Jayne Swiggum will be back and next time she’ll be even stronger.
The Gays Mills nurse ran the definition of a grassroots campaign against the well-funded Brad Pfaff in the Democratic primary for state senate District 32. In the end, she finished with just over 32% of the vote.
“I came into this knowing absolutely nothing about running for office and I came away with enough that might make me dangerous next time,” she said.
Pfaff spent tens of thousands of dollars; Swiggum spent just $261. She launched her campaign with a promise not to accept any donations and she stuck to it. But now, she admits that was a mistake.
Donating money is the only way many people can participate in a campaign, she said, and it was harder to get people to volunteer time than she first imagined. Money also would have helped her buy yard signs, organize phone banks and acquire other campaign tools. Next time she runs, Swiggum said she will accept small dollar donations.
“People actually walked up to me with cash and I would turn it down,” she said, adding that her conviction that we need to remove the influence of big money over our democracy remains unchanged.
If anything, Swiggum’s experience on the campaign trail seems to have further radicalized her and convinced her she needs to stay in the game. She’s not sure what she will run for next, but she’s certain she will run again.
“People need to get mad, that is what motivated me. What’s happening to those of us that are not wealthy is criminal,” she said. “The idea that we have lost unions, left and right, that is what gave us a good middle class in the 50’s, that we had unions for all these low-skilled jobs, but you had a union and it got you somewhere.”
Without organized labor to act as a counterweight, conservatives have a done a good job convincing a significant portion of the working class that their problems come from people lower down the economic scale, she said.
“The Republican Party has brainwashed many of those people who are poor into thinking that all their tax money is going to people who don’t work and they never look upstream and see that the rich are sitting on piles of money,” Swiggum said.
“Every time somebody would fire at me about the poor and welfare and SNAP I would say, ‘I think you need to look upstream. What do you think about Amazon paying nothing in taxes? How do you feel about you paying more tax than Amazon?’”
There is an issue that cuts across political and other lines, in Swiggum’s view, and it’s one she knows a lot about.
“I do think that the one thing that really joins everyone together is our crappy American health care system,” she said. “When you start talking to people, everybody has the experience of medical debt, or having tests or medication denied by their insurance, of being unable to afford their deductibles.”
As an example, Swiggum points to her own brother, who identifies as a conservative but has a $12,000 deductible on his family health insurance plan. Despite his conservative leanings, he supports single-payer and thinks it’s wrong that our current system is so tied to profit.
The campaign has made Swiggum a more enthusiastic supporter of Medicare for All than she was before she ran. She encouraged Pfaff to pay more attention to health care as an issue that can unite people. Pfaff will face Republican Dan Kapanke in the general election for the state senate seat. Swiggum said her fingers are crossed for a Pfaff win but predicts the race will be a nail-biter.
She worked 40 hours a week as a nurse during most of her campaign, unlike Pfaff who quit his state job to concentrate on the election. But she did take some time off toward the end of the primary campaign. That was after a documentary film team got in touch and asked if they could follow her around. They have since departed, much to the relief of some.
“They went almost everywhere with me,” Swiggum said. “It drove my husband and my dad crazy.”
Although she wishes she had started earlier, Swiggum is pleased with the campaign she ran and will definitely be staying engaged in the local political scene.
“I am delighted, absolutely delighted, that after spending a whopping $261 I still got a third of the vote,” she said.
By Eric Timmons. Email questions to email@example.com.
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