How to Research a Local Political Race

Back in 2014, I wrote a post with the title “Methodology” that talked some about how I research races with an eye towards helping people trying to figure out where to dig and what questions to ask. I think it’s probably time to update that post, so below you will find my advice (hopefully suitable for people all over the country) on how to figure out who you want to vote for in a local election.

Local races are incredibly important. People tend to focus on national races, and while those sure are important, your local representatives often affect your day-to-day quality of life in much more tangible ways. Local elected officials make decisions that affect library hours, school curricula, snowplowing, zoning rules, pothole repair. Pay attention to these races! Learn about who’s running, vote all the way down the ballot, and encourage your friends to do the same.

1. Get a list of the races and candidates who will be on the ballot.

In Minnesota, you can do this via the Secretary of State’s “Find My Ballot” page. If you don’t live in Minnesota, try searching “find my ballot” and your state to see if you have something similar.

2. Look up candidate websites.

When MN candidates file, they have the option of writing down a URL, and if they do that, there may be a link right on the page that comes up on the Secretary of State’s site. If there’s no link, or the link leads to a nonexistent website, try searching the candidate name + the office, or the candidate name + your town. Sometimes people running for a minor office will use a Facebook page as their campaign page.

Take a look at the websites you find. In particular, look for the following:

  • Endorsements. If one’s endorsed by the Republicans and one by the Democrats, that may be all you need to know.
  • Experience. Not always required for a low-level office, but I like candidates who’ve at least shown some interest in local governance before running — maybe by serving on a city or county committee, fundraising for the library, etc.
  • Accomplishments, if this is someone running for re-election. Do you like the things they claim credit for? Do you think they’ve done good work?
  • Big red flags. Racist and antisemitic dogwhistles, repeating gross urban legends, a school board candidate who puts a lot of emphasis on “parental rights,” anti-vax stuff.
  • Small red flags. Candidates who just don’t seem to know anything about the issues. Candidates who repeatedly say “WE THE PEOPLE” in all-capital letters or use a lot of patriotic stock art.

Other useful things you’ll often find on candidate websites: a bio (which will give you information about past experiences that might be applicable to them serving in the job); links to their social media; some information on contacting the candidate (very useful if you have follow-up questions)

3. Look at other information online.

If you search online for both candidate names, sometimes you’ll find questionnaires from newspapers or organizations. These can provide you with a bunch of side-by-side information to compare.

Searching for the candidate name + location sometimes turns up other details about a candidate, from old news articles to lawsuits. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it’s useless.

If you go to your library’s public information databases, you can often use your library card to search your local newspaper. This can turn up information about all kinds of things — old letters to the editor, news articles about scandals from years past, arrests.

If you look on Facebook, sometimes you can find a candidate’s personal Facebook page. Some candidates lock those down or sanitize them heavily, but if they don’t, you can learn a lot about a person from the memes they re-share.

If you look on LinkedIn, often you can find someone’s professional resume, and that can be extremely helpful to sort out what some of the stuff in their bio means. Lots of people will call themselves “educators” and sometimes that means they worked as a professional teacher in a public school and other times it means something that is absolutely not that.

4. Look for candidate forums.

There may be community forums where the candidates are invited to show up and answer questions. Sometimes you have to actually go, but usually these days forums are recorded and posted online later for people to view.

5. Talk to door-knockers.

Depending on the size of the race, you might get door-knocked by the candidate and be able to ask whatever questions you have. More often door-knockers are volunteers. My standard questions for people who volunteer on behalf of a candidate is, “can you tell me what you like about [candidate]? You are giving up your free time to do work for them — what about them inspired you to do that?” This is a question almost everyone can answer, and the answers can be revealing.

6. Contact the candidates.

Most candidates provide information on how to contact them — either an e-mail address or a phone number. If you contact a candidate, I would strongly encourage you to pick one question to focus on. If it’s a list of a dozen questions, they will think, “I don’t have time to do this right now — I’ll set it aside for later” and then they’ll forget. If it’s a complicated question and you send an e-mail, you may also have better luck if you tell them you’d be happy to talk on the phone.

Regardless of the question, if you send an e-mail, many candidates will ask if they can call you. Partly this is because they want to start by asking you a little about yourself. There are some good reasons for this: a lot of issues provoke related but varying concerns and they want to know where to focus their answer. They also want to demonstrate to you that they are a good listener and that they empathize with your struggles.

7. Talk to your friends and neighbors.

One of the things about local races is that a lot of people struggle to find information about them. So if you have done some research, reaching out to other people voting in your area is not pushing your politics on people, it is a generous public service. “It can be hard to find information on the Dogcatcher race, so since I did a bunch of digging, I wanted to share what I found!”

You can also reach out for information. Ask your neighbors if they know anything about the people running. (If they don’t, you can circle back with information you find.)

8. Do not feel like you need to research every possible aspect of every candidate on your ballot.

There are a lot of options here and I cannot emphasize enough that you do not need to go dig up everyone’s LinkedIn resume to be an informed voter! My first step is always to look at party endorsements. If there’s a Republican and a Democrat, that’s all I really need to know. If there’s an incumbent candidate who hasn’t been at the center of a scandal, who’s endorsed by people you like, and their opponent on the ballot has no website? You have done your due diligence! It’s fine! You can vote for the person who sounds OK vs. the person who doesn’t care enough about the race to make information easy for voters to find. Life is short: if Candidate A has a well-organized website that describes sensible goals you approve of and Candidate B’s website has a giant animated gif of a waving US flag and zero policy ideas, you do not have to watch the forum unless you want to.

It’s good to be an informed voter. But all of us make these choices with incomplete information and that is also okay. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is good advice in a lot of situations — including voting using the information you have to select the best candidate.

My name is Naomi Kritzer and I’m a SF/F writer and an opinionated person with a blog. Since sometime in the early 2000s, I’ve been researching local races (first in Minneapolis, later in both Minneapolis and St. Paul) and sharing the information I find with my community. If you do the same in your own community, you may find this very time consuming but people really do find it super useful! You can find more about my novels here.


Musings on Judicial Races

“On average, one-half of all supplicants to come before a judge’s bench must depart angry and disappointed. But not, by that, necessarily wronged.” –Lupe dy Cazaril, The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold.

