By Linsey Pecikonis | 0 comments
I met Mario in a dimly lit bar in Washington, DC.We hung out by the bartenders near a high traffic area right by the stairs.Despite this odd and condensed location, our conversation lasted at least a full two hours without so much as a break in the banter.As it turns out - Mario grew up in Ohio, a state that could use more of people like Mario but now calls Florida home.Marios family is what youd call traditional democrats, except for his father, who works in the Aerospace industry. Once, Marios dad was watching Bill OReilly on FoxNews and asked Mario if he knew anything about the protests that were streaming across the television.As Mario tells it, he announced that he was one of the organizers to the protest and that was the last time him and his dad truly discussed politics but the first time his father recognized the influence Mario had on the world around him. Its about finding a balance - not a compromise, but a balance.In my family we dont go over our own personal boundaries, Mario says after a couple of idle seconds. I do what I do and my father knows he or anyone else in my family wont change my mind. That isnt to say that Marios entire family wont talk politics with him.His mother became a Democrat because of Chris Dodds father - Thomas Dodd.She was so happy when I went to work for Sen. Dodd.She had told me the story of how she became a Democrat because of his father.A few years ago for her birthday, I sent her a signed copy ofLetters from Nuremberg: My Fathers Narrative of a Quest for Justice.Sen. Dodd had not only signed but also told his audience at a book signing that it was her birthday gift, the entire event was put on YouTube.That was a few birthdays ago - I will never be able to compete with that gift. Education policy was Marios first passion and part of the reason he moved from Ohio to California, seeking an affordable education.I was in college classes with brilliant young people who would one day not be in class anymore.Many of them were forced out of an education because it was too expensive and they were already working two jobs and the fear of their student loan debt just crippled their dreams.It was then that I realized that fixing the education system wasnt about fixing the education we receive but the need to make education affordable for all.Simply put, to fix education in this country we need to fix poverty first. Mario began teaching others while in college where he was a network administrator and had to share a base knowledge of technology and networking.This was at a time when people could get by with basic knowledge of html and no one carried a smart phone.It was a simpler time back then.In 2006, he started working on campaigns, first for Republicans to learn how they did it.The longer he worked with potential candidates the more he realized that having a desire to help people and write important policy did not easily translate to being a well spoken and successful candidate.Many candidates dont know how to be a candidate.They come from professions where they havent had to speak in front of crowds or make asks or have to think before they speak.It wasnt until a Mario helped manage a federal race in California that he realized that politicians needed people like him because many local candidatesneededtraining.Instead of becoming overwhelmed with this realization Mario set out to fix it. While attending a RootsCamp, a project of the New Organizing Institute, Mario led a session on training candidates and staff.Thats when the magic happened.Matt Blizek came up to me and said 'Hi, my name is Matt Blizek, Training Director at Democracy for America and youre DFAs newest trainer.'To be honest - I was hooked by his delivery. He was confident, composed and calm.It obviously worked because Im still training.Mario had a probationary period before becoming a more permanent fixture in the training rotation; hes stuck with it because he believes that our training must happen on a much larger scale. Progressive and Democrats need to do more trainings like what we do at DFA.Our candidates need this type of training so they help build up our progressive brand and our party must to do better at holding our progressive candidates accountable to help build our brand. All over the country Mario sees great candidates running but not having the party support or the organizational support to utilize their potential.Some of our best potential candidates are running for office because of their ideological beliefs, and sometimes they just lack the political skills and knowledge to run an effective campaign.DFAs training provides exactly that.I wish every potential candidate had an opportunity to attend. Mario claims hes a junkie, a political junkie that just cant get enough.While he doesnt drink or smoke which could potentially alienate him in the campaigns crowd, he recognizes how much potential he has and why he just cant shake the training bug.Politics, campaigns, and organizing are just what makes me tick.If I didnt do this for a living everything else in my life would just erode. He says his daily regimen is at least oneMonsterRehaband sometimes hot tea - he loves his hot tea and honey.He might not seem like your typical campaign consultant from the outside - but I promise you he is.Like most of the folks that attend our Campaign Academy trainings, he cant help it.Asked why he continues to do this work he said, Because our candidates and campaign staff need us too. The people we train inspire me.Theyre at our trainings at 9 AM ready to learn.Some of them travel over a hundred miles to attend and left early that morning to show up. These trainees arent your ordinary Americans.They spend two full days training and at night they talk the trainers ears off about campaigns, tactics and organizing.Then theyre back at it the following day up even earlier and ready to learn even more about campaigns. You shower hoping this political thing will just wash off, but after a few days youre stuck and rummaging around with campaign people all over again, Mario says of being a sucker for politics.He used to not take vacations, but he learned from that mistake.You need time to clear your mind and really disconnect from the race, he says mentioning that he rarely stays at one campaign too long.You come in work here and there and make sure the candidate and staff are on message then youre back out helping your next candidate-in-waiting. Current candidates come to mind when talking with Mario over is idea of candidates-in-waiting.He says hes following the races of Darcy Burner, Ilya Sheyman and Alan Grayson.(Editors Note: All areendorsedcandidates). He feels good about these candidates chances of winning even though the race in Illinois looks tight between Sheyman and Brad Schneider.Brad claims to be a Democrat, but hisvotingrecord and giving historyindicateotherwise.Which is why vetting true progressive candidates is so important to advancing our causes.Not to mention, putting up enough credible progressives for every race.Howard Dean taught us with the 50-State-Strategy that putting true progressives up across the country and challenging the lies and misinformation of the GOP are key to taking our country back, he says. Anyone can be a Democrat, its only a label and doesnt take a true sense of values and morals.What makes someone a progressive candidate and one that can beat the GOP are people who are forward thinkers who will set long-term goals and lead us down a path to achieve their goals. While were discussing the crop of contenders currently in the field and whether or not President Barack Obama has a chance to win in November the conversation moves to the direction of political backbone.An anatomical necessity and often the first part of the body to give way once democrats are elected to office.Democrats became complacent - we didnt have to stand for anything for a long time.People knew they were right and no one felt they had to defend their stance on war, taxes, social security or any other public assistance program, claimed Mario.Democrats stopped taking risks.It was easy to call for a compromise because the Congressmen you were working with on the other side of the isle were gentlemen.Those days are gone. But Mario is optimistic about President Obamas chances at a second term. His base will come out and support him this election.Period.His work on ending Dont Ask, Dont Tell and his move to delay the Keystone Pipeline decision will pull the pessimists off the bench and get them to the polls.Hes clear though, that Obama wasted a lot of political capital his first few years in office and his indecision with the health care debate hurt him.If he remains the man we saw behind the podium delivering the State of the Union, hell be re-elected, but he warns him of falling back to his old methods.But there is hope.Hope all around us.If weve learned anything from 2010 it is that the party must not be blindsided by these attacks, we must go out there and fight. Politics can often be likened to a football game - two teams fighting tooth and nail to gain incremental ground.Our politicians are entrenched at the 50-yard line, trying to push to the end zone - the next election year.The challenge for progressives is avoiding the obstacles that cripple democratic candidates and politicians and maintaining a clear vision for the future.Mario agrees and believes that DFAs own, Arshad Hasan, should be put on a ballot somewhere.Until then, Mario will continue to work and back candidates that show a true backbone waiting until Hasan announces his own bid.After all, you just cant wash this feeling off. Mario is a Communications Trainer for DFA, runs his own consulting firm, MPA Political LLC. He lives with his wonderful girlfriend Amy in Jacksonville under the supervision of their pug, Farley.
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