Reflection on the 2020 Election by PA Green Party Candidate Michael Bagdes-Canning

  
Green Party of Pennsylvania
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 11, 2020
 
CONTACT
Chris Robinson, Communication Team
267-977-0570 and [email protected]
 
Reflection on the 2020 Election by PA Green Party Candidate Michael Bagdes-Canning
 
Michael Bagdes-Canning ran as the Green Party candidate for election to PA House District 64. Bagdes-Canning was already an elected member of the Cherry Valley Borough Council in Butler County. Chris Robinson, co-leader of the Green Party of PA (GPPA, www.gpofpa.org) communication team, interviewed Bagdes-Canning to discover what he learned about being a candidate for the GPPA.
 
GPPAMichael, We would like to hear your thoughts about your campaign for PA District 64. I see that you did really well, pulling 5,584 votes. Good Job!

Bagdes-CanningThank you, Chris. It has been little more than a month since Election Day. I am still processing what happened. One thing is obvious, I did not get elected. In a highly charged election cycle, I received 20% of the vote. 
This can be looked at in a few ways. We could say that my vote total soared from the 2% I got in 2016 to the 20% I got this year: AMAZING! Or we could say that I significantly underperformed because Joe Biden got around 31% of the vote in PA District 64, but I only got 20%: BUMMER!
I think the truth lies somewhere in between. One thing is certain, I knew on Election Day morning that we were in for a rough ride: there were record-breaking lines at polling places and lots of talk about only voting for Republicans.

GPPAWere there lessons, Michael, that you learned from running for Cherry Valley Borough Council, which helped you this year?
Bagdes-Canning: This race, Chris, was a learning experience for me. I have been on the Cherry Valley Borough Council since 1989. Twice before, I have run for higher profile offices (Butler County Commissioner in 2015 and this same seat, PA House District 64, in 2016). This race was nothing like running for Cherry Valley Borough Council. I know my neighbors, and they know me. 
 
GPPACan you tell if your name recognition as a member of the Borough Council helped pull votes for you?
Bagdes-Canning: I am fairly well known in Butler County. I have a high profile because I have been “in the news” for the last 40 years. My campaigns, my seat on Cherry Valley Borough’s Council, my letters to the editor of the local paper, and my “activism” around fracking, anti-discrimination ordinances, and several direct action campaigns I have organized, have given me a fairly high profile.

However, because of the way the district is drawn, my part of Butler County is a small appendage of PA District 64, but it is a very Republican stronghold. Most of the district is in Venango County, well outside my wheelhouse. Even in Butler County, even in Cherry Valley, this election was different. Voters were focused on the Presidential race, and many people voted only for Republicans. In the past, for my two higher profile races, I won Cherry Valley and did relatively well in other Butler County precincts. This time, it was a dead heat in Cherry Valley. In Butler County, I got a lower percentage of the vote than I did in Venango County (but better than my last runs).
GPPAPlease give us an idea of what went into your campaign?

Bagdes-CanningWell, Chris, we were able to raise a significant amount of money, seven times what the incumbent raised in the cycle and more than all of his previous challengers combined. We ran a spirited campaign, had a robust web presence, and a surprisingly good ground game and phone banking operation.
When I talked to people, our message resonated. I’m not suggesting that it resonated with a majority of voters, but it did resonate with many of the voters, even people who did not vote for me. I think that is significant because I did not specifically seek out like-minded voters. These were voters that I bumped into on the street, voters I met at their doors when we were distributing literature, voters I met standing in line on Election Day.
         
First, my platform was unlike ANYTHING that a Democrat or a Republican has run on in this area. We ran on a Green New Deal, Medicare For All, government you can trust, a living wage, protected and expanded civil liberties, water you can drink, and education that is educational. We ran on these things because these are issues that resonate with folks in this region. We’ve been hemorrhaging jobs and young people for the last 40 years, we are dealing with the toxic legacy of the oil industry and fracking, our schools and colleges are underfunded, and we work harder for less and are more impoverished than much of the state. Specifically, our messages around anti-corruption and jobs seemed to touch people.