Possibly because of the overall heightened interest in politics going around, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the judicial races, and how you find information about judges. So, I’m going to ramble about that a bit.

I’ll note, incidentally, that if you are super interested in the question of how judges get chosen and what the results are of various selection methods, my father is a legitimate expert on this subject and has written an actual book about it.

In Minnesota, the way we pick judges looks roughly like thismost of the time, they get appointed when someone resigns partway through their term, usually because that judge reached mandatory retirement age (which is 70, and again, this is Minnesota, not everywhere). The Commission on Judicial Selection (half of which is appointed by the governor, half by the State Supreme Court) goes through applications. If you want to be a judge, you apply to them by sending a detailed resume, up to ten letters of recommendation, and releases to let them see a bunch of stuff including, I think, your taxes.  If you make it to semifinalist, you get interviewed, and finalists are put on a list forwarded to the governor for consideration.

This process has its faults. But I generally trust it to weed out the weirdos. I think they usually do a decent job picking out people who are smart, fair, and capable. This is one of the reasons that I tend to err on the side of favoring incumbents in judicial races.

Every six years (or at the first election that occurs after their appointment), judges stand for election.

Most of the time, county judges in Minnesota run unopposed. I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about that this year — why so many unopposed judges? But it’s totally normal, and to my mind, fine. Being a judge is, at its core, a job, and not usually a particularly political job, except in the sense that your politics inform your ideas about the world.

Very occasionally there’s an open seat at election time. We have one in Ramsey County this year. Four years ago there were three open seats in Hennepin County; in one case, the guy who lost was appointed to the bench a few months later, which was great because both candidates looked awesome.

It became legal in 2010 (I think) for judicial candidates in Minnesota to seek and accept partisan endorsements. (Edited to add: okay, my father sent me the citation on this. In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that states could not prohibit judicial candidates from engaging in certain partisan activities, including seeking, accepting, and using endorsements from political parties.)

When that happened, the DFL announced they would not be endorsing judicial candidates (although obviously individuals can and do); the GOP was briefly really enthusiastic about it. Then came Michelle MacDonald! This year, the GOP endorsed zero judicial candidates. (At least statewide. It’s possible that some of the local GOP branches did endorsements, or maybe they felt so burned by Michelle they’ve all washed their hands of that part of the process.)

As a judicial candidate semi-lamented to me, it’s not like judicial candidates can go around saying to people, “I want to be your judge.” (He wasn’t really lamenting this — more the fact that just as it’s hard for citizens to evaluate potential judges, it’s hard for a judge to make their case to citizens.) In terms of what you’re going to get from a good judge, all they can say is, “if you come before my bench, I will treat you with rigorous and uncompromising fairness. I will listen well. I will remember that even if this is a run-of-the-mill Tuesday to me, this may be the worst day of your life. If you commit a crime, I will hold you accountable in a proportionate way.” I want judges to prioritize the well-being of children in child custody and child welfare cases. I want them to recognize that ordinary citizens are at an inherent disadvantage in lawsuits between citizens and large organizations. Inasmuch as I care about politics, it’s because I really don’t want a judge who will look at lesbians in a custody dispute and award sole custody to the woman who gave birth because he considers her the only “real” mother; I really don’t want a judge who considers gay panic to be a legitimate murder defense. I’m sure there are Republicans on the bench who are not the sort of assholes where it even matters.

So, if you take a close look at your ballot, you have a whole bunch of uncontested judicial races and then a small number of contested ones. What to even do with these races?

All Those Uncontested Races

It is really rare that a challenger wins in a judicial race. It is vanishingly unlikely that someone would win a write-in campaign. If a Hennepin County judge gave a tiny slap on the wrist to a rapist because he was a good swimmer, in early October when he was up for re-election, I can imagine someone launching a furious write-in campaign and even winning but you would probably have heard. Like, if you ever read a newspaper, log onto Twitter, drive around town where you can see billboards…if it’s that kind of story, you’ll know.

If you see an uncontested judicial race, what that usually means is, “this judge is fine.”

If I have time, I fill in all the dots for the uncontested incumbents. If I don’t, I don’t worry about it. You really do not need to spend a lot of time and energy on these races.

Incumbent vs. Challenger

In a judicial race, I really consider it the job of the challenger to make the case not only that they are qualified, but also that the incumbent needs to be replaced.

I start by checking both websites. If the challenger hasn’t set up a website, or if their website is just “hey, I’m a lawyer, hire me to represent you,” I’m basically done.

If everyone has websites, I next look at endorsements. If the challenger has no endorsements, I’m basically done — that says to me that there’s broad agreement in the legal community that the sitting judge is fine. If the challenger has some endorsements but none of them appear to be lawyers or judges, that’s more or less the same as having zero endorsements.

If the challenger has a bunch of endorsements, especially if they look high-profile, that’s a strong indicator that there’s genuinely something going on here, and I should probably try to figure out what it is.

The reason I take endorsements so seriously: I’m not in a great position to actually assess judges. (I was on a jury once, and I can tell you that Judge Leonard Castro is awesome. The rest of them, I haven’t met.) Fairness, respectful treatment of everyone — basically, the stuff I want in a judge is what everyone genuinely wants in a judge. The lawyers, judges, former clients, etc. are in a reasonable place to assess that person’s skills and temperament.

If it’s an open seat and one candidate has endorsements from a bunch of Republicans and the other candidate has endorsements from a bunch of Democrats, I will assume that both of them are reasonably well qualified but the Democrat is more likely to bring a worldview I like to the bench, and vote that way.

Other Things I Look At

If I’m looking at candidates for an open seat, or at a challenger when there’s a compelling reason to replace an incumbent judge, I look at the person’s resume. Have they shown some professional success? (Jobs at big law firms, long stays with organizations, that sort of thing.) How much trial experience do they have? Any red flags there?  (Things I consider a red flag: job hopping. Looking like maybe he’s not that great of a lawyer. Bad reviews from clients.)

