It was just after 2pm on a sweltering and downright gorgeous summer day in Providence’s India Point Park. The 43rd annual Cape Verdean Independence Festival had just opened its gates to the public, and my wife and I were among the few hundred or so early arrivals, wandering through a handful sponsor tents, perusing the Cape Verdean cuisine options and generally enjoying the African and Portuguese-driven music and festival atmosphere.
But it wasn’t long into our outing that I encountered several candidates for various statewide and local offices seeking voters’ signatures on their nomination papers ahead of the July 16th deadline for candidates to submit completed papers to the various boards of canvassers. Each will hope that they have acquired enough legitimate signatures and complied with strict protocol and law surrounding the process to be assigned a place on the general election ballot this November, and while this ‘signature phase’ is often handled by third-party consultants for endorsed major party and well-funded candidates, it is a critical moment for many unendorsed and independent candidates, who must interact with communities that may not have any clue who they are.
It boils down to cold-calling; a true test of a candidate’s (or their organization’s) willingness to engage potential voters in discussion — or at least pleasantries — in the hopes of attaining a coveted, valid signature. It is an essential component of the democratic process, one that should yield a more diverse range of perspective in the general election.
One hopeful for higher office who has fully embraced this signature period is independent gubernatorial candidate Dr. Luis-Daniel Munoz, who had a tent and members of his team in place throughout the grounds of The Cape Verdean Independence Festival, and delivered a speech to attendees in Creole.
I made my way toward the Munoz tent to find Dr. Munoz engaged in level-headed and informed conversation with several individuals. One young man, wearing a homemade Matt Brown For Governor t-shirt, spent nearly 10 minutes discussing healthcare policy with Dr. Munoz, comparing platforms and ideas, and ultimately signing Munoz’s nomination papers.
“I’m running as an independent, and while it is more challenging in terms of logistics and processes, I also believe that it is more challenging to speak about your platform; that’s a great thing. It forces me to answer more questions, to reason through the issues, so as I’m speaking to voters they can understand how I got there, and how I’m going to get Rhode Island to a better place,” Dr. Munoz told me in a follow-up interview.
Conversations were happening, and unlike the fairly cold experiences I had been having with hired-goons representing many of the establishment candidates who hand me a clipboard and asking for a signature outside of a grocery store, this was face-to-face dialogue, hammering out ideas in person, and sharing of perspectives across a large spread of communities and backgrounds.
I followed-up two days later with Dr. Munoz for a brief interview, curious about his experience thus far as an independent gubernatorial candidate, and how his independent status informs his approach to the signature phase:
Bill Bartholomew (Motif): How has it been for you during this ‘signature phase’ as an independent candidate hitting the ground running and interacting with the community?
Luis-Daniel Munoz: It’s been amazing. Voters are very positive about someone running as an independent. They’re also very realistic, in knowing that independents do have a battle up ahead. The result of that, I’ve found as well as my team collecting signatures, is that many voters want to help. There are certain barriers to collecting 1,000 signatures as an independent, but what we’ve gained from being out there is voters help kind of reduce the stress for us and empower us. While it is more of a challenge, I’m excited to have a team that doesn’t require funding. This is what America is all about.
BB: How have you encouraged people you are meeting to sign your nomination papers?
LM: Oftentimes, just beginning with a “Good morning” or “How are you?” and giving them the opportunity to go into a store, and then come back (and speak more in depth). Not just asking for a signature, but showing people that you respect them.
BB: What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ right now?
LM: My name is Luis-Daniel Munoz, I am one of the independent gubernatorial candidates, I just want to introduce myself and to share more about who I am.
I also make it clear that the signature doesn’t require them to vote for me, it just gives me the opportunity to compete in this democratic process.
BB: What is some of the specific feedback you’ve received?
LM: I’m meeting people experiencing difficult times as a result of policies of the current administration.
BB: How important is it to you that there be a multitude of candidates in a general election?
LM: If I could have a two-minute conversation with every single voter in the state, I’d say, with objectivity, that it’s very important there be many candidates in most … all races. With that said, one of the things I’d recommend voters look at if you qualify a candidate as having a vision that embodies a focus on people and families, that fosters a healthy culture in business, healthcare, the arts, then, OK, you have a qualified set of candidates now. But, then start to look at what they’re saying in terms of how they’re going to implement or create those environments and that culture. I think that’s really where you can filter through the candidates in terms of seeing who’s pandering, and who truly believes in what they’re saying and is going to fight for the people.
While the inherent disadvantages of running an independent political campaign are obvious, Munoz maintains that the experience of seeking signees for his nomination papers has only strengthened his message as he moves to expand his statewide coalition of supporters.
To hear the full Bartholomewtown Podcast episode with Dr. Luis-Daniel Munoz, visit bartholomewtown.com or RIpodcast.com; btown.buzzsprout.com/163601/698315-ri-gubernatorial-candidate-dr-luis-daniel-munoz-i