Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Revelations, Chapter 2 (spoiler alert!)

I've wanted to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly since I was 17 years old. The problem was always that, even as a 17 year-old, I self-identified as a small-c conservative (or, what I understood that to mean). I believed then, as I do now, that we deserved the best government we could afford, and not a penny or a secretary more than that. I believed in mandatory minimum sentencing for violent offenders, and freedom of speech, and the ability of the free market to ensure competition and quality in most cases. I believed that an MLA’s job was to represent their constituents, and when they weren’t sure how the constituents felt, to ASK them rather than assume the once-every-4-years endorsement by the voters was carte blanche to just go with the member’s own opinions, beliefs and values. I believed in those things then, and I believe in them today.

I was a lonely 17 year-old, and my Progressive Conservative MLA welcomed me with open arms.

Fast forward 10 years (to 2005), and I still held those same beliefs - but, in many ways, I was still viewed as "too young to have anything intelligent or useful to add to the conversation". While the fringe parties in this province routinely threw 20-somethings to the wolves as candidates simply because they couldn't find anyone else, I would show up at campaign offices, federal and provincial, and be told by volunteers with important titles that my skill-set was best suited for dropping off fliers and pounding signs into lawns. Important tasks, to be sure. The kind of things that have to happen to win an election, absolutely. But this wasn’t what I wanted to learn how to do – I wanted to learn how to go from door to door with a candidate, and talk to people, engage with them, and change their minds – or my own – on a given issue. I wanted to apprentice, with the idea of someday using what I had learned, combined with my own knack for analysis, political thought and speech, to run for my “dream job”.

In late 2006, I noticed a conspicuous lack of coverage in the media on the PC leadership race. Members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta were going to be choosing a new leader and, by default, a new Premier for the province – and no one seemed to be talking about it. I couldn’t find any coverage on the television, or in the newspapers, and the internet had a smattering of information, but not a whole lot. So I researched. I surfed all over the internet, trying to dig up information about these people who wanted to be the leader of the province that was the beating heart of Canada’s economic engine. And when I was done... it occurred to me that, while I was satisfied that I had found the information I needed to help me make an informed choice, a lot of the voting members of the party wouldn’t know HOW to find the information I had found.

“This should all be collected in one place”, I thought to myself. And the idea of this blog was born.

I originally intended just to cover the selection of the new Premier, and then to slink away. If I could at least show up on a Google search, and help a single member of the PC’s make their decision, I’d call it a win.

I took the name “The Enlightened Savage”, because as a provincial employee, I wanted the freedom to write what I actually thought about the leadership contenders without worrying that someone I spoke against would win, find my name on a list of provincial staff, and promptly fire me. The inspiration for my use of a “pen name” was actually Samuel Clemens, who on February 3rd, 1863, at the age of 27 years, signed his name for the first time as “Mark Twain”.

I thought the name really encapsulated what I was trying to prove to the outside world, and to the smaller world within my own political circles... that a self-identified conservative wasn’t automatically a mindless, brown-shirted barbarian incapable of rational thought and discussion... and that a young person without “all the right connections” or a PoliSci degree could analyse policy and strategy and political trends, and stimulate meaningful discussion rather than the mindless, partisan back-and-forth you hear from so many of the party faithful.

I had been writing for a week, and Googling to see how many more “buzzwords” I’d need to drop in before the Google Spiders listed me high enough to be found by my targeted “single party member”, when something extraordinary happened... I found a posting on another blog – talking about MY blog. The blog in question was named “Phendrana Drifts”, and the author (Duncan Wojtaszek) was talking about my posting in a complimentary way.

“Another thought on blogs, I have a new flavour of the month in blogs, the Enlightened Savage. He is spot on in many comments, and I can only hope he will continue blogging about Alberta politics past Nov. 25/Dec. 2. He is setting a furious pace, with a superb analysis of Dinning today, and a good one on Hancock yesterday.”

I’d look a little further, and see that the day before, 6 days into my “blogging career”, there was ANOTHER post on a PC insider’s blog, about this “new kid on the block”. This one was from Ken Chapman, one of the “heavy hitters” among the provincial political blogs.

“I have just read a Blog, The Enlightened Savage that I think has some of the best comments, insights and profiles of the leadership candidates. It is definitely worth a read.”