I also try Google, the same as I would for any other political candidate. Judges working in criminal court pretty regularly land in the paper because the cases they’re on get news coverage. (Although not always. First of all, if they’ve been working in Family Court or Juvenile Court, that’s rarely going to land in the paper. I just looked up Leonard Castro and found nothing, and he was definitely working criminal cases in 2016. The case I sat on the jury for was a really small-time criminal case happening between people that the public mostly just doesn’t remotely care about.)

I’ll add to this that if someone’s worked in criminal defense, their name will definitely come up as the defender of some pretty horrifying people, especially if they’ve worked as a public defender. (I just tried Googling Leonard Castro again, and found some cases from when he was a public defender.) It’s really important to recognize that this is how our system works. Criminal defendants have the right to an attorney. That means someone has got to be there to speak for them in order to prosecute. Public defender jobs are always going to be a mixed bag. A friend of a friend was defended by a public defender (A.L. Brown, in fact — currently a candidate for the Minnesota Court of Appeals). This young woman had been arrested for trespassing and burglary, IIRC, despite obviously not being the person on the surveillance video. This went all the way to trial and she was found Not Guilty by the jury, thanks in part to good work from Brown.

But if you’re a public defender (or any sort of criminal defense attorney), you will also defend people who very definitely did the thing they’re charged with doing. Because guilty people also have the right to an attorney. (Link goes to an article about the man who mass-murdered people in a synagogue on Saturday. He was arraigned today, and assigned a public defender.)

On the other hand, if the person took a job for an awful organization, that’s an excellent thing to hold against them. Doug Wardlow, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, has been trying to spin his work for the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom as just a job, ya know, and holy shit no to that line of bullshit. If you’re an in-house lawyer for a hate group, you made a conscious decision to go work for that group. (And I’ll note that you have to click “Agree” with their Statement of Faith and Guiding Principles before you can even see their job postings so yeah, pull the other one, Doug, you lying bigot.)

Super obvious red flags

Sometimes just looking at a candidate’s website will make it clear they’re not the sort of person I want in a judgeship. If they’ve got religious symbols on their website, that’s a bad sign. If they’re talking about a “second, unwritten constitution” (like lying bigot Doug Wardlow) that’s a super bad sign. If they’re emphasizing their religiosity in any way, honestly, that’s a bad sign, unless it’s something like their bio mentioning that in addition to being a judge/lawyer they play the violin and bake casseroles for funerals at their church, Shady Oaks Church by the Lake. (If someone names their church, I’ll usually look it up. If it’s a very conservative church, that’s also a red flag, although I was chatting with a friend recently about a church that opened in her neighborhood that seemed hair-raisingly conservative to her. I looked it up and it actually looked pretty mainline to me.)

Conservative talking points are a huge red flag. So is “WE THE PEOPLE” in all-capital letters.

You’re allowed to follow your own biases

If you had a personal experience with a judge (because you were sued, because you were a victim of a crime or charged with a crime, because you got a divorce…) and you think that judge sucked you can absolutely vote against them. You can tell all your friends to vote against them. You can launch a write-in campaign for your favorite worthy person with a JD and tell all your friends to vote for that person instead of the unopposed asshole who’s up for re-election this year.

I mean, you probably don’t need my permission to do this, but if you do? You have it. (Unless the judge you hate is running against Michelle MacDonald, in which case, you’re going to have to suck it up because Michelle MacDonald would definitely be worse.)


On Editing (Your Own) Fiction

Over on Twitter, I saw this insightful observation:

She is not wrong. There’s a lot of writing advice that focuses on, “shut off the inner critic, just write, you can fix it in editing” and a lot less advice on editing. I think about editing pretty consciously both because I work on my own stories, and because I’m in a critique group (I’ve been in this group for over twenty years) and so I think a lot about story structure and what my colleagues are trying to do with their stories so I can help them do it better.

I responded with a Twitter thread, but my friend Magenta nagged me to turn it into a proper blog post, so okay. Here’s an essay with my insights on how to edit your story, now that you’ve followed Anne Lamott’s classic advice and written a shitty first draft, which you are now trying to fix.

(I know basically nothing about editing magazines or books. I have never worked as an editor professionally. This isn’t about that sort of editing; this is about taking a draft, something that’s truly not ready for the light of day, and turning it into something you’re sufficiently pleased with to show other people.)

Continue reading

Fight with facts, not with rumors

So, I deeply sympathize with the impulse to signal-boost when you hear about something horrible. In some cases it’s a really good idea. But it’s only helpful when you’re signal boosting stuff that’s real and current. 
This is particularly important when there’s a ton of stuff flying around.
Add to the signal, not to the noise.

If you’re reading a personal story a stranger has shared, I would suggest the following steps.

1. Find the original version. 
If you’re looking at a screencap of a Facebook post, go see if you can find the original Facebook post. If you’re looking at a screencap of a Tweet, go see if you can find the original Tweet. See if there’s more to the story in a Tweet thread or in the comments or subsequent posts. I’ll note that five minutes ago, I saw a post on Imgur that was a screen cap of a Tweet that was a real Tweet, but had been positioned to make it look like a response to something it wasn’t, completely changing the meaning. Context matters.
If you’re seeing a horrifying story from a person you don’t know at all, see if there’s anything else you can easily find out about them. Do you have mutual friends on Facebook? If you look at their FB and it’s wall-to-wall conspiracy theories, that matters. If they registered their Twitter account 15 minutes before they posted the horror story, that matters.
Take a few seconds to see if they seem like someone you’d believe if they walked up to you on the street and told you something important. Sometimes you can tell just from their broader social media that this person is not reliable. If that’s the case, don’t re-share. This doesn’t mean you should challenge their credibility (that’s generally a dick move. Not surprisingly, it’s been embraced by Trump supporters who want to believe that the surge in hate crimes is somehow being faked) but don’t re-share if you don’t trust the source.

