Unaffiliated candidates have won this district just as many times as the Democrats over the past 25 years. So is there really such a thing as a “throwaway” vote in this race?
And because we don’t need more Democrats and Republicans wasting our time by playing the blame game and ending each assembly session with a metaphorical nanny-nanny-boo-boo to the other party, what we NEED right now in Raleigh is a unique voice, not thousands upon thousands of votes thrown away on more Dems and Reps simply because that’s how it’s always been. And that means I’m actually the only one who is NOT a throwaway vote. Pretty neat to learn that now, huh? Now you don’t have to throw your vote away on either party!!
And for that piece of advice, I’m really glad you read this. You could have made a HUGE mistake in November.