I didn’t even know what to do... I was simply floored. Here were people who had never met me, who I’d never spoken to, who seemed well-connected within the huge apparatus of the PC Party and they were complimenting my content. My insights. My ANALYSIS. My ability not to regurgitate press releases, but to read the data and come to conclusions – the very same skills that, under my own name, had been so casually disregarded because of my age and a lack of conventional political bona fides. They weren’t impressed by WHO I knew, but by WHAT I knew. I’m proud now to call Duncan and his wonderful wife Allie friends of mine. His kindness in pointing me out to the masses is something for which I will always be grateful. Ken Chapman is forever going to be my “blogfather”. He went out of his way to meet me when he was next in Calgary, and although we haven’t had a chance to sit down and really talk one-on-one since then, we’ve stayed in contact through other means - he is the model for me of what a true PROGRESSIVE conservative should be.

The blog changed everything. I was writing, and people of influence were agreeing. They were engaged. They wanted to talk about ideas, and strategies, and they thought I had something to say that they should be listening to. They wanted to talk to ME, and to hear MY ideas and opinions, about matters of importance. Some of the more intrepid among the MSM actually found me... I even got invited to do some in-studio analysis on CBC Radio on municipal election night 2007, and some more for the 2008 federal campaign. Naheed Nenshi helped me get booked to do a spot of analysis on CityTV for election night during the 2008 provincial election (I need some work on my “on-camera” spots – hairy, at best).

No one other than my close friends and family even had the time of day for me and my political ideas under my real name, but when I wrote under a pseudonym, in the public domain, people were noticing. People who KNEW I was The Enlightened Savage were introducing me, by my given name, to MLA’s – and those same MLA’s would ask, when the discussion turned to political blogs, “who do you think this Enlightened Savage is?” 18 months later, I "outed" myself to the same MLA who had taken me under her wing at age 17. To say she was floored would be a bit of an understatement. She asked me, “where are you GETTING this stuff?”, and I told her “It’s just how I see things.” She remains a wonderful mentor, politically, and an example of everything that is right about politicians. Without the blog, I’d still be delivering her fliers and delivering her lawn signs, proudly. Now, I discuss policy and strategy with her – just as proudly, but far less sweatily.

This blog has helped me make the connections and hone the skills I needed to achieve my goal. I intend to run to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Province of Alberta. I have 3 years of writings (440 posts, as of this writing) that I stand by, as if they were a voting record. I believe that, when I ask the voters for their trust, they have a right to know what I've said, and hold me accountable for it.

The odd thing is, I never REALLY considered this to be an “anonymous blog”. I was writing under a name other than the one I had been given at birth, but so do many others – the fact that I didn’t choose something innocuous like “John Smith” is what gave it away, but many reporters and television news personalities don’t have their birth name as part of the by-line – it’s the content that makes them reputable. I wanted to think I was providing good content, keeping the rumours and “anonymous sources have indicated...” down to a minimum. I was accountable for what I wrote as The Enlightened Savage, and for what appeared here - hence, my moderation of the comments to the posts – because people knew where to find me and hold me to account. Right here, at this blog. Just like "Dear Abby" gets her mail, even though her given name isn't "Abby".

My concern with revealing my identity, though, has never been the public-at-large. It has been some as-yet-unknown overzealous middle-manager somewhere in my department who is going to try and curry favour with their favourite MLA by closing my one-man office and putting me out of a job, "solving" a problem for that MLA because I criticised them at some point. I'm not scared of the PC party - I'm scared of a faceless “true believer” supporter trying to protect his own version of party doctrine at the expense of my job – an important job that I do very well.

There’s been a lot of conversation in the past few days about the future of this blog. Whether I’d reveal myself, disappear, or remove the blog altogether. I want to thank Jane Morgan and Brian Dell for their discretion to this point. They didn’t HAVE to give me the time I needed to figure out what to do – but they did it anyhow. We don’t agree on everything politically, but this small act of compassion speaks to the quality of character that both of them have.

The first post to this blog was on Wednesday, November 15th, 2006. In that post, I mentioned that “I hope to provide as balanced an approach as I can to the issues of the day, while at the same time making it clear where I stand”. I’d like to think in the past 3 years, I’ve managed to do that.

