One advantage of approaching middle age is having the opportunity to celebrate so many anniversaries. (We can parse the term "middle age" on another occasion.)
Thirty-years ago this week, I changed the course of Connecticut politics… well, ok, maybe I added a footnote to it… by announcing my candidacy for Governor of Connecticut. I learned a couple of important business lessons from this adventure, one of which may surprise you.
As perhaps the youngest gubernatorial candidate in state history, I didn't take myself particularly seriously at the time (assuming I do now). I figured I had little to lose as a young pup and the political process had much to gain. In the early summer it looked like it was going to be a complete narcotic of a campaign, with a little-known Republican opposing the heavily-favored Democratic incumbent, Ella Grasso. But I realized I could exploit my notoriety in the Nutmeg State as the lead singer/piano player of a popular honky-tonk rock group. I could launch an independent candidacy that could appeal to zoned out voters and inject new life into the political process. I knew I couldn't win the election without a major political party behind me, but I could attract free media coverage by being innovative in my approach, and I could focus attention on important issues that were being ignored by the other candidates.
I began the campaign on a Wednesday morning by contacting WPLR News and the New Haven Register and announcing that the real campaign had just begun. By the afternoon I had camera crews tripping over each other in my East Haven living room as I answered serious questions about my campaign, with as much earnestness as I could muster, to a battery of reporters.
Q: What's your campaign motto?
A: "If you can't trust a politician whom can you trust?" I actually preferred the motto, "Nixon's the one", but it's been used. And I didn't want to have to change my name.
Q: Why don't you start your political career by running for an office you know you could win, like mayor of East Haven?
A: East Haven? Are you kidding? With my luck I'd win.
Q: What if—and I know this is highly unlikely—you're not elected governor. What will you do then?
A. Using Dick Nixon as my model, I will sulk for a while, then eventually run for US President. Nixon was the one, you know.
Q: What's your fascination with him?
A. I'm not sure how to say this politely, but if you don't understand Nixon's genius, you don't know Dick.
Q. You say you're willing to raise controversial issues, but your campaign focus at the start seems to be on safe driving! Isn't that taking the easy way out? Isn't everyone for safe driving?
A. Obviously you haven't driven lately.
It was a wild-and-wooly fourteen-week campaign, ending with a bacchanalian celebration on election night with members of Queen at Toad's Place in New Haven. (I can go into that on another post. Or maybe not.)
In the end Ella Grasso was re-elected—easily defeating her Republican rival, who spent several million dollars and still lost. (That was when a million dollars was a lot of money.) Demonstrating fiscal conservatism I spent only $40 yet wound up finishing a strong fourth (out of at least four candidates). I was barely edged-out of third place by an even more fiscally conservative candidate, a Libertarian with an irresistible message: no one has to pay income taxes! This is technically true because he apparently never did—which is why he's currently serving time in Danbury federal prison.
There are two important business lessons here. One is obvious: be willing to take some entrepreneurial risks in life. Otherwise why get out of bed? But the other lesson is easy to miss if you you weren't paying very close attention. So let me make it explicit. Ready? Here it is... Pay. Your. Taxes.
You heard it here first.