Working for The Enemy, Part III

Author’s note: Go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t done so yet.

So, to take up where we left off, after my disappointment with the Connaughton Campaign, my work at Cooper & Secrest continued.  However, I soon spoke to the head supervisor about working for a different part of the firm.  After all, as I stated earlier, there are many different tasking in polling besides being a pollster.  As a conservative, I couldn’t stand badmouthing conservative candidates to hapless voters.  My supervisor replied that he would look into the matter and get back in touch with me.  As a side note, although I didn’t talk to the head supervisor much, I always felt that he was a decent fellow and held out a small hope for some better future.

Several weeks later, the supervisor stopped me in the office.  The news he gave me was very disheartening. After conversing with Alan Secrest, the president of the polling firm, about my inquiry, he told me that they were thinking about firing me.  Now it may surprise you to know that I was a pretty good pollster.  Yes, I was “working for the enemy”, but I still had a duty to do the job for which I was paid.  However, they were not considering getting rid of me for my job performance, but for my political views.  After all, how could a Republican be trusted in a Democratic polling firm?  Never mind the fact that I had been working there for about a year without incident, diligently doing the labor.  For some reason, the final words of our conversation are still stuck in my mind.  “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Once I heard that news, I figured my days were numbered.  While I anxiously continued to search for political employment, I got a job at Ash Lawn-Highland, the former home of President James Monroe.  By comparison to Cooper & Secrest, that work was very engaging.  Not only did I get to learn all sorts of interesting information about our fifth President, but also, as a tour guide, I had the opportunity to teach others about him.  I wish some of our leaders today would take heed of the wisdom and philosophy of Monroe.  And I haven’t even mentioned my co-workers.  They were a mixed assortment of great folks who seemed to enjoy the work as much as I did.  But to return to our main tale, all the while, I continued to work at Cooper.

A month or so after getting this new job, one of my other supervisors, a man by the name of Jimmy, starting routinely harassing me after discovering my political leanings.  They weren’t stereotypical partisan banter, but extremely hateful.  For example, while walking through the office, he would stop at my station as say things like, “Where is the hood for your Klan outfit?” and “Been to any Nazi rallies lately?” He made my already bad situation far worse.  In retrospect, I should have reported his behavior to the head supervisor, should have tried to get him fired.  Maybe I should have even sued Cooper & Secrest for allowing his malicious conduct.  Instead I took the coward’s path of shutting my mouth and trying vainly to pretend it didn’t happen.  It didn’t help.  Unfortunately, if you let someone degrade you in such a fashion once, they won’t ever stop.  At first, I tried my best to avoid him.  Once that tactic failed, I just stopped coming in to work at all.  I couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t handle this new level of hell.

Unfortunately, my work at Ash Lawn-Highland didn’t offer either enough hours or sufficient pay to allow me to live in Charlottesville once I left Cooper.  Sadly, I trekked back across the mountain, to my hometown of Harrisonburg, desperately looking to put my Cooper & Secrest days behind me.  As I might have stated earlier, the reason I blotted out this time from my resume was that I was fearful of the political repercussions.  After all, how can a Republican organization trust someone who has more or less been employed by the Democrats?  The main reason I bring it up now is to both inform and warn others.  Fortunately, I believe my actions since that time have clearly and consistently proven my loyalty to my principles and that I was merely temporarily stuck in a quagmire.  Thus ends my story of my days working for the enemy.

Working for The Enemy, Part II

For those of you who have been waiting with breathless anticipation for several weeks, I now proudly offer you the second chapter in our story.  On the other hand, if you have not read Part I yet, I encourage you to do so first.  Well, on we go!

I began my employment with Cooper & Secrest in January of 2003.  Prior to this time, since graduating from William & Mary, I had been working at a law office in Harrisonburg.  Although I learned a good deal from my time in that surrounding, as stated earlier, I kept yearning to immerse myself in the political waters.  Knowing my love of politics (as well as the fact that he was searching for a roommate), a friend of mine who was already working at Cooper suggested that I apply.  As you could imagine, I pounced upon the chance to be a political pollster.  With a nice crisp resume in hand listing my work experiences, my fancy college knowledge, and my volunteer experience with various Republican Parties, I did my best to wow the supervisor.  And so they hired me.

The job was quite simple.  Every new shift, the supervisor would hand each of the pollsters a list of numbers, a script, and a form to record the results.  I didn’t get to make the surveys nor could I see the final results.  But it was an important step in the right direction (or so I thought at first).  After a few months of commuting across Afton Mountain, I ended up moving to the People’s Republic of Charlottesville.  Even though I was working in politics (sort of), I still continued my volunteer time by offering my free time to my state senate candidate back home.  Time used on behalf of a good cause was time well spent.

At first, the job went well.  I was quite good at my task, the money was pretty good, and life in C’ville was an exciting new experience.  Even though Charlottesville is a very liberal city, and the traffic can be a horrible mess, it has a wealth of culture and entertainment options.  Somewhat like Williamsburg, although to a lesser extent, the region is alive with history.  But best of all was that I really liked some of my coworkers and enjoyed discussing the political and religious issues of the day.  Although we often disagreed, debates were always cordial.  But there were drawbacks to the work.  On the downside, the hours felt long and weren’t really fixed in stone as we called the east, the west, even the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone, and points in-between.  Sometimes we would work many days and nights in a row.  Other times, we would have pauses as the company searched for new clients.  As we continued to move from one survey to the next, I noticed that we were working for a lot of Democratic candidates.  I can recall thinking, “when are we going to do a survey for a Republican candidate?”  But we never did.  For some reason, I got it into my head that pollsters were basically politically neutral.  They just sought and compiled data for interested parties rather than trying to sway the outcome of elections.  Boy was I wrong.

