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I won an election

by jandsm Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:18:44 AM EST

So far this year, I abstained from blogging most of the time. I did something better: I got myself elected to my first public office. And I still can't believe it...

I had been quite active on blogs after I watched Howard Dean's speech before the Democratic National Committee Winter meeting in February 2003 out of curiosity. Even though his words came out of a completely different political context, they shook me. It was the 5th year of red-green and Gerhard Schröder in Germany and I was a frustrated Social Democrat with a ten year membership record on all levels of the youth organization Jusos and on local to state-wide levels of the SPD.

I think following Dean's campaign closely was an act of political escapism and a good lesson. After he was brought down in a concerted attack of the other candidates and mainstream American media, I felt, I had to move on and had to do something new.

In June 2004, after Schröder's decision to make deep cuts into the social system, I left the SPD - together with 180.000 other social democrats that year - and joined the PDS, then a left party out of parliament, because a lot of friends from my university were already in it. In Hannover, the largest regional organization outside former East Germany, the PDS was an interesting mix of former Greens, Social Democrats and West German communists.

After Schröder's decision in 2005 to ask for an early election, things shifted into a higher gear. The WASG and PDS under the guidance and pressure of Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi decided to make a joint run. Because of my training in the SPD as an election campaigner, I was asked by the PDS to run the campaign for the Bundestag election in the Hannover region. It was a fascinating experience and it cost a lot of work. Even though Hannover was and is social democratic stronghold and Schröder's hometown, we managed to get 5.1 percent of the vote in the city of Hannover and around 4 percent in the Hannover regional area.

Then came an even more difficult task: local elections were scheduled for September 10, 2006 and everyone who has ever been active in politics knows that first it is way harder to run a local election because you don't get a national coverage that supports your mobilization efforts, and second, when you have more offices in reach, the infighting gets worse.

In February 2006, I was elected chairman of the Left Party in Hannover and thus together with my friends became directly responsible to run the campaign. It was hard. We had left splinter groups running against us and even worse: the local media ignored us completely. We got no media coverage or at best, negative one. Though I do not like conspiracy theories, it is a fact that both of Hannover's daily newspapers are owned by the Madsack media group of which 25 percent belong to the SPD's media holding.

Hannover is a special case: In 2001, the city of Hannover and the surrounding small cities and villages were merged into the "Region Hannover", the Hannover regional area. I found a map for you [here]. Altogether 1.2 Mio people live in Region Hannover (twice the size of Vermont, btw). The local authority is responsible for transport, schools, local infrastructure, health care and social security administration and many more issues. The administration of Region Hannover is larger than the EU's in Brussels.

I decided early on, I wanted to run for a seat in the "Regionsversammlung", the Regional assembly of the Region, an 84 member parliament. And so I did run in a very socially problematic district in the city. It was a fascinating thing to do. Every week we would be out on the streets, distributing 80.000 self-produced magazines. We would hang more than 2.500 posters all across the region. I have been to areas of the city I had never been to before.

We decided to concentrate ourselves on three core issues: First, we were calling for the introduction of a "Sozialticket", a social card that would allow poor and unemployed people a cheap access to the public transport system. Second, we would run an anti-privatization campaign. Hospitals, public transport and the local energy company are still in public ownership. Thirdly, we would call for the public autorities to create normal jobs instead of cheap ones under the Hartz IV legislation.

It was really difficult to get our message heard. And you'll never understand the full impact of a bad poll until you'll get one. 10 days before the election we were at 2-3 percent in the polls, even though the poll didn't say whether it represented likely voters. The impact was devastating for the morale of our members. People started infighting and a lot of trouble arose.

We were running as a new combined formation of the WASG Hannover and the Left Party, called Das Linksbündnis. Region Hannover. We had been concentrating on core districts where we knew our voter base lived and where we had enough activists for a decentralized campaign. Thus, I assumed, we were underrepresented in the poll.

September 10, 2006 though was a great day. We came home with 4.5 percent in the city of Hannover and 3.1 percent in the Region at large. This was more than we could have hoped for. We got three seats in the city assembly and 3 seats in the regional assembly, one of them being mine. We can now form groups that get founding and we are currently in the process of hiring staff - another big challenge.

In the regional assembly the SPD and the Greens are holding 42 of the 84 seats, thus having only a majority because the Region's president - equivalent to a mayor with full adminstative power - gets an extra vote and is a Social Democrat. That is a very tiny minority and the SPD has already announced they are considering further negotiations with us and the Free Democrats (FDP). So things may get even more interesting.