2. Beware of the best story in the room.

Remember the Rolling Stone rape story that they had to retract? The journalist actually interviewed a number of women who’d been raped, but focused on the woman with the best story, the one with a wealth of horrifying details. Unfortunately, she was lying about many of the details.
The inherent problem is that the person who’s fabricating can always have the best story.
There are some amazing stories that are also true. But if all the details are practically cinematic, that’s a red flag.
3. If there’s something that sends up a red flag for you, trust your gut.
Or at least re-read the piece and think it through a second time before you re-share. Again, I’m not saying you should call someone a liar liar pants on fire because something in their story struck you as off! Just don’t forward it if you feel that sense of distrust.
Again, there is so much out there right now that is happening. You don’t need to signal-boost the stuff you have any doubts about. There is enough.
4. If someone is telling you a story about a thing that happened in their city, but they weren’t there and they weren’t a personal friend of the victim, the odds are super high that some of what they’re telling you is wrong. 
I’m saying this based on my personal knowledge of an incident in my town, and watching the stories about it shift and change before my eyes. The people telling the story are not lying, they’re participating in a large-scale version of the game of Telephone, and the results are about what you’d expect.
You don’t have to call anyone out, just don’t add to this problem by re-telling a story that was already third-hand or fourth-hand when it got to you.

If you are reading a news article that strikes you as important:

If you’re looking at a source that doesn’t include any way to see if you’re looking at new news, or something from 2007, that’s actually a bad sign anyway, but try googling some of the details in the article to see what else pops up.
2. Check the source. 
Here is a list of left-leaning incredibly unreliable sites:
DO NOT SHARE NEWS STORIES FROM THESE SITES. If it’s a legit news story, you’ll be able to find it somewhere else. If they’re the only ones talking about it, do not trust the story. Needless to say there’s a huge list of similarly unreliable right-leaning sites and you shouldn’t share from those, either.
And there’s also a ton of full-on fake news sites. Some are supposedly “satire,” others are just fakey fake fake. If you’re reading something alarming and you don’t immediately recognize the source, Google the name of the site and see what turns up, or see if you can find the story other places.
3. Remember all the things that are easy to fake.
Newspaper sites can be fake. Twitter accounts can be fake. The blue checkmark is supposed to help you spot the real deal, but if you’re looking at an image-capture, both the little blue checkmark and the whole damn Tweet can be faked.
Have you seen that clickbait article saying that the next Star Wars movie is going to be filmed in a suburb of the nearest big city to you? It always has a URL that looks like the URL for one of your local TV stations (at least at first glance). Fake!
Photos can be faked. Or, quite often, it’s a real photo but it doesn’t actually show what the caption claims it shows. The huge crowd you’re seeing turns out to be sports fans, or people at an environmentalist march in Paris in 2012, or religious pilgrims. If you see an article with a photo, it’s frequently a stock photo and not a picture of the person in the article.
Videos can be faked. They can be edited to show things that look bad but have been taken wildly out of context. Or they can be clips from a movie, or from shows like “What Would You Do” where it’s real reactions but a staged situation. Or they’re from years ago and, like the photos, don’t show what the caption claims.
When we’re already on edge, when we’re angry and scared and uncertain, it’s that much easier for bullshit to bypass our usual mental security systems. This is much like how we are more likely to catch colds when we’re sleep-deprived, stressed out, and not eating right — our defenses are weak. Be aware of this tendency. 
4. Read things before you share them. 
Ideally, read all the way to the bottom. (If you’re sharing it so you won’t lose track of it — well, first of all, Facebook actually has a “save” feature for links that will do this for you, but if you’d rather share to save, just note that when you share.)
5. Signal-boost legit stories from legit sources. 
Find reliable but clickable sources when possible — a lot of people ration their NYT clicks and WaPo clicks because they don’t want to deal with the paywall. One of my favorite sources to share is NPR: reliable, trustworthy, free. If you want to share a NYT or WaPo story, sum it up in your share so your friends can assess whether it’s worth the click.
If one of your friends writes something you want to boost, be sure to note that this person is someone you personally know and trust. If you heard it verbally or they put it in a friends-locked post, and want to write about it publicly, make sure you have the details correct, and make sure your friend is OK with you sharing their story. 

If you actually witness or experience a hate crime:

Your first priority should always be protecting the victim. (Including yourself, if you’re the victim.) Don’t mess around with your camera if what you need to do is call 911.
If it’s over, and you’re a witness, tell the targeted person or people that you saw what happened. Tell them that if they want to report it to the police, you’ll be their witness and back them up. If they say they don’t want to call the police, give them your contact info in case they change their mind. (If you’re the victim and you’re surrounded by witnesses, hopefully they’ll approach you. It shouldn’t be on you to say “hey! please stick around so you can vouch for me that this happened!” But you should also feel free to make that request / demand.)
If you have the presence of mind to take a video, then do it. I can tell you right now that the odds of me ever shooting a video of anything in an emergency are close to zero. If you’re in a public place like a parking lot, you can check nearby businesses to see if they have a surveillance camera running that might have caught it. If you can spot a license plate, write down the number.
Nothing signal-boosts like media coverage. I asked a friend of mine who’s a journalist how to get a reporter to cover something that’s happened to you. She said that a police report is key; it’s a big part of how journalists sift out the bullshit. Even if it’s not something the cops are going to do much about, the fact that you made a report gives you credibility, since making a false report is a crime.
(When I say “not something the cops are going to do much about” I’m not saying that I think the police will ignore hate crimes. But if your report is, “someone pulled up in a car, jumped out, punched a woman in the hijab while screaming epithets, and then they jumped back in their car and drove away, and all I remember about the car is that it was grey or maybe black and I didn’t get a license plate,” they’re not going to do much with this because there’s just not enough info there to work with, unless the perpetrator gets caught later a block away doing the same shit to someone else.)
If you want press coverage of an incident, news websites generally have a “contact us” area. If you know a specific reporter who covers crime in your city, call that specific reporter. You can call a newsroom and ask for an editor. You will absolutely need to provide your name and contact information. If you want to be anonymous in the story, the editor may be okay with that, but the reporter will always, always need to know who you are if what you’re offering is your personal story. If you have witnesses, video, or anything like that, that will help.

And then suddenly it was September

::wipes dust off blog::

So hey! Early voting in Minnesota just started, which means I am overdue for getting started with this year’s election blogging. But before I get started with that, I really feel like I should mention that back in August, like over a month ago now, I won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story for Cat Pictures Please. I have no idea if there are people out there who read my blog here but do not follow me on either Twitter or Facebook, where I gleefully and excitedly jumped up and down right afterward.


