A day on the campaign trail of Jessica King
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 14:11
Editor’s note: On Saturday Oct. 27, approximately two weeks before the Nov. 6 elections, the Advance-Titan accompanied State Sen. Jessica King (D) on the campaign trail. Below is a recounting of that day and a deeper biography of King and her efforts in State Senate District 18.
The back door of the Oshkosh Democratic Headquarters on North Main Street swings open as State Sen. Jessica King rushes in, her arms full of papers, her purse and a coffee, apologizing to everyone that she is late, even though she’s actually 10 minutes early for her 10 a.m. Saturday meeting.
While King is pulling her papers together, getting ready to make campaign phone calls, a disabled volunteer runs up to her in a Halloween costume, very excited to show off her outfit.
Even though there are several other things she should be doing, King pauses, hugs the volunteer and compliments her outfit.
“What’s my costume you ask?” King said to the volunteer. “I guess I am a senator this year. Happy Halloween, dear.”
A few other volunteers greet King before she sits down to make campaign phone calls, which is just one of the things King has on her to-do list just two weeks before the elections. Even though it’s the weekend and proving to be a busy day, King said she doesn’t mind at all.
Even when the odds were stacked against her, King proved a little hard work and compassion goes a long way. From growing up as a ward of the state all the way to earning a seat on the Wisconsin State Senate, King has come a long way.
“When things get tough, you just got to smile and push on through,” King said.
It’s all about hard work and perseverance
King was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wis. by her disabled parents until she became a ward of the state at age 15. Her mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic when King was very young and her father suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar depression following four years of service in the U.S. Navy.
Working third shift at a juice box factory, King put herself through college at UW Oshkosh and then continued on to earn a law degree from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif.
Since then, King has opened a small attorney office in Oshkosh, served on the Oshkosh Common Council from 2007-2010, and then as deputy mayor of the city from 2010 to 2011.
King’s campaign manager Aaron Campbell walks over and hands her a list of undecided voter phone numbers retrieved from databases and a cell phone.
Recent political activity and the overabundance of robotic political campaign calls and advertisements makes her personal phone calls to potential voters even more important, according to King.
“I appreciate that I may only contact a few voters an hour some days,” King said. “In a district where you can lose an election by one or two votes, like I did in 2008, it all makes a difference.”
In 2008, King ran against Republican Randy Hopper (R) for the Senate losing by only 163 votes. Three years later, King narrowly defeated Hopper by 1,254 votes amid a scandal in March 2011 regarding Hopper’s reported marital infidelity. She became one of two Wisconsin Democratic challengers successful in unseating Republican incumbent senators who had supported Gov. Scott Walker.
King works her way through the phone list and seamlessly chats with the people she reaches on the other end, whether they are happy to hear from her or not. Her voice and message brims with words of encouragement and honesty.
“I hope you’re not getting down about the robo-calls, junk mail and TV ads,” King said to the second person she reached from the list. “I wanted to give you a chance to talk to me, actually in person.”
When King won the recall state senate race against Randy Hopper in 2011, she ended up with a big workload to tackle. However, King was set on delivering exactly what she had promised her constituents.
“I made sure I really did the work,” King said. “There was a backlog of about 3,000 constituent phone call contacts and no one had gotten back to them. I think that is why a lot of people don’t enjoy the government. We were able to reach all 3,000 over seven months.”
Just keep smiling
King pauses between phone calls and opens a Laffy Taffy from the bowl of Halloween candy on the table.
“What did one wall say to the other?” King said, reading the joke on the candy’s wrapper, laughing to herself. “Meet me in the corner.”
Another call is made, but this time it’s a wrong number and the recipient is confused and not happy.
Brushing it off, King laughs and said those moments are just part of the job.
“This [making calls] used to make me really nervous as a new candidate,” King said, amused. “If it wasn’t the right person I was trying to reach I would just be like ‘OK goodbye’ and hang up. I’m much more comfortable now.”
King’s campaign manager walks over and sets a small, silver bell on the table.
“It’s motivational I think,” King said, explaining the bell’s purpose. “I ring the bell every time I get a confirmed voter. It’s like an angel singing.”
In 2008 King was awarded the Democratic party of Wisconsin’s Eleanor Roosevelt Award, honoring her commitment to pursuing strong public policy on behalf of her constituents.
“I think I know this person.” King said while pointing to the next name on her call list. “Because I have been in public service longer, I have ended up meeting more people and you just know them.”
The person is not who she thought it was, but King had a lighthearted conversation with a woman named Mary about biking in the nice October weather.
Friends, family and everyone in between
Lunch hour rolled around and it was time for King’s next Saturday event: the first-ever Oshkosh Chili Cook-off, which is another opportunity for King to further connect with the surrounding community.