Currently I am working to get myself prepped for the whole bunch of committees I'll have to join. I selected all special committees on social and health care issues. Also I am on the finance committee. And, since being an openly gay member of the assembly, the special committee for equal rights.

It'll be a great experience and even an important task. I thought it was time to leave the world of virtual politics for a while and turn to the real thing. As Howard Dean once said, progressives will have to run for all levels of government to make a difference. As for the strange party in formation I am a member of, the jury is still out on whether it will become a rational progressive left party or a populist pseudo-left bunch of crap. I'll keep you posted.

All the best from Hannover from a happy, but very tired jandsm :-) You will hear more often from me from now on.

Hey, well done!  I look forward to hearing how things go.  Good luck.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:28:54 AM EST
Congrats! Do you get a title then? Have to get the protocol right for VIPs you know...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:30:20 AM EST
thx. No title :-) No driver, no secret service, but occasional free tickets for our local football club, which I pomised to donate to charities - unfortunately...
by jandsm on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:34:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Congratulations, jandsm! Fantastic news! So, please keep us updated with your new life in politics and the issues you face. Great article too, thanks!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:55:19 AM EST
Congrats, jandsm! I was thinking of you when I watched for the results of that elections, and expected you to diary.

BTW I made some cosmetic changes to your diary; but I will also request one more definite clarification: about WASG. You didn't introduce it to readers, and it is not entirely clear to me whether you joined (1) the WASG in Hannover before unification with PDS started, (2) the "Left party" election party of the 2005 elections, or, as would most easily follow from your text, (3) the Hannover branch of PDS proper when it was yet fully separate from WASG.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:01:27 AM EST
The WASG (Wahlalternative Soziale Gerechtigkeit) was founded as a left alternative to the SPD by Union members and left social democrats.

I joined the PDS in 2004, way before the unification started. Legally, when WASG and PDS decided to run jointly in the Federal elections of 2005, WASG members joined the PDS and ran on her list. For this purpose, the PDS renamed itself in LINKSPARTEI (Left Party).

Both organizations still existing but have decided to merge by summer 2007. It is complicated, but I hope this helps.

by jandsm on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:10:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the SPD trying to play you against the FDP already (who gives up more)? Do you sense any preference of theirs between you and the FDP?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:02:55 AM EST
That's a sincerely inspiring read. No wonder we had to miss your contributions here: there were bigger fish to fry.

I want you to wish some relaxation and calm days after such a tremendous effort which payed off so well - but I fear the truth is you'll probably will get even more responsibilities from now on. My congratulations for you and your colleagues. Do tip us off when you've your own website! And even when things don't get more intersting for you with the coalition partners, taking the opposition role is not necessarily bad for the long run, IMO. Do you know the Dutch SP party, perhaps?

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:09:12 AM EST
Hi jandsm, good luck with your new job ;)

I decided early on, I wanted to run for a seat in the "Regionsversammlung", the Regional assembly of the Region, an 84 member parliament. And so I did run in a very socially problematic district in the city. It was a fascinating thing to do. Every week we would be out on the streets, distributing 80.000 self-produced magazines. We would hang more than 2.500 posters all across the region. I have been to areas of the city I had never been to before.

Have you got (or would you mind giving us) some costs for this?

Also, how long did your campaign run?  Did you go from Feb to Sept.?

And (a lot of questions, I know): How many people do you represent?

Is yours a paid position?  (Our local councillors get expenses but no salaries...I'm not sure how the situations compare...)

Anyway, good luck.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:15:41 AM EST
Congratulations, jan, and thanks for this update. Glad you'll be around more often now -- if you get the time! ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:25:24 AM EST
Inspiring story. Congratulations.
I hope, your enthusiasm and excitement hold the level you show in this report.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 11:28:19 AM EST
Congratulations!  Wow, I'm actually impressed to see Dean's influence being carried all the way to Germany!  I hope to see even more of these types of diaries on ET in the coming years.  In the meantime let us know how it's going.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 12:22:59 PM EST
Well, done and I am looking forward to reading more about your 'adventures' in active politics.
by Fran on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 01:34:46 PM EST
The Dean Revolution marches onward.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 01:55:56 PM EST
Congratulations from Paris!
by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 02:34:12 PM EST
Who the man, you the man!
Way to go, jandsm!!
by Alex in Toulouse on Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 04:00:40 PM EST
Go get 'em!

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Tue Oct 3rd, 2006 at 07:15:16 AM EST

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