Former Leadership Institute staff member Steve Stockman won the Republican Party primary run-off in Texas’ newly created 36th district. He’s got a shot at returning to the halls of Congress after an absence of 16 years, once November’s general election has been won.
Steve was elected as a congressman in the 1994 Republican Revolution during which Republicans regained control of the House after 40 years. He served the people of Texas’ ninth congressional district from 1995 to 1997.
“The reason we won, I think, is because of grassroots, get-out-the-vote training at the Leadership Institute through Morton Blackwell,” Steve said.
“LI’s training gave us the edge. More than half of my campaign staff was LI trained. They were very dedicated. They slept on the floor in a warehouse for just a few hours each night. We had a lot of ‘3 a.m. types’ that were working nonstop for the campaign.”
His opponent spent four times as much as Steve’s under-the-radar grassroots campaign.
“The greatest thing I learned from LI training,” Steve shared, “was how to run campaigns efficiently without wasting money.”
Kristine Brakstad, who interned for the Leadership Institute in spring 2011, volunteered her time to make calls for Steve’s campaign.
“I persuaded those l could and called to give them our side of the story,” Kristine shared. “It was challenging for sure. You get used to people yelling at you, calling you names, and hanging up. But for every person yelling at you, you will also get someone thanking you for the job you do and praying for your victory. It was the most rewarding experience l have ever had, and I am so blessed and honored to have played a small part in Steve Stockman’s return to Congress.”
She added, “Our volunteers slept on the floors in an automobile warehouse and worked countless hours. Just because we all knew this candidate was different.”
“We each called thousands of voters, contacted all friends and family, used Facebook actively, and ended up getting the endorsements from major conservative organizations and groups,” Kristine said.
As LI President Morton Blackwell often says and writes, “The winner in a political contest over time is determined by the number and effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective sides.”
Stockman’s race was no different. Victory was about mobilizing the grassroots.
Another devoted campaigner was Thomas Dodd, also a former LI staffer from 2005 to 2007. Tom flew down to Texas several times to help make phone calls, place yard signs around the district and in neighborhoods, work the copier as they made in-house mailers, and “man” the polls during early voting.
“I drank about 10 water bottles a day,” Tom admitted. “I learned from the locals how to survive the hot Texas summer heat. Steve and I survived the South Sudan weather, so I knew I could survive Texas weather.”
When asked about what prompted their campaign victory, Tom said: “Steve Stockman is what made the difference. Most candidates just don’t know political technology; he does.”
Steve believes in political technology so much that he encouraged one of his staffers—Brad Lewis—to come to LI’s week-long Campaign Management School the week after their primary win.
“I met Steve back in 1990,” Brad told me between lectures at LI. “I was the chairman of the Christian Coalition in Beaumont, Texas and someone introduced us. I took Steve all over Jefferson County to meet pastors. At the Christian Coalition, we won 66 percent of our precincts back in 1988 when I ran Pat Robertson's campaign. After Steve's first election attempt, I moved to Hardin County and lost touch with Steve for 19 years.”
In January, they reconnected through email first, then several phone calls.
“Steve called me and we caught up on politics and family,” Brad said. “Steve asked what I had been doing with my life and I told him I had been in the financial services industry doing estate planning and hosting a radio show every Saturday. Steve asked if I knew he was running for Congress again, and I replied no. At that point, Steve asked me to be over the eastern district which took in seven counties.”
Brad continued, “Well, I didn't have to think about it; I jumped in with both feet.”
Because of Steve’s last-day entrance to the race, many people were already committed to other candidates, Brad shared. So he worked with what he had: a man named Rusty Fisher who Brad called his “signs man” and two homeschooled children who made tons of calls.
“We put 17,000 miles on our car over a three-month period traveling over the district,” Brad reported. “I spoke at churches and home meetings. I made robo calls and told Steve's story of a true American hero that went to the Sudan and took medical supplies to Christians....I told stories about missionaries that were thrown into prison in India and Steve Stockman intervened and won their freedom. Steve is too modest, but I told him to tell these stories.”
Steve’s campaign manager was Donny Ferguson, born and raised near Beaumont, Texas.
“Basically my job was to figure out how many votes we needed to win, where those votes are, how to reach them, how to organize them for voting, and how to get ballots in their hands,” Donny shared.
Donny first learned of LI in 1997 when the Institute held a Grassroots Activist School at Texas A&M University, where he was attending. In April 2010, he returned to take LI’s Campaign Manager School in Arlington, VA.
“LI's schools keep people focused on the key point to organizing and teach you how to do it,” Donny said. “If you're not moving people to take action faster than the other guy, you're losing.”
Currently, Donny is running Ferguson & Associates, a fundraising business for campaigns using direct mail and email. He’s also the executive director of American Tradition Partnership, a grassroots advocacy group dedicated to defeating radical environmentalists in Congress and state legislatures.
Kristine, mentioned earlier, first learned of LI through Steve Stockman. In 2006, she met Steve at the International Young Democrat Union council meeting in London, where she served as a board member of the College Conservatives in Norway, the country she’s originally from.
“There I met one of my heroes Baroness Margaret Thatcher as well as a team of students and staffers from LI, including Steve Stockman,” Kristine remembered. “He later encouraged me to attend trainings at LI which turned out to be excellent advice.”
“Morton’s Laws of the Public Policy Process as well as his speech on handling negative information are by far the most important lessons I’ve taken home from the Leadership Institute,” Kristine shared. “The Youth Leadership School experience was helpful, as were the fundraising techniques, building relationships/coalitions, and how to effectively reach voters with the message you want. All have been tools that have come to good use during Steve Stockman’s campaign.”
“The Leadership Institute has given me good friendships, contacts, and great knowledge. My internship at LI Studios (pictured above) made it clear to me that this is what I am meant to be doing,” Kristine said. “Thanks to LI, l am equipped with the knowledge of where I want to go and how to get there. I am very grateful for the opportunities and lessons learned at the Leadership Institute.”
And she hopes to be a part of Steve’s team on Capitol Hill, once elected. “I cannot think of a better candidate and would be honored to help serve on his staff,” Kristine said.
Steve worked for the Leadership Institute from 2005 to 2007. He said, “I created a lot of new campus groups around the country and taught at LI trainings regularly.”
“The Leadership Institute is THE place for anyone interested in politics, American or international,” Kristine said. “LI teaches you everything from dressing successfully for a job interview to effectively communicating your message in a short TV interview. If you are interested in a career in politics or plan to be in the public eye, you cannot go wrong with getting LI training. LI is where you meet the right people, get the right training so you can be the right person at the right time and get your dream job.”
“We focused our resources on grassroots organizing and innovative direct mail, instead of how most campaigns waste their money on TV ads and billboards,” said campaign manager Donny.
“When Steve wins in November, I will be his district director and I will build coalitions all over our district,” Brad said.
Please welcome Steve Stockman as LI’s Graduate of the Week.
The Leadership Institute is a 501 (c) 3 organization that does not endorse
or oppose any candidate or legislation, and all programs are open to the public.
To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member to be featured as LI's spotlight of the week, please contact LI's External Affairs
Officer Lauren Hart at LaurenHart@LeadershipInstitute.org.