Me with my Hugo. Photo taken by John O’Halloran, Ohana TyeDye Photography

The star-and-moon batik jacket and skirt belonged to my mother. It was her favorite dress-up outfit for years and years. When my sister and I cleaned out her closet in July, Abi suggested that I wear it to the Hugo Awards as a way of having her with me. When I got dressed for the Awards Ceremony, I also carefully stashed a couple of Kleenex in the pocket. Every single time Abi or I checked the pockets of anything our mother had ever worn, there were a couple of tissues in the pockets. She wanted to be prepared! (My Grammie has the same habit. She always wants a tissue in her pocket, sleeve, or the little carrier bag of her walker. Or ideally all three.)

The Hugo rocket is currently sitting on the buffet in our dining room. I will eventually find another spot for it, but here’s the thing — as you may have guessed, we are cat owners. In fact, we got a new cat in June.


Our newest kitty, Cassie Fluffypants

One of our cats is sufficiently large that he managed to (accidentally) shove a literal stone sculpture off the mantelpiece a few months ago. The Hugo rocket is heavier than you might expect but it’s also a bit top-heavy and I really don’t want it to get broken. Where it is, it could get tipped over but it’s not going to make a six foot fall to the floor.

After winning, I got interviewed on MPR, which was awesome, and I got quoted in a Salon article, which was cool, and Chuck Tingle called me a “True Buckaroo” (and bitter conservative puppy John C. Wright called me a “graying spinster,” which was bonus levels of hilarious because Ed and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in July! Actually, we briefly acknowledged our anniversary, promised ourselves a lovely meal out, and … still have not taken it because our summer was ridiculously busy.)

I always have this weird idea that things will calm down a bit once school starts. This is a patently absurd belief. Not only does school mean my kids’ activities all ramp up again, September is also when BOTH of my daughters have birthdays. Molly turned 16 this year, and Kiera turned 13. Plus I got called for jury duty — I actually initially got called for the week of WorldCon, but I got a deferral until September. That was the week of the 12th through the 16th, and I actually got on a jury. Jury service was extremely interesting but surprisingly exhausting. (You have to sit and listen to people for long periods of time.) Molly does Mock Trial, so I’d actually been in Ramsey County courtrooms before to watch her team competing — it was very odd being in that same setting for real. Also, the prosecutor started out his opening statement in almost the exact same way that the Mock Trial kids do. (He was very young. I totally bet he did Mock Trial back in the day.) All the jurors took things very, very seriously — no one tried to evade jury service by trying to make themselves sound biased, and no one tried to rush through deliberations to get the heck out. I might write more about it later — I’m allowed to say whatever I want now that it’s over — if people are curious.

During voir dire (the part where the judge, then the lawyers, get to ask you questions to try to filter out the people they don’t want), the Defense lawyer asked us each to share some personal detail about ourselves. I’m not sure what her goal was in doing this but it gave us all stuff to chat about in the jury room, which was nice. (You’re not allowed to discuss the case among yourselves until it’s over and you’re deliberating.) Anyway, for my personal detail I told everyone I’d won a Hugo Award in August. One of the other jurors had actually read the story! Which was very cool. (And the judge’s clerk told me afterward that he and the judge were going to look up my story now that the trial was over. I hope they liked it.)

Anyway! I will be be back in a bit to start blogging about the 2016 election. In the meantime, I’ll note again that if you live in Minnesota, you can find your ballot at the Secretary of State’s website — both a list of candidates (that includes links to websites when available) and a literal sample ballot so you can see how it will look. You can send away for an absentee ballot right now, or go in early and vote right now. (They call this “no-excuses voting.”) The two things on my own ballot that I legitimately don’t know right now how I’ll vote on: a school board special election (someone quit their seat) and a proposed constitutional amendment on how we pay state legislators. Honestly, every other race I already know how I’ll vote — but writing about this stuff is fun, so you’ll get my full take, barring any unforseen disasters.



I had a couple of people ask me this year how I do my research. I just want to note again that I’m a hobbyist, not a journalist, so I can’t call people up and say “this is Naomi Kritzer from the local paper of record, calling to ask you questions about your campaign.” (I tend to assume that real journalists get quick responses to their questions, especially when they’re softball questions like “what makes you different from your opponent?” but I may actually be totally wrong about this. I’ll tell you this: “I’m a political blogger” does not open doors. People get this nervous, guarded look, like they think you’re probably a lunatic.)

My core research tool is Google, but there are some specific techniques I use and stuff I look for.

1. Get the slate of candidates.

In Minnesota, you can get the precise slate of candidates for your precinct by visiting the MN Secretary of State’s site and putting in your zip code and address: Once it gets to a month or so before the election you can even view a sample ballot.

The candidate list (though not the sample ballot) usually includes links to most of their websites. This is not perfect: some candidates, including one fairly high-profile one, wrote their URLs down wrong (or they got put in wrong at the elections office.) Nonetheless, the links can save time.

Getting the list is critical for the downballot races because they’re so rarely covered in voter guides.

2. Look at the websites of the candidates.

Interpreting a candidate’s website can be one of those areas where there’s no substitute for a base of local knowledge, because so often there’s subtle code. I mean, not always — sometimes, you have a nice straightforward choice between an obvious conservative and an obvious liberal and you can pick your political philosophy and be done with it. (And in fact, in a U.S. Senate or U.S. House race you should probably just decide whether you like Democrats or Republicans and stick with those candidates, because you’re not just voting for Jane Q. Minnesotan, you’re voting for her party to control that branch of government.) In local elections, though, this may be a whole lot less clear, and there are more likely to be highly contentious issues that don’t break down neatly along party lines.

“Fiscal responsibility” is something of a Republican buzzword and it can mean “I think teachers are overpaid and guidance counselors are a waste of money” but it can also mean “that sports stadium we are now spending a pile of money to build is STUPID and I wouldn’t have supported it.” “No handouts to billionaires” is a Democratic buzzword and it can mean “I think tax breaks for large employers are always a terrible idea, even when we’re offering incentives for hiring the long-term unemployed” but it can ALSO mean “that sports stadium we are now spending a pile of money to build is STUPID and I wouldn’t have supported it.”

