Buckey discusses political lessons
By Angie Cho
Published on Monday, May 9, 2011
Based on his experience running for United States Senate in 2008, Dartmouth Medical School professor Jay Buckey presented four lessons he learned about American politics at a lecture on Friday afternoon. Buckey, who laughed in response to one audience member’s “Buckey 2012” sign, explained the nature of fundraising in political campaigns and the importance of increased focus on the science and technology industries in U.S. politics.
Buckey — whose primary platform during his 2008 campaign focused on improving state science, technology and engineering programs — withdrew from the primary race after a nine-month race against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., The Dartmouth previously reported. Shaheen, who currently serves as a U.S. Senator, ultimately won the state seat.
Although the campaign occurred three years ago, Buckey said the experience gave him “special insight” that still applies today regarding the American political system. Buckey said he learned about the importance of fundraising to any campaign’s success.
“When I first announced I was running, the response I got from those not in politics was, ‘What’s your platform and agenda?’” Buckey said. “But the response I got from those in politics was, ‘How much money do you think you can raise?’”
Running for office is so intertwined with fundraising that every candidate has “call time” during which he or she solicits campaign contributions directly, Buckey said.
“It’s the most hated part of any political campaign,” he said.
The majority of political campaign contributions for New Hampshire state political leaders come from out-of-state donors, Buckey said. During the New Hampshire state Senate race in 2010, candidates Rep. Paul Hodes ’72, D-N.H., and former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., received two-thirds of campaign contributions from donors outside the state, according to Buckey.
While the majority of these donations came from retirees, law firms and political action committees, very few came from donors associated with the science, technology or innovation industries, according to Buckey.
“From a policy perspective, technology and innovation is under-represented,” Buckey said.
Connections with distinguished professionals in a variety of fields also greatly impact political success, he said. During his campaign, Buckey received political support from voters in the legal field whom he would have never known if he had not established contact with a particular lawyer, he said.
Throughout his campaign, Buckey also learned that campaign platforms are primarily driven by voter concerns and not the true interests of the candidates, he said.
“If people ask, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to NASA, the National Science Foundation or engineering infrastructure,’ you can bet any politician will develop a platform to address those questions,” Buckey said. “But imagine if people don’t ask those questions — and they often don’t.”
Civic participation, especially at a grassroots level, can raise awareness and dialogue regarding important issues, Buckey said. If people and organizations do not look out for their interests, they will be underrepresented, he said.
Buckey also stressed the importance of increasing voter turnout throughout the state, citing a New Hampshire primary election for a state representative in which the difference between the two leading candidates was only 2,000 votes.
The lack of awareness regarding issues related to science, technology and engineering plagues not only state-level politics, but national politics as well, Buckey said. Although the United States is recognized as a “global leader” in technology and innovation, it will not necessarily be able to maintain that position in the future if politicians do not make science education a top priority, he said.
The science and technology industries can improve by increasing funding for research initiatives and improving low-quality education across the country, according to Buckey.
Buckey urged audience members to action, and said the Dartmouth community can help promote political activity by attending political meetings, donating to candidates, contributing to blogs and writing letters to Congressmen.
“Our future is keenly linked to our political system,” Buckey said. “We have to get involved because politics is not a spectator sport.”
Approximately 50 students, professors and community members attended the lecture, “A Scientist in Politics: What I Learned from Running for Office,” held in Spanos Auditorium. The lecture was part of the Thayer School of Engineering’s Jones Seminars on Science, Technology and Society.
The print version of this article incorrectly stated that Buckey ran for New Hampshire state Senate. In fact, he was a candidate for U.S. Senator.