With only a few days before the much-anticipated midterms, my wife and I attended a small fundraiser for a 29-year-old Latina running for a seat on the Santa Maria City Council. Gloria Soto is a political novice who, if she wins, hopes to give voice to approximately 70 percent of the population of a city sixty-five miles north of Santa Barbara, home to Vandenberg Air Force Base and lots of productive farms reliant on inexpensive labor. Most of the approximately 73,000 Hispanics in Gloria’s city perch on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The city faces a significant deficit, underperforming public schools, lack of a plan for raising revenues, an inadequate social safety net, and a predominantly while, older city council.
Gloria wants to challenge all that. She describes herself as a fighter with a dream, and as I listened to her speak, I thought of the heroine of my novel, The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election. My story takes places in Indiana in 2025, where politics is hostile and combative even in high schools, and my heroine, like Gloria, is a fledgling at what feels too often like a blood sport. The two young women—one fictional, one real—merge in my mind. They both run grass roots campaigns that combine instinct, courage ,and new ideas with a refusal to be dissuaded by those who tell them to quit, or wait their turn, or focus on some other future besides politics.
As a writer and, like so many others, a voyeur of American politics, I think it’s the youth that have the best chance of saving our struggling democracy. In assessing any candidate, I frown on the tyranny of ideology and agendas, and celebrate those who embrace common sense and pragmatic solutions. I want to see candidates who reject excuses for apathy at the polls, and view public service as the highest calling that a democracy can offer. Getting elected can be more difficult than going to med school or becoming a particle physicist. Maybe that’s why so many people young people shy from politics, but those who want to climb the mountain, and aren’t afraid of challenging the status quo, they deserve my support.
In 2017, I began wondering how the new political norms in Washington would filter down to a public high school election, say, in 2025. I made middle-of-the-night notes. Then I put those notes into pages. Then I made the pages into a novel. Then I rewrote the story a half dozen times… until I began to see how it could all come true.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.