One of the words you’ll see a lot in local elections is “transparency.” Sometimes this means, “I am totally convinced that if only we posted all our minutes on a website, people would take a sudden passionate interest in solid waste management.” Or, “We should hire someone to do VIDEO of all those solid waste management committee meetings and put THOSE on a website. Or local access cable! THE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW. EVERY. DETAIL.” Other times it means, “I can’t actually claim that my opponent is corrupt but everyone knows he is, and I’m promising fewer no-bid contracts, back-room deals, and mutual back-scratching arrangements.” And occasionally it means, “I’m a corrupt jackass and I’m going to do that nifty political trick where I try to suggest my opponent has the exact problems that are my greatest weakness.” Again, some knowledge of the local people involved can help.

It’s always worth looking to see what they think the issues are, because that all by itself can be extremely revealing. When I’m evaluating politicians, especially at the local level, I’m a big fan of people who will commit to specifics. Everyone agrees that the achievement gap is a problem, so promising to erase the achievement gap is pretty meaningless if you’re not saying “…by doing x, y, and z.” (Of course, if people are promising totally ridiculous specifics, it’s totally fine to hold that against them.)

Endorsements pages are also often very interesting. First off, as a general rule, if someone has no endorsements, that’s a good indicator that they’re a flake. (I mean, get all your friends to endorse you. At least make it look like your trying!) Second, they may be endorsed by politicians you know you hate, even if they’re technically members of your party. (For the record, I loathed Norm Coleman back when he was a Democrat, too.) Or by people you know are nuts. You also get situations where the candidate is saying nothing particularly socially conservative anywhere on their website but has endorsements from socially conservative groups; that’s a pretty good indicator that they hold very socially conservative views, even if they’re keeping quiet about them this week.

If I’m having a really hard time sussing out what someone is like, I will sometimes go through the list of names on their endorsements page, Google the individuals, and try to figure out whether they run liberal or conservative. I mean, there’s limits, with private individuals, but often you’ll find out that they’re board members of some non-profit, or they work as lobbyists, or they’re high-level executives in some industry… this, however, can be a whole lot of work.

3. Google the candidates.

If a candidate has a very common name, or if they share a name with a celebrity, I’ll try adding the state, the city, the county, the job they’re running for, their political party if I know it, each political party in turn if I don’t, and various relevant issues.

Sometimes, I will look specifically for news stories. You can adjust the dates on Google News if you click “Search Tools” on your results page, and look for stuff that’s less recent. There are certain local sources I’ll always click on. One of my favorites is the City Pages, because their searchable archive goes way back and they’ve always liked covering scandals. Obviously I’ll click if I spot a Star Tribune link. I also like and If I hit a really old article that looks promising but appears to only be in a paid archive (Highbeam, for instance), I make a note of where it appeared and visit my local library’s website; they have paid access to a bunch of news databases. Usually, the stuff I’m after doesn’t require archaeological skills, but every now and then I really have to dig. (It helps a lot if I have some idea of what I’m digging for.)

I look for candidates’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages; sometimes I can get more information on them that way (sometimes they’re just very, very boring — serious campaigns for high-level offices always have Twitter feeds but they tend to be shockingly dull.)

If I’m really digging (especially in minor races where I haven’t been able to find much) I will look people up on LinkedIn. That can be a good way to see if this minor candidate has some qualification for the office they’re running for. Also, sometimes there’s stuff that will tip you off about their views and/or agenda.

Blogs are great. I’m always really excited when I find a blog, especially if it’s from a few years ago, before this person was thinking about running for public office, and they might actually say what they think instead of couching everything in politically palatable euphemisms.

Minneapolis has a long-standing mailing list called the Issues List which is archived online. Sometimes I can find a fantastic gossipy discussion full of invective that relates to a particular candidate. It’s fun when it’s people talking about them; it’s even MORE fun when they were a participant.

Interviews with candidates are basic but sometimes very solid. Interviews from a partisan source are more likely to be interesting. (Bonus points when the candidate forgets that Democrats AND Republicans will be able to read this interview.) Voter’s Guides, of course, if they filled them out. If they refused to fill out a Voter’s Guide that can also be revealing. (Sometimes what it reveals is, “this is not a serious candidate.”)

4. Watch video / listen to radio.

This is not my favorite research method but I will do it occasionally. It can be particularly interesting if you can dig it up from primary season. Something I realized this time is that you can make a YouTube video skip five seconds forward or backward by using your arrow keys. (You have to start it, pause it, and restart it in order to activate that feature. It’s possible it doesn’t work on all videos.) This is especially good to know if you’re trying to watch a primary-season debate during the main season because who cares what Kurt Zellers said?

Sometimes, candidates will put all their substantive ideas on videos so you have to sit through them yammering to find out what they think about anything. I hate that approach so profoundly that all by itself it’s going to be a huge strike against any candidate who does it. I have a lot of races to research and a lot of candidates to sift through, and I can read a lot faster than I can listen.

5. Ask questions.

Sometimes I want to know something about a candidate’s stance that’s not on their website, and I will e-mail them to ask for more information. I’ve had a wide range of responses to this, from prompt helpful e-mails back to “can you please call me so we can chat? here’s my number” to complete radio silence.

I get mixed results with this. Jeff Johnson (GOP candidate in the governor’s race) ignored me. Hannah Nicollet (Independence candidate in the governor’s race) asked me to call her, which I did, and we talked on the phone for a bit. Nelson Inz asked me to call him, which I ended up not doing. Jay Larson e-mailed back to ask me for a more specific question, but then did not follow up with a response to my more specific question. (I’d asked him how he differed from his opponent; he wanted to know a more specific concern so I asked him about the District 5 high school options. No reply.)

Asking me to call is fine. E-mailing back is fine. Having a campaign worker e-mail back is also fine. For someone in a local race to never respond at all is not fine and communicates a tremendous amount of arrogance, IMO. If I really want an answer I may try Twitter and the campaign Facebook page as well. (I tried that with Mark Andrews during last year’s mayoral race and he did not answer me ANYWHERE. I sort of wondered if he was avoiding me because he thought I was nobody, or if he was avoiding me because he knew who I was and did not expect a favorable writeup?)