I also committed to the idea of “holding my own to a higher standard”, and standing up for people and groups who are often marginalized in the political discussion, particularly if that discussion is happening to the right of centre. I have done my best to deliver on that commitment as well.

I’ve tried to use this blog to talk not just about how politics IS, but about how politics SHOULD be – how it MUST be if it hopes to keep up with and stay relevant to the changing face of our civilization. If the voters won’t engage with those who seek their consent to rule, then WE, as politicians and those who wish to serve and lead, have to do a better job of giving them something with which they will WANT to engage.

I can proudly say I’ve rejected only a handful of comments on any of my 440 posts. Having YOU be part of the discussion is what has kept me doing this – let’s be honest, I’m not interesting enough to talk, uninterrupted, for 3 years straight. My favourite posts have been the ones with the most comments, because it means we’re actually talking WITH each other, instead of me just talking AT you. I haven’t gotten many posts that reached what I call the “daveberta line” (most of Dave’s posts seem to get at least 20 comments), but the conversation has been important to me nevertheless.

I’ve made an effort whenever possible to “give the rub” to other bloggers, whether they were already established (see my unsuccessful attempt to help DJ Kelly win a Canadian Blog Award) or just starting out (Shane over at CalgaryRants is not, in fact, me – I have been known to wear the mask around the house, though).

I’ve tried my best to make you think, make you discuss issues with your fellow citizens, make you laugh, and (sometimes) make you mad.

The only thing I haven’t given you over these past 3 years is a name.

And now you have one.

My name is Joey Oberhoffner. You can call me The Enlightened Savage.

And if you think this blog was interesting before... brothers and sisters, you ain’t seen NOTHING yet.

This blog – and this blogger – aren’t going ANYWHERE.

Viva la NaciĆ³n.


Kirk Schmidt said...

Wait. I'm *not* the Enlightened Savage???

Great post, Joey.

Anonymous said...

Awesome.... I am glad you are not shutting this down. Like I said before, you are the reason I started my own blog. do we get to work on that PC nomination?


Tyler Shandro said...

A very good post, Joey. Well done.

Josh said...

Great post Joey!!! You know that as soon as you go for that nomination I will be on your team with bells and whistles! Just say when and I'll be there :)

Naheed said...

Kirk took my line!

Congrats, Joey.

TPHogan said...

As you have done since you started this blog, these postings have style, grace and enlightenment.

Congratulations and continued best wishes on your blog and your aspiring public service career - in which ever form it takes.

Now, does that mean all your door knockers will be wearing the "I'm not the Enlightened Savage" shirts.

Keep on providing insightful analysis and good luck in your ongoing work!

Anonymous said...

Good post but what do you mean, "PROGRESSIVE" conservative? The adjective there means nothing with all of the hard right wing people in the party.

Leanne said...

Oh goodness, Joey. This post made me so ridiculously happy, it was all I could do to not stand up and applaud it at my own public service job.

You are kind of the reason I stopped writing about politics... only because I enjoy reading your posts so much and find myself agreeing with you so completely so often, it begins to feel like I have nothing left to add to the conversation.

You are a super guy, and I will be cheering for you come election day.

wuzzles said...

I thought you were Dave Lumley

DJ Kelly said...

Well said as always, Joey. I'm glad I can start calling you by your real name now and not worry about slipping ;)

Anonymous said...

Now we know. . .

Like your prior posts, well done. I look forward to those same thought and debate provoking posts in future!

kenchapman said...

I always felt privileged to know the Enlightened Savage. I have always marveled at the sage and savvy of Joey, the man so wise and so young who was the heart and head of the Enlightened Savage.

Ted Kennedy was elected at 30. He was part of my time and that time is now passed. Your time for active political life is right now. Rest assured Joey and you are more than qualified and capable to run and undoubtedly ready to serve when elected.

There is no doubt in my mind that you are absolutely qualified and very well skilled to take the plunge into politics.

Let me know when you feel the call to serve the greater good. I will help in any way I can.

Positive politics, good governances and a revitalized democracy needs people like you to be engaged and elected.

Scott MacNeil said...

