Name recognition, political capital, and fund-raising machines may not always be a match for disgruntled voters who want something other than business as usual. The recent defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s District 7 Republican primary gives evidence to this.
In Anchorage, Indian immigrant and small business owner Anand Dubey is betting that his second bid for political office will result in a different outcome. He won a respectable 45 percent of the vote in 2012 against then-Democrat Lindsey Holmes, who earned her fourth term in 2012. Holmes then embroiled herself in controversy by switching parties to join the Republican party when she arrived in Juneau. West Anchorage voters did not take that sitting down.
A two-year recall effort was explained by Wigi Tozzi, one of its lead organizers in January:
Ms. Holmes counted on voters to be apathetic. We weren’t apathetic; we gathered the necessary signatures for the application and submitted what we believe to be valid grounds for recall. The Division of Elections denied our application, but in doing so, they did not address the real issues that we were raising — that in changing her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican after the 2012 election, Ms. Holmes defrauded the voters and her contributors by misrepresenting her intent, and whether the voters’ rights to a fair and transparent election process was violated.
Holmes will not be running for re-election this year, and her former opponent is taking a hint from the voters who organized her recall campaign. Dubey faithfully devotes four hours every weekday and seven hours of the weekend to doing one thing: knocking on doors and talking to his neighbors. What’s more, he targets the few, the proud, the “Super Voters.”
Dubey runs against the grain in West Anchorage’s District 21. West Anchorage is generally a Democratic-leaning part of town, but the recently redrawn district could possibly bring a surprise this year.
The primary is fast approaching, and his campaign has limited staffing, but Dubey’s confidence is not shaken. In order to help himself fly solo, he has made friends with technology — really, really good friends. Dubey campaigns with a smartphone, which the IT-guru can program into a voter id database, updating in real time.
Previously, Dubey was Chief Information Officer in the Palin Administration, supervising a staff of 125. He remembers crunching numbers to determine the fiscal note to proposed legislation, sometimes with only 24-hour notice. He did not like the job and decided that he could make a bigger impact if he was one of the decision-makers, rather than a bureaucrat. This left him to his own devices, and he relies heavily on the smartphone and his own brain for his campaign work.
Other political campaigns use this concept around the nation. It involves taking a listing of super-voters; those who vote in three elections in a row — city, state and federal — and superimposing meaningful data on top. Using his phone, Dubey knows who he has spoken to, their party affiliation and what issues they care about in 2014.
He needs all the data he can crunch.
When he is one-on-one with voters, Dubey is very personable. He peppers his elevator speech with references to populist ideals, painting himself more like a community organizer fed up with politics as usual, rather than a person with a legislative agenda or career ambition.
On the campaign trail, he looks like an entrepreneur. He drives his own car filled with the tools of his trade: campaign yard signs, district maps, postcard-sized literature, washers, nails, and a hammer. He wore blue jeans, white sneakers and a faded red shirt, almost indistinguishable from any other West Anchorage resident.
Dubey signs aren’t the only ones decorating the neighborhood. Matt Fagnani is challenging Dubey in the Republican primary, and former Assemblyman Matt Claman is running as a Democrat.
“This is not about corporate politics and career politicians,” he said. “I feel like I have a connection to my district that those who have not walked these streets just do not have. What do the elite know about hunger? About poverty? The voters will make their decision.”
“You tend to talk about your heroes a lot,” I asked him. “Who are they and why are they your heroes?”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. But, I am from India, right? Of course those are my heroes. When I am in front of a voter, I tell them that I am really glad to be in America. I try to present the liberty perspective. I was born in a country where the politics have become so divisive that people were just killing each other. Much worse than the debate and arguing we see in [Washington] D.C. I ask people, “Do you want someone to take their collective belief system and push them on you?” They normally say, “No.” I keep asking myself, “If Gandhi was alive, how would he react to today’s Alaska?”
[divider]KN: Aren’t you scared, as a Brown man, walking around Spenard?
AD: I went on the hunt, high and low to find someone better than me to run for office. I couldn’t find anyone. What I found out, walking and talking to people, is that I am someone that they can relate too. I’m ordinary. They see me going against big money and corporate, career politicians. Politics nowadays is too commercialized.
KN: You didn’t win last time, how do you feel about your chances this time?
AD: I won 45 percent of the vote. I came that close. It’s amazing that I won anything considering I don’t have any backing from special interests.[divider]
Dubey advertises the following platform on Facebook: 1) Free market solutions, 2) Rights are unalienable and belong to the individual, not the government, 3) Education leadership focused on learning vs centered on schools and employment contracts, 4) Restrain state government because it can be just as overbearing and burdensome as the federal government, 5) Crime solution must focus on root causes, not symptoms.
In 2012, Dubey didn’t represent his platform with much polish. He came across as angry and a little confused about certain aspects of American democracy that the rest of us grew up on. His rhetoric resonated with the anger of some voters by comparing the relationship between the federal government and the Alaskan state government to master and slave. Mayor Dan Sullivan used this metaphor during the current political cycle and was similarly called on it.
Dubey’s declaration last cycle that he didn’t attend community council meetings — that small, sheltered womb of democracy upon which President Thomas Jefferson waxed so poetically two hundred years ago — might have hurt him too. A community council is about as neighborly as it gets.
That’s where Dubey’s herculean efforts begin. Like many Alaskans, he’s critical of government. Republicans are in power right now, and Dubey is running under their flag. However, he’s comfortable calling the majority party a “corrupt bastard’s club.” He brings that phrase up incessantly.
If Dubey survives the Republican primary, he has to face two more hurdles. First, this is a left-leaning district. If the recall efforts inspired by Holmes’ party-swapping are any indicator, many wish it to stay that way. Even with the party’s minority status in Juneau, a Democrat is in the race with previous political experience: Matt Claman.
Second, he doesn’t have a “get out the vote” machine. That takes people, and Dubey is operating with very few people.
The primary election on August 19 is not that far away. A public decision will be made. If Dubey does lose for a second time, he will only be 42 years old. He’s got plenty of time to try again. Juneau has legislators in their 70s, after all.
This is Alaska. Stranger things have happened. And often do.