On Sean Tevis

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You’ve probably seen the Sean Tevis XKCD-style campaign comic. It’s a pretty fucking charming way for a politician to make their pitch, I must admit. (Tevis is running for Kansas House of Representatives District 15 — representing parts of Olathe, a Kansas City suburb, and some surrounding turf.) He seems like a great, smart guy and it’s sort of amazing to see what happens when an information architect — a web nerd (with a blog) — runs for office.

And while the outporing of internet love is great, people donating money to his campaign who do not live in his district are acting irresponsibly. He has apparently received donations from almost 6,000 people (~$50k). I bet almost none of those come from people who live in KS HR District 15. I’m not going to link to anyone specifically because I don’t want to be a jack-ass, but plenty of people who clearly do not live in Kansas have announced on their blogs or Twitter that they’ve given money. I don’t think this is right.

Everyone in the United States deserves proper representation in their state and national governing bodies. Sean Tevis is not running for representative of the Internet — he’s running for representative of Olathe, Kansas. I worry that by making him beholden to a vast network of contributors who live in California, New York, Texas, etc. that we are actually somewhat disenfranchising voters from that area. If you do not live in Olathe, you are not his constituent. If Olathe is conservative and would prefer to elect a conservative to represent them, well I certainly don’t personal agree with the politics. But that’s their decision. I have my own state and national representatives it’s their job to make my voice heard. Not Sean Tevis’. No matter how charming he may be.

I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My representative in the US House is Democrat Nydia Velázquez. She’s apparently quite a well-respected businesswoman — she chairs the House Small Business Committee and sits on the Financial Services Committee. My rep in the NY state Assembly is Joseph R. Lentol. And in the NY Senate, Martin Malavé Dilan. None of these people have cute web-meme-friendly comics on their sites, but I think the best way to use this excitement about Sean Tevis is not to give money to Sean Tevis — it’s to get excited about your local politics and learn a bit about what’s going on with the people who represent you. You’re paying them, after all…

End of rant.

July 27th Update: Sean Tevis responded in the comments (cool!) and I’ve somewhat revised my thoughts on the matter.

Assemblyman Lentol

Posted Sat, July 26, 2008, 10:52pm EST by Amy Cleary

Hi, My name is Amy Cleary. I also went to NYU and I currently work as Assemblyman Lentol's media coordinator. I really enjoyed this post, it was very insightful. We always love to hear people being encouraged to get involved in their local politics. I just wanted to let you know that any time you wanted to hear about what we are up to, our doors are open. Hopefully you got our recent newsletter dealing with issues that affect the local community. Assemblyman Lentol also serves as the chairman of the Brooklyn Delegation, and the chairman of the Assembly Codes Committee, which handles all criminal Justice matters for the state of New York. The latter is very exciting because it allows Assemblyman Lentol to play a key role in issues like Human trafficking, DNA exoneration legislation, Rockefeller Drug law reform and in 2004 the successful effort to abolish the death penalty in the state of New York. So any time you wish to get involved or get more information feel free to stop by the office at 619 Lorimer Street or give us a call at (718) 383-7474. Thanks.

More Joe Lentol Stuff

Posted Sun, July 27, 2008, 2:24am EST by Josh

Wow — the magic of the internet a work. Very cool to get a response from Assemblyman Lentol's team literally hours after making reference to him. My first question (if Amy comes back) would be to ask how she found my site. :-)

I'm glad she did, because it spurred me into doing a bit more poking around about Joseph Lentol. Found a few things. I enjoyed the article about him at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism site, "Joe Lentol’s secrets of survival." It's a bit fluffy, but good. And, of course, there's his VoteSmart page, which is a good way to get a snapshot of where the man stands (seems quite solidly liberal, like myself). He's been in office since 1972, which is — wow.

According to his Wikipedia entry he was put on the Election Modernization Task Force in 2000. That's something I'd like to know more about, for sure. (Googling the term leads me here, which I assume is a more recent incarnation of the Task Force.)

It's the middle of the night, now, but this is interesting. Maybe I'll do a bit more digging around later. And I'm curious about his HQ since it's just a couple blocks from my apartment. In fact, I walked by it twice today without realizing it on my way to and from the laundromat. Heh.

Local vs. Internet Financing = False Dichotomy

Posted Sun, July 27, 2008, 9:36am EST by Sean Tevis


I think your argument about not donating because campaign donations should be constricted to the local geography is funny.

Here's what I've discovered: Lobbyists give money to those who can help them. More than 90 percent of my opponent's money came from lobbyist groups. I thought I could do the same, so I went to a Barbecue cookout in Ottawa, Kansas to meet some of the same people who funnel thousands to my opponent. I had never seen an old boys network until that day. It's enough to shake your belief that democracy can function the way that it should.

So if he gets *tens* of thousands from outside the district (and usually outside the state) from lobbyists who expect a return on their investment, how do you defend the idea that I am "beholden to a vast network of contributors" who donate less than $10 is somehow worse?

I don't expect a single web contributor to ever call me up and advise me on that tax break for the oil company in Emporia, Kansas. My opponent would get that call, however.

The way I see it, I'm trying desperately to help the people in my district.

Good points

Posted Sun, July 27, 2008, 2:18pm EST by Josh


Just to say it again: You seem like a really great guy and I'm totally in support of you winning your election. Hopefully what came across wasn't some issue with you, but with the way our system works. I definitely don't question your motives.

My post should probably all be put in the brackets of "in an ideal world" or something. A world we don't live in, unfortunately. I don't believe that your opponent should be running on tens of thousands of dollars of lobbyist money and I'm certainly not a fan of Good Ol' Boy networks. Your statistic from the US PIRG is scary: "93.4% of general election candidates for Congress who spent the most money won their races" (source). Jesus. Something's clearly broken.

So as a counter to another flaw in our system, I suppose this seems fine (having most of your contributors come from out-of-district). But I still hope that people who donate take this opportunity to become a bit more excited about their own local politics. I know nothing about Brooklyn politics — I'm a recent transplant. But taking a moment to look up my reps and get a basic sense of who they are was pretty satisfying.

Anyway, thanks for responding to my post. Considering the amount of attention you've probably been receiving online, I'm honored. Best of luck with the election! :-)

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irresponsible? just helping Sean get out the message

Posted Wed, October 8, 2008, 9:57pm EST by Alex Rudnick

Giving Sean money (which I did) isn't taking choice away from the people of Olathe -- it just helps Sean get his message out. It's still up to the voters to decide whether they like that message.

Erm. Cynicism-inducing graphs aside.

(best of luck!)