Second, we reached new people. We developed a productive relationship with a couple groups of young people, students from local high schools and twenty-somethings organized into the Oil Region DSA. The former were a huge part of our local ground game. The latter were part of a direct action we pulled off at my opponent’s local office.
Third, we built some bridges toward some of the mainstream movement groups: Indivisible We Rise, Our Revolution, Food and Water Action, Sunrise, and other groups. Those bridges were not enough to energize many of them to become volunteers, but they were aware of our campaign. We were also able to forge a good working relationship with the two county Democratic Party Committees. They did not endorse us, but they did help us (particularly the Venango County Democrats). 
GPPADid you have volunteers at some or all of the polls in District 64 on 11/3?
Bagdes-CanningOn Election Day, we had people working the larger polling places in Venango County. We were the ONLY campaign to have anyone at polling places (according to a reporter and a Venango County Sheriff). We did not have enough volunteers to cover all of the polling places.
 
GPPADo you plan to run again, Michael, in 2022?
Bagdes-CanningGiven all that has happened, I think it will be important to have someone run in 2022. We built the infrastructure, and we have a better understanding of the political topography of the district. I am not sure that I am the person to carry the flag forward. I will be 69 in 2022. I am committed to helping, and I am not walking away from my homeplace. We need change. I have already committed to carrying on a conversation about the issues raised by the campaign and, I hope, in the next year we will find a candidate willing to champion those issues.
 
GPPAAssuming that mail-in voting remains popular, Michael, how will that affect any future campaigns?
Bagdes-CanningVoting by mail impacted our race, Chris. We spent most of July petitioning and most of August building the campaign infrastructure. By the time we rolled out our campaign in earnest, many people were already voting. I remember dropping door hangers off in Oil City and having a voter say that he had already voted, that he wished he had known that I was running. We got a late start and were constantly trying to catch up. We did much in a short time, built a strong foundation for the future, and made some good connections.
 
GPPAWhat advice do you offer to those who plan to run in 2022?

Bagdes-CanningNo matter what, I would recommend starting right now. Start reaching out to the people you need to staff your campaign. Start raising awareness. Build your network. Build enthusiasm. Identify important people. Do not wait.
I did not decide to run until I heard that the incumbent was running unopposed. That was in April. We did not leave ourselves enough time to make ourselves known. Even during the last week of the campaign, I would still run into people who had no idea I was running.
Do not assume that you are going to be able to generate buzz simply by announcing you are in the race. The pandemic limited our opportunities to engage in “normal”� campaign activities. Therefore, we had a tough time getting nominating petitions signed, meeting voters at events (they were all cancelled), or even knocking on doors. Many voters had already voted by the time that we were rolling out our campaign.
GPPA: I think you did a great job, Michael, were you satisfied?
Bagdes-CanningMy campaign, Chris, was as strong as it was because of the people around me. I have always referred to the campaign as “we”� because I was merely the face of the campaign. Obviously, you need a face, but if you do not have a team behind that face then 2% of the vote will be a realistic goal. Without the campaign team, I would not have been capable of running the robust operation that we rolled out. For instance, we aggressively used social media with some really sophisticated video. This old dog tripled his Twitter following and opened an Instagram account.
So, my take-aways: Start early; build your local literacy and become conversant on local issues; build a team; build local infrastructure; and engage young people. Don’t waste too much time on endorsements that will not provide tangible support; figure out a strategy that is not dependent on local media; and make your own media.
The thing I am most excited about, moving forward, is connecting our Green Values to the other movements in my district. What we are for is what many people are craving.
The Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) is an independent political party that stands in opposition to the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based on the Green Party’s Four Pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice/equal opportunity. For further information about GPPA, please visit www.gpofpa.org. Please follow GPPA on social media: Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/gpofpa/,  and Twitter, https://twitter.com/GreenPartyofPA
Photos of Michael Bagdes-Canning are available here, https://www.mikeforpa64.com/media
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