As a semi-regular visitor who is ideologically predisposed to dismiss much of what I read on many PC blogs, I must say your blog is a standout. Well written with balance, I must say I was heartened to find you will not be 'tearing down' ES. I enjoy my visits here.

As for the name reveal, kudos on the 'coming out'. Brilliant post. Full of integrity. My guess is the Alberta Tory's could use more like you should you really decide to run. Anyone who stands on principle is okay in my book. Too bad your not a 'lefty' they too could use more integrity.


Anonymous said...

Joey Oberhoffer has got to be an alias with a name like that. My bet is you're really Jonathan Denis, MLA.

Seener Beaner said...

Thanks for coming out Joey. All the best in your quest.

What do you think about the current fiscal update with the AB government? I hope that if you run as a PC, which I assume you would, you would aspire to make positive change in how the current government plans their spending and revenue intake. ( lack of long term planning ).

I can't imagine running in a province where in order to see any change, you have to run as an MLA within the existing government. I wonder where young people like yourself get the inspiration?

Maybe one day I will see you in the legislature on the other side of the speaker ;)

Anonymous said...

Man this lack of long-term planning crap is annoying, every time I read it. Back in the 90s we had a $33 billion debt. We paid it off and then we created a sustainability fund of $17 billion. So, we SAVED $50 BILLION DOLLARS, just for times like this. And, despite what some would tell you, no one foresaw the collapse in energy prices, the collapse of the US economy and the rise of the Canadian dollar. Tell me, Seener Beaner, did you?

daveberta said...

Great post, ES. Welcome to the world on nononymous blogging. :)

Duncan said...

Fantastic coming out post - your blog is something that our community takes pride in, I'm glad you can take our compliments openly and publicly.

Seener Beaner said...

What is in the emergency fund right now? Why are education and health budgets being cut as we speak?

I work in the natural gas sector and I know for a fact that the government has access to economists and forecasters who forecasted that the price of natural gas would be between $4/gj and $5/gj this spring and summer.

Nobody saw the full scale of the recession coming, but everyone knows about the boom and bust cycles. It's not a shock that the price of Oil went down.

You are only sick of this long term planning stuff because you are blinded by partisanship.

Anonymous said...

$17 billion. Health is being cut because AHS is running a deficit and Education is being cut (and asking for surpluses back, or saying no when StatsCan makes a change that costs us money in the ATA contract is totally fair) because it's part of the $430 million the GoA is trying to save this year. Rather than me regurgitating press releases, go to and read them for yourself. There's a deficit, the GoA is trying to find savings, what a surprise.

I'm not actually blinded by partisanship, I don't think, but I am bothered by wilful ignorance. You're right, it is not a shock that the price of oil and gas went down. People even planned for it, like this government, which saved $17 billion since 2003. It's a fact, which you wilfully ignored in your first post.

I work in the sector, too. Not everyone drinks the CEOs' kool-aid, SB. That should have been clear to you in March of 2008. As for energy economists, I know full well what they were predicting last December, what they were predicting last March, and what they are predicting now. Their record ain't stellar.

Let's just agree to disagree, shall we, and admit that we're both just a tad partisan? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Seener Beaner is dead wrong - we need deep cuts to both education and health as both of these programs the way they are set up are simply bankrupting this province.

Time to allow a choice in health care and a voucher-based education system.

CS said...

Not sure how most households operate but in mine if income drops and I need to use savings to maintain a life style then that style has to change before the savings are all gone.

Seems practical to me and most of my farming buddies.

Unknown said...

Ah, didn't realize you were out, Joey, though I started seeing your name in replies.

I too, think you would be an excellent politician, and a real asset to the PC party... and if I'm someday in the bench accross from you (as an opposition MLA), I'm sure we'll work together to make things better rather than being blinded by party lines.

I generally like the Alberta PC party. I respect the premier, and I respect a lot of the MLAs. But I also think that Alberta needs to wise up and start voting for some other guys so that the Conservatives have a reason to work harder to serve their constituents.

And, as one commenter said, I agree that there's a lot of waste in Education and Health Care. But you don't eliminate waste by making cuts, you eliminate it by finding efficiencies (which save money and the cuts happen naturally). A simple cut usually just eliminates service, leaving the same amount of waste as before. (Does anyone really believe we're OVERserved by Health Care in this province?)