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Dublin High and Stanford University Grad Dean Wallace on Connecting with Voters

April 23, 2012

Dean Wallace, Dublin High School Class of 2004 and Stanford University Class of 2009, stepped away from his role as Field Director on the Eric Swalwell for Congress campaign for a few moments to speak with Dean shares insights about how his time at Dublin High and Stanford University has helped prepare him for a life in politics.

Dean graduated from Stanford University in 2009 as a Public Policy major (which is a combination of Economics and Political Science), had his first experience in local politics during his senior year at Dublin High as the Student Representative on the Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees, and worked as an intern for state and federal politicians during his time at Stanford. With a highly competitive presidential election year underway, Dean provides valuable insights for students interested in pursuing politics in college and beyond. When sparked your interest in politics?

Dean Wallace: “I’ve always loved politics and my parents always talked about politics. My mother is from Mexico and my dad’s from Ireland. I was born in Ireland and we moved over to the U.S. in the early 1990’s, and to Dublin in 2000. I entered Dublin High School as a freshman.

“I became a citizen this past Fall, so this will be the first election I vote in on June 5. I’ve always been very involved in elections – getting people to register to vote, if they have the ability to. I was driven by the relationship with the country I lived in but, until recently, couldn’t vote in. What are your memories of Dublin High School?

Wallace: “I remember taking a Speech and Debate course with Tim Sbranti [Dublin High teacher and Mayor – City of Dublin]. I was the only freshman in the course with juniors and seniors. That was a crash course in getting comfortable with myself, getting up in front of a class of juniors and seniors in a school I don’t know anything about. That experience got me involved in a bunch of things I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten involved in. I also took mock trial, and a bunch of the juniors and seniors took me under their wing. They gave me a hard time too – I was the only freshman in the class – but they took me under their wing. I was really nervous the whole time, every time I had to give a speech. I remember that fondly and that’s where Mr. Sbranti became my mentor for my high school years.” Were you involved with student government in addition to being the Student Representative on the School Board?

Wallace: “I got into student government in my junior year and was in Leadership for my sophomore, junior and senior years. In my senior year I ran for Student Representative on the School Board and won.” What was it like being a teenager attending and participating in school board meetings?

Wallace: “It was interesting. They got really into the details and I was just a high school student. They’d send a packet over to the high school with hundreds of pages of information with my name on it and I had a placard with my name on it at the meetings – it was cool and felt very serious. I didn’t know half of the things that were going on, but I did speak up when I felt someone was misrepresenting what was going on at the campus. I would come to the defense of people I knew when I felt they were being unfairly attacked for not doing their job, when I knew they were.” Stanford University isn’t an easy place to be accepted into, what steps did you take to get there?

Wallace: “Coffee was my friend during my junior and senior years at Dublin High. I took five AP classes during my senior year which was a lot then, and now kids are taking six or seven AP classes. I was involved in all sorts of things – I did track, cross country, mock trial, volunteered at a tutoring club over at the library plus politics on the side. During my senior year I was the high school outreach coordinator for the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. While the primary was going that year I got on a bus with a bunch of Cal students to get out the vote in the primary for Howard Dean. That was my first foray into door-to-door campaign work.” What was life at Stanford University like?

Wallace: “It was interesting, it was fun. There’s not many places quite like it, where you have the opportunity to interact with high level people but on a down-to-earth basis. My dorm had a Dean who was also the Vice Provost of Education and a professor, and he’d have us over for barbecues and for dinners with important people like Condoleezza Rice. It’s a very different place where you get to interact with all these very important people in an informal setting.” Should students be intimidated by Stanford?

Wallace: “If you’ve done well in high school, you’ll be prepared. One of the things the admissions officers always say is that while it’s true not every student is on the same level going into Stanford, that it takes very little time for everyone to get on the same page. The first quarter is a crash course, but people catch-up. The kids who get into Stanford may not all have the same high school resources as the kids that went to expensive private high schools had, but they had the necessary skills. That’s why Stanford saw something in them, and picked them. Stanford is much more down to earth than other high profile east coast universities, much more informal. Everyone gets to class five minutes late at Stanford.

“Dublin High prepared me very well for Stanford – everything you need is there – you can have a well-balanced high school life at Dublin High and one that prepares you for a school like Stanford or a school like Berkeley.” “What role did internships play during your time at Stanford?”

Wallace: “I got to see a couple of different sides of politics and what elected officials do. During the summer of my freshman year I interned for Dianne Feinstein in her San Francisco office and got to see what a Senator’s local office does working for constituents, on veteran’s issues, social security issues, things like that. I also worked State Senator Joe Simitian, seeing how people interact with state issues – Medi-Cal, things like that. You help constituents deal with agencies, how do get the benefits that the government can provide for them, because government is confusing for a lot of people.