When a candidate persistently ignores me I always wonder if they ignore reporters, too. I don’t usually lead with “I’m a blogger” — I just tell them I’m researching candidates for the upcoming election and I have a question about X, here’s my e-mail address, thank you. But, if they Google me, they’ll find my blog. And I know some of the local politicians know who I am! (I am “Minnesota sci-fi writer and astute local political commentator,” thank you, Gawker. I think I’m going to put that on my business cards.) But fundamentally, when I write to a candidate, I’m writing as a voter. And I think I deserve as much of a response as any other voter. I don’t expect a personal reply when I write to Obama or Franken or Dayton (or McFadden or Johnson, before yesterday). But I do expect a personal reply when I write to my State Legislator or my City Council Rep — not necessarily from them, but from their staff or a volunteer.

When I wrote to my City Council rep in St. Paul to grouse about the horrifying road work being done on Ford Parkway this fall and the fact that it was happening at the same time as Montreal Ave was closed, I got a fairly lengthy and apologetic e-mail back from their aide explaining why the scheduling happened the way it did. (It involved a fight for funding in one case, and a lawsuit regarding who they hired in the other, and then a desperate attempt to get everything done ASAP before winter. Annoying as hell, but it would be worse NOT to do the work, so…) When I wrote about the horrific mess that was Hamline Ave last spring, I got a similarly apologetic e-mail along with a promise that they were going to re-pave Hamline before winter. Which they did, hurray!

On a super fundamental level, that’s what accountability looks like to me: a willingness to answer my questions, to respond to me when I have a complaint. I don’t expect that to be instant; my elected officials have lives, kids, other jobs, other constituents. I don’t always expect to get what I want; all resources are limited, and (hopefully) my elected officials have a broader perspective than I do on what those short-term hassles will get us in the long run.

Anyway, if someone won’t answer my questions before they get the job, they’re certainly not likely to answer my questions after they get the job.

6. Share.

If you’re going to do this sort of work researching your local political races, your friends will appreciate it if you share, especially if they hold similar political views. I don’t know how big my readership is at this point, just that it’s way beyond my circle of personal friends because they found it useful enough to pass along.

Before I post stuff online, I try to organize my information: I want to have links to my sources. If someone dislikes my opinion, they can follow those links and form their own. My writeups tend to have a lot of snark, because that’s part of what makes this fun for me. I do, however, try to avoid committing libel. If something’s been alleged, I try to remember to say it’s an allegation. If I’m expressing an opinion, I try to make sure it’s expressed as an opinion.

I usually break do a separate post for each race, but if I have a lot to say about the candidates in some race I might break that one down by candidate because novella-length blog posts are annoying both to write and to read.

Shortly before the election I collect all my endorsements onto one page.

Local elections matter a lot. I was talking about this today with a friend on Facebook. It’s weird to me that people focus so heavily on the national elections, to the exclusion of the local races, given how much of your day-to-day quality of life is the result of stuff your state legislature and city council are doing (or not doing). You are not under any obligation to be exhaustively thorough: you can just sit down with your sample ballot and check out a few websites and ignore anyone who isn’t easy to find.

Hey, just what are your qualifications, anyway?

Hi! I am Naomi Kritzer, SF and fantasy writer and election-season political blogger. I lived in Minneapolis from 1995 to 2012, and now live in St. Paul. Before that, I attended college in Northfield. I grew up mostly in Madison, Wisconsin.

This blogging thing evolved gradually, mostly on LiveJournal. I was doing research on the bottom-of-the-ballot candidates like the people running for Soil & Water, and I was taking notes anyway, and I figured that probably some of my LJ friends would appreciate the information, so I put it in a blog post. I have continued to do this partly because some people find it useful and partly because I find it entertaining. I frame it as endorsements because, well, that’s what you call it when you’re telling people who to vote for, right?

I have no special qualifications and I make no pretense of being unbiased here. I’m a Democrat. I am guessing that there are Republicans who read my blog to find out who NOT to vote for in those down-ballot races, and that’s totally fine. (I am happy that you are finding them useful! albeit in the opposite way from what I might have intended.) My primary research tool is Google.

If you don’t find my political blogging to be either useful or entertaining, then by all means do not read it. If you feel that I am describing candidates in completely unfair or woefully incomplete ways then for goodness’ sake start a blog and write about candidates in a way that fully reflects their complexity and your own viewpoint. If you send me a link, I may even link to you. (Or you can leave a link in a comment, though I’m still figuring out the WordPress comment moderation functions and it’s possible I will accidentally delete it because WordPress marked it as spam and I clicked the wrong thing — anyway, I hesitate to make promises here because I might break them out of sheer technical ineptitude. But my INTENTION would be to leave the links in place.)

If you want to get in touch with me for whatever reason, my e-mail address is exactly what you would expect based on my name and my fondness for using Google.

Every year now, I get asked whether I would be willing to do this for other areas. If someone were willing to pay me in actual money, I would probably do it, but here’s the basic problem: within my own stomping grounds, I have a pretty solid knowledge base. If someone in Minnesota is talking about LGA, NRP, or LRT, I don’t have to look those acronyms up to find out what they mean. (Local Government Aid, Neighborhood Revitalization Project, Light Rail Transit.) I know what issues everyone agrees on vs. what is highly controversial and I’ve lived here long enough that I’ve seen those change over time. I know the history of certain politicians, so that when someone mentions they have an endorsement from Jackie Cherryhomes or Tim Penny, that sends some very specific signals about who they are. I know which suburbs are fancy and expensive and which are not, I know where the various immigrant groups live, and I know the political reputations of the various Minneapolis neighborhoods. I will not claim to recognize every dog-whistle term but I will for sure catch some of them.

The minute I step outside even my specific part of Minnesota that knowledge base is gone. So if, say, I were to research a school board race in Pennsylvania, first I’d have to find out how they even do school funding in Pennsylvania. (Minnesota has a somewhat unusual system. It’s excellent, actually, you should all switch to it.) If it was all property-tax based I’d need to know if this was a town that was, in general, pretty open-handed or not. When I scanned the list of endorsements, I would have no idea whether I was seeing the names of the people who killed last year’s property tax increase or the people who campaigned for it. So it would be vastly more time consuming and there’s a really good chance I would miss something, though certainly I could still make fun of people. (There’s no way THAT could go wrong…) At the request of a friend I looked up a suburban race last year and even though I was reading about a race in either Richfield or Bloomington, which are just barely south of South Minneapolis, I felt shockingly out of my depth.