The worst began when we starting engaging in push polling.  For those unfamiliar with the term, I refer you to the 2000 Republican Presidential Primary.  During the South Carolina primary, some disreputable group asked voters if they would be less likely to vote for John McCain if they knew he fathered an illegitimate black child.  Now, to the best of our knowledge, Senator McCain has not done such an act, but just soliciting that question raises concerns in the minds of voters that McCain is both immoral and untrustworthy.  So too was the case with Cooper and Secrest.  Now I won’t say that push polling happened a lot, but it did occur.  It wasn’t too difficult to do that kind of polling when I didn’t know the candidates involved, but when we targeted races where I knew about (and often liked) the Republican candidate, it was troubling.  It was more or less tantamount to spreading vicious lies.  On more than one occasion, I felt physically ill after spreading these unsubstantiated rumors.

I then fully realized what kind of mess I had gotten myself into.  I franticly searched for other political employment, but came up empty.  I didn’t want to mention my present employers for fear of how it would tarnish my prospects, but it always came up sooner or later.  While I was looking, I invested my time with Sean Connaughton, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, a man who was running for the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor.  I could easily write a blog post or two about this campaign, but for now I’ll only stick to the parts relevant to this story.  After volunteering with that campaign for a good while, I sought employment with that operation.  It took a good bit of effort, but I worked out a deal with his campaign manager.  According to our bargain, if I completed a handful of pre-assigned tasks on behalf of the campaign, I would be able to work for them.  It took me many weeks, and a few tanks of gas as I drove around the 5th and 6th districts of Virginia for Sean, but I willingly and cheerfully completed the missions assigned.  Having finished everything that I was supposed to do, I eagerly called the campaign manager expecting my next assignment.  With this new paid position I could leave Cooper & Secrest and work alongside my conservative brothers and sisters.  I would be free of this albatross dangling from my neck.  Strangely, my call went unanswered.  I called again and then again, but no response.  I sent email after email expecting a reply at any moment, but no reply came.  Days passed.  Distressed, I called other members of the campaign and only then did I learn the horrid truth.  The campaign manager had quit unexpectedly.  When the next manager took over, I asked him to honor the same deal offered to me by his predecessor, but he had no interest.  Deeply resentful, I continued my polling work, desperately hoping for a better future.  Unfortunately, things got far, far worse.

I hope you will join me next time for Part III, the exciting conclusion of “Working for The Enemy”.  Until next time!

Working For The Enemy, Part I

Before, during, and since college, I have held a number of jobs in various organizations, some political and some not.  Besides the ones I’ve mentioned earlier, just to rattle off a few more:  I’ve worked in a law office, I was a tour guide at the home of James Monroe, and I was a servant of the federal government during the 2000 Census.  Just the other day I just spoke to a 2010 Census taker.  My, where does the time go?  Ah, but one job though that I rarely discuss, especially to potential employers, was my time as a political pollster.

Leading up to this moment in time, I developed quite an interest in political polling.  During my later years at William & Mary, I took a class on the subject taught by the often hyper-enthusiastic Professor Rapport.  Regressing further, back in high school, I wrote and conducted two polls among my classmates.  The first concerned politics and the second was about religion.  Although my results have long since disappeared, I seem to recall that most of the students polled were rather conservative, like me.  Of course, only a select few were really vocal on topic.  I think it would be very interesting to see if these former classmates retained their views or if they had changed over time.  Then again, I did and still do wonder if at that age (freshmen and sophomore) have most folks formed their own political and religious convictions or are they merely a reflection or rejection of their parents’ ideology?  In either case, I would expect the current crop of students at Harrisonburg High School to be far more liberal than those fifteen years removed.

Let me tell you that polling is not a passive sport nor is it a job for the introvert.  You must actively engage your subjects and ask them probing questions.  Given that some people are secretive about their own political feelings, you must, in a timely fashion, convince them to share their thoughts with you, a perfect stranger.  This effort is particularly challenging when done in real time, either face-to-face or via the telephone.  At all moments you must be polite but firm, professional but understanding.  Depending on the situation, polling can be the most frustrating but also the most fascinating work available in politics today.

Slipping back to my personal story, since graduation, I had been itching to work in politics, to put my degree to some use.  Unfortunately, up until then, my efforts had been for naught.  I literally papered Washington D.C. with my resume, knocking on the door of every Republican politician and organization.  I got a couple of calls back from some people like Senator Warner’s office.  I dashed to a few interviews with Senator Kyl, Representative Goodlatte, and the Department of Agriculture…but nothing panned out.  As you can imagine, when I heard about the prospect of working in political polling, I jumped at the chance.  Best of all, it was in the nearby city of Charlottesville.  My chance had come!  I didn’t take the time to learn more and so I eagerly accepted a position as a political pollster.  How naïve.  At the time, I was living and working in the city of Harrisonburg, so I commuted across the mountain for a couple of months until I relocated to the Charlottesville/Albemarle County area.

So began my employment with Cooper & Secrest.  Some of you have heard of this organization and are already groaning, though most of you have likely not.  Given the title of the article, I would expect you can guess, at least in part, how this story will unfold.  Therefore, I hope you’ll join me for part 2 as we delve deeper into this chapter of my political life.