Last summer, Rep. Sam Young (D-Glover) was preparing to run for a fourth term representing a small swath of the Northeast Kingdom in the Vermont House. His girlfriend, opera and theater director Heidi Lauren Duke, came up with a plan to produce a series of low-budget videos.
“The idea was, ‘Why don’t we just show you doing things in everyday life and let your personality shine through?’ I guess,” Young recalls.
What exactly is the 38-year-old web developer’s personality?
“I think I’m a little quirky,” he says. “But it’s like, ‘What does Sam love about the Northeast Kingdom and what do we love about this place?’”
Porch berries, for one thing. Yes, porch berries:
Of course, running for reelection isn’t all fun and games. Young and Duke knew they had to convince voters that the incumbent Democrat has what it takes to represent Barton, Albany, Glover, Craftsbury, Greensboro, Sheffield and Wheelock in the Statehouse.
Someone who understands strategy — and the importance of putting vodka in the pie crust:
Young’s campaign ads, which have been viewed thousands of times on his Facebook page, may seem unconventional. But the politician isn’t above kissing babies, if it’ll win him a vote or two:
Young’s also willing to mount a Hereford steer. Because, as he puts it, “In life, and in politics in particular, you gotta take risks.”
If you’re running for office, you also have to explain what it is that you actually do.
“You know, people think that being a legislator is easy, but it’s meticulous work and it requires a lot of patience and dedication,” Young explains in one video. “Because, in life, and in politics in particular, you gotta sort through some shit.”
According to Duke, the ads are designed to appeal to those who, like her, feel “apathetic about how corrupt politicians are.”
Young believes they’ve achieved that.
“People are so sick of this election. The only thing that cuts through is something funny,” he says. “But then they’re like, ‘You don’t have any competition. Do you?’”
In fact, he does. There are four candidates vying for just two seats in the district: fellow incumbent Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany), Republican Frank Huard and Democrat Matt Eldridge.
Which is why Young enlisted Denny Gibson to send a very important — and very stern — message in one video: “Don’t you forget to vote.”
An equally important message? “There’s no smoking butts on this side of the road.”
“You wouldn’t know it from the videos, but lately my race has turned really nasty,” Young says.
Specifically, Huard has accused him of supporting a carbon tax and ridgeline wind — two positions he does not hold. Rather than cut a negative ad going after Huard, Young decided to demonstrate what he does when he’s “mad and angry.”
Because, as he notes, “In life, and in politics in particular, it’s important to find safe and productive ways you get out your aggression.”
But sometimes it’s not enough to retreat to your wood pile. Sometimes you have to address the criticism head-on — with an unusually frank, direct-to-camera rebuttal of false accusations.
It helps if there are still porch berries available.
So will Young prevail in his race for reelection?
Only if he summons the courage to power through the final days of a tough reelection. Because, “In this life, and in politics in particular, you’ve gotta have courage to do the things you’ve never done before.”