Don Phan ’06 has found that a little shrewdness could go a long way.
When Phan decided he was interested in working for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, he realized the job would be hard to obtain without connections. So he left a message at the campaign headquarters of Buddy Leach, a former Democratic Congressman who is running for Louisiana governor. In the message, Phan said he was interested in donating money, which elicited an immediate response.
“I slyly mentioned [when they called about the donation] that I wanted to work on the campaign, so I faxed them my resume, and a few days later, I had a meeting with the campaign manager and she hired me,” Phan said.
Eventually, Phan became so involved with the campaign that he decided to take this year off from Yale to work on it. Currently in Louisiana, Phan, a Vietnamese American, said he was hired to reach out to the large Vietnamese population in New Orleans.
“I’d been reading about electoral politics in class and in my free time a lot,” Phan said. “But there’s only so much you can learn from a book, so I figured I wanted some real experience.”
Phan is only one among many Yalies who have decided to supplement their reading with real-life politics. While some students have spent their summers in Washington, D.C., learning their way around Capitol Hill, others have worked on campaigns across the country, and still others participate from their dorm rooms in New Haven.
Josh Picker ’04 chose a more local way to get on the campaign trail. As founder of Yale for Dean, Picker spends his free time convincing other Yalies to support his candidate of choice for the 2004 presidential campaign. Picker said he has organized a coalition of over 150 Yale students to support former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71. The group is currently planning a Dean Visibility Day on Sept. 20, he said.
“Howard Dean embodies the new Yale and, as such, promotes a progressive set of policies that will allow us to take back our country,” Picker said.
As the head of Yalies for John Kerry, Zach Jones ’05 is a key figure in e-mailing, postering and educating the Yale community about the campaign. The group, which is involved in planning and staffing Kerry events on and off campus, is affiliated with the Yale College Democrats and has grown to 30 members. They plan to have Kerry ’66 come and speak at Yale sometime this semester.
“I remember watching a speech Sen. Kerry delivered at Georgetown last semester. I was struck by his eloquence, command of foreign policy, and his highly presidential presence,” Jones said. “I figured that someone should work to promote Kerry’s candidacy at his alma mater and, along with Rodrigo Cerda ’05, I organized Yalies for Kerry.”
Whitney Haring-Smith ’07, a budding politician, did not have much experience moving hay before working on Kerry’s campaign this summer. Haring-Smith spent his summer helping at Kerry events in Iowa — including hayfield barbeques — and writing briefings about the inhabitants of towns the senator would visit.
“We basically brought in the corn fields, which isn’t that funny until you haven’t slept in 48 hours and realize that the top political minds are waking up at 5 a.m. to move hay,” Haring-Smith said.
Phan, too, has had his share of rural experiences. He helped Leach at a horse-and-buggy festival in a Church Point, La.
“I woke up at 4 a.m. to drive over to Church Point and I had spent the whole day watching Buddy shake hands while I ran up and down the parade route giving out water and flyers on Buddy’s campaign,” he said. “By the end, I was tired and sweaty so I just lay down on the grass and watched the horses go by.”
Phan said he has come to realize while organizing events and doing research produces tangible results, the day-to-day occurrences around the campaign headquarters are often the best part of the job.
“The best stuff happens after 6 p.m., I think, and a lot of fun stuff is happening now because the election is coming up and it’s really crunch time and everyone can feel it,” Phan said. “I’m sorry if some of these things sound mundane, but for political nerds, it’s really fun stuff.”