“I also interned in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill for Congressman Adam Schiff from Pasadena, and while I was there I took classes and lived at the Stanford in Washington Center. After hours professors would teach us the policy side of what we were learning in our internships. The professors lived in the building with us, which was fun. In D.C. you see the national issues, take the phone calls from the supporters and opponents of the elected official, and you have to be schooled in how to respond to those calls, and do it well. You get to see the committee hearings, I took notes for my congressman, and saw the side of politics most people are familiar with through movies and television.” Switching to the Eric Swalwell for Congress campaign, what goes on behind the scenes during a campaign?

Wallace: “I’m the Field Director for the Eric Swalwell for Congress campaign which means I’m in charge of getting the message out to the voters. Be that through walking door-to-door, phone banking or sending voters material in the mail, we target those voters that we think will come out to the polls. In this campaign that’s over 100,000 people we have to reach whatever way we can. The means getting interns involved, volunteers involved, reaching out to anyone Eric knows, and those who have reached out to us, and hook them into the campaign so they can provide us with the resources we need to reach voters. We don’t have a ton of money like a lot of campaigns do, so we have to do the extra work ourselves to get people on board to do the work that other campaigns would be paying people to do.

“It’s a different incentive structure – it’s hooking people with Eric’s charisma and the fact that he’s getting out there and doing things that most candidates don’t do. He took a leave from his job, he’s out there every day – his schedule’s crazy. He’s really putting himself out there in the community. People see that and it makes it easier to get volunteers on board.” With the rise of social media, the Internet and so many other ways to communicate with voters, how important is door-to-door in a campaign?

Wallace: “It’s really, really important. At Stanford they talked about if you go to a door and talk to someone about your candidate, that increases the likelihood that they will vote for your candidate by something like 150%. People respond to active ways of reaching them over passive ways. Mail, television, radio – that’s all passive stuff. Lawn signs are great too, but when a campaign is underway and you drive down the street the signs that will stick out to you are for the candidates you know something about. If you’ve spoken to the candidate, or someone who works for the candidate, you’ll notice those candidates. They’ll stick out. Passive ways like a mailer or radio ad are easier, but they are not as intimate.” How does your Stanford education help you in your role as Field Director for the Swalwell campaign?

Wallace: “I get to see how the intellectual side of politics relates to the reality of politics. When you read about politics, you read about the big picture things, but when you work on a campaign it’s door-to-door, person-to-person. Stanford gave me the tools to look at the world in a quantitative way. When I’m driving down the street I think how many of these homes have people who vote or would be likely to vote.” Talk about the planning that goes into a campaign, how do you approach reaching 100,000 voters?

Wallace: “For the 15th Congressional District, 100,000 represents the likely primary voters. There are 300,000 registered voters, and 730,000 people in the district. It is overwhelming, but you have to let go of that feeling of being overwhelmed and know there are practical ways to deal with it. The quantitative side comes more into play when thinking about social media these days, and knowing that someone who ‘Likes’ a post on Facebook or posts something on Facebook might reach many different people through their social network that you may not reach directly. That opens up a whole new side of the equation.” What is it like on election night, at campaign headquarters, when you’ve been deeply involved in a campaign?

Wallace: “It’s interesting. You have three or four different types of people there – you have the supporters who voted for you, and who you met going door-to-door; you have the hard core supporters who have donated, put lawn signs up, have followed you throughout the campaign; you have volunteers who have been out there with you, and you have campaign staff and the candidate. The first two or three groups – the supporters and volunteers – are all ready to party and have a good time on election night. The candidate and the staff are just freaking out. It’s hard to let go until the numbers are in, because you were there to put in all the work, go door-to-door, for the 6-9 months before the election.

“Looking back on Congressman Jerry McNerney’s campaign, we went to bed thinking we’d lost – we were down by a few hundred votes. It was a stressful time for those of us who had worked on the campaign – we’d put in all of that work and didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. It was hard to enjoy ourselves. You can also have election nights where you know the momentum is on your side and you are revved up. I imagine for this campaign it’s going to be a tight race – I can see myself being more stressed than in party mode until the numbers are in.” Is there a point of diminishing returns for campaigns? Can you ever to do much?

Wallace: “You can’t put in too much effort. This goes back to the quantitative way of looking at campaigns. The people who react negatively to you contacting them too many times are a tiny fraction of the electorate at large. For a campaign like ours there is no amount of effort that is too much.”

Related articles:

Eric Swalwell with Dean Wallace at the Swalwell for Congress Campaign Headquarters

One Comment
  1. November 7, 2012 12:51 pm

    Congrats to you both!

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