June 12, 2016
By Jon Carter
It was from ground zero that the Kirk Watson Campaign Academy launched 19 young, eager politicos into a new circle of wonks, experts, and gurus of political operations, grooming them to be the next wave of Democrat operatives. Our collective goal, muttered nervously and in syncopation but burning bright in all of our eyes, was simple and 100% necessary: the Campaign Academy Fellows possess a fierce desire to turn Texas blue.
No, you didn’t hear that wrong. This collective of ambitious young people not only believes that Texas can become a Democratic state but is working tirelessly to learn what it takes to make that happen. As I soon learned, we weren’t alone.
Senator Kirk Watson and Program Director Stephanie Chiarello kicked off the Academy with a charismatic speech, and over the course of the first week, guest speakers hit us with the ins and outs of the Travis County Democratic Party, the Texas Democratic Party, campaign planning, field planning, and a special talk on unions and our cohort was deputized by the Honorable Bruce Elfant, granting us the ability to register people to vote in Travis County.
Bruce Elfant is the Travis County Tax Assessor and is widely known as a major force for voter enfranchisement in the community. I saw him leaving an entirely different event the very next evening on his quest to get 90% of eligible Travis County residents registered to vote.
Somewhere along the way between ‘Organizing 101’ and a revolving array of political specialists, the Treasurer of the AFLCIO declared that he believes Texas isn’t truly a red state, it is a low voter turnout state. These sentiments only served to validate our convictions. My personal belief is that the 19 Fellows currently working out of the AFLCIO Headquarters in Austin will in the future look back in amazement at the level of talent and potential assembled in one place.
Thursday and Friday will bring budgeting wizard Cliff Walker, whom I had the chance to meet a few days ago (and also ran into him during an evening event), Kate Alexander and Oliver Bernstein on messaging, and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt among many other stars. With this being the first of several weeks, I can only hope to contain my awe long enough to soak in the amazing insights I look forward to gaining through Campaign Academy this summer!
I came to Campaign Academy to gain the tools needed to be a force for Texas Democrats, and so far it looks like I’ll be gaining something far more crucial – a network and knowledge of people just as passionate as I am who all share a common goal. The Kirk Watson Campaign Academy is a catalyst, and I can’t wait to see the 2016 Fellows explode onto the political scene!