If you have any questions about me or my background, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

Stories Published in 2013 (that you can nominate for awards, should you feel moved)

This is an Award Awareness Post, where I’m going to tell you, “Here’s what I published last year! In case you want to nominate it for shiny prizes!”)  I will note in my defense that when nominating stories, I appreciate being able to find out easily whether things I liked were Short Stories or Novelettes and precisely where they got published in which month (since you always have to write that stuff down).  So.  In case you think I’m awesome, are nominating for one of the genre awards (or non-genre! heck, feel free to nominate my penis story for the arty-est most thoroughly literary award out there, if you’re on the nominating committee) and want to know what all I published last year so you can nominate for me for ALL THE THINGS… here you go!


“Solidarity,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2013.  This is a seastead story, with the same setting and characters as “Liberty’s Daughter” and “High Stakes” (which were published in F&SF in May/June 2012 and Nov/Dec 2012.)

Short Story

“The Wall,” Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2013. This is my time-travel-Berlin-Wall story, in which a college student in 1989 is approached by a woman claiming to be her, from the future, and trying to persuade her to go to Berlin to see the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bits, Clarkesworld, October. This is the penis story. It’s online and it’s free, so you could go read it right now if you haven’t already. I realized the other week that if you look me up on the Internet, it’s currently the third hit. So this means that the lady I was chatting with at the parent coffee at school, who found out I was an author and wrote down my name: if she googled me, she’s probably now read it.  

Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

BitsClarkesworld, October. There’s an audio version!  Read by Kate Baker.

Otherwise, perhaps I can interest you in a lovely picture of one of my cats:

Cat Picture
Blogs are for cat pictures.


Yuletide Fanfic

For years, I’ve enjoyed reading Yuletide stories.  Yuletide, for those who are not aware of it, is an annual fanfic exchange.  When you sign up, you request a story (you actually have to give multiple possible options) and you also offer to write one (ditto). You volunteer and request based on “fandoms,” which in the context of Yuletide can sometimes be as narrow as a single blog post or a TV commercial.  Yuletide does require that the fandoms be small, or at least smallish — you can’t request or offer Harry Potter-based stories, Avengers, anything that has a huge amount of fanfic already.

Stories have to be turned in by late Christmas Eve, and everyone gets their story on Christmas Day.  Authors remain secret until January 1st. All the stories are in an archive and can be sorted by fandom, so you can poke through and read all the stuff that appeals to you.  (A Little Princess?  Allstate’s “Mayhem” commercials? Georgette Heyer’s Venetia?  They’re all in there.)

This year I decided I wanted to play. I was assigned to write for someone who wanted Code Name Verity fanfic, and wrote a story called Damask Roses (it’s also Rose Under Fire fanfic) and I wrote a Treat (an unassigned story I wrote because I looked at a bunch of prompts and felt inspired) about Disney Princesses at a college called Four Things That Weren’t Adequately Covered in Mulan’s RA Training.

The story I received was Addams Family (the movie) fanfic called College First.  It’s perfect — filled with spot-on bits of deadpan dialog.

Lucifer Cast to Earth

Lucifer, as depicted in John Milton’s well-known derivative work, “Paradise Lost.”

I’ve written derivative work before — in fact, I’ve sold it, as you can totally do if you’re deriving from something in the public domain.  “In the Witch’s Garden” (published in Realms of Fantasy in October 2002, available now in Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories) is loosely based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen.  “The Golem” (published in Realms of Fantasy in October 2000, available now in Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories) draws on the Jewish legend of the golem created by Rabbi Loew.

I’ve also written straight-up fanfic, but not on AO3 and not in Yuletide, so that was really a new experience.

“Four Things” … was really popular.  And here’s the thing about fanfic — no one’s writing it for money, obviously, so there’s this whole culture surrounding it where people are rewarded for their writing and encouraged to write more with compliments. You do get compliments with pro writing; I’ve gotten some really lovely e-mails over the year, and my most recent published story, Bits, has a comments section with eight comments. By contrast, “Four Things” has 353 kudos (basically like a Facebook “like,” only more specifically adulatory) and 40-some comments, all of them saying things like, “you are SO AWESOME.”

You just do not ever get that sort of feedback in pro writing normally. Unless you are so famous that you are also getting stalkers. It’s a funny thing.

And the weird flip side of this is that with pro writing I also always feel slightly embarrassed and awkward about compliments. (I avoid reviews, even good ones; they tend to paralyze me. The bad ones make me think, “oh my god, she’s totally right: I DO suck.” The good ones make me think, “oh my god, I’m totally going to let this person down.” This is totally neurotic, and yet I know a lot of other writers with this same problem — it’s not just me.) Whereas with the fanfic I read every comment and let everyone’s opinion of my brilliance buoy me up. It felt good.

Anyway. Yuletide was fun. Whether I do it next year will once again depend on whether I remember to sign up, though.

The basic problem with blogging

constructionFor some reason, over on Facebook I feel like I can share any old thought that pops into my head.  In the last 24 hours, I’ve linked to a nifty animated gif of a Russian girl who’s a martial arts champion kicking an annoying guy in the nuts; I’ve compared road work to kitchen remodeling and complained that my city is not as expeditious about it as they really ought to be; and I’ve whined about insomnia.  None of those things seem sufficiently weighty for an actual BLOG POST.

I also blogged about local politics over on LiveJournal (and linked from my Facebook). I haven’t decided whether I’m going to continue doing my political blogging over on LJ or move it here, after this election.  The thing is, local politics is a fandom that’s of interest to a very narrow range of people. Maybe I should just keep that writing separate?  I could keep it on LJ, or set up a whole separate WordPress site for my amateur punditry. The problem with that is that I think I may be too lazy to deal with multiple blogs.

Anyway, I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, this site is coming together a little more; the page for my published novels looks great. I need to finish working on the page for my short stories. Anything else people would like to see on here?

(Creative Commons photo of kitchen construction from