Karen Hicks
NH State Director, Dean for America
Transcript of May 22, 2003 Interview

Q. What have you accomplished since you started?

We have first and foremost created [inaud.] and staffed the governor, filled his schedule when he's been in town.  He visits roughly four times a month so early on most of the resources and the staff were absorbed in building his schedule and building crowds for events.  And so we have successfully done that and accomplished most of our goals for those visits, which include getting him in front of as many key activists as possible and generating good earned media.  So that's the first serious accomplishment.

The second accomplishment is just getting the basic infrastructure of the office up and running--securing space, getting phone lines, computers and the operating system in place, and we're sort of mid-stream in that process, starting to really secure space for our satellite offices, and so that's taken a lot of energy because we're literally starting from nothing, so no computers, no database, all of that.

So those are the two big accomplishments.  And then we've additionally been slowly building on our organization in terms of endorsements and people signing on, getting on board and starting to build our volunteer base.

Q. One of the things that's interesting is how campaigns decide, we're going to have our headquarters here.

We looked at a bunch of different spaces and it's a combination of factors that you're looking for.  Number one is affordability.  Number two is accessibility; is it a place where people can get to?  Is it physically accessible?  Which rules out, those three things right there rule out the majority of space that's available.  Either it's way too expensive, it's not in a good location, and it's not accessible.

Then you look for things like good parking and a comfortable work environment.  Then there's the overall consideration about where you put your headquarters, and Manchester being the largest city in the state, we felt like it was important to have a presence here.

In terms of this space...why we settled on it is it was affordable, it has really good parking.  The accessibility--it's accessible for people who use wheelchairs to get around in.  It doesn't have great visibility, but we felt like it met our needs for that; that we can explain to people how to get here.  It's pretty close to the Kerry folks so that's definitely not the greatest thing in the world, but we can live with it.

Q. I understand there's an interesting story behind the tables?

When you look at this space...  First of all this is the first time it's been used for a non-mill purpose.  So that is kind of interesting.  Cotton used to be stored here.  So it took quite a bit of work to get the space functional.  There's another whole area on the other side.  And so we had them build a wall, because we didn't feel like we needed the whole space immediately, and it was a question of affordability, and then we did build out in this area...  In the middle space, because it's not huge and it's wide open, we tried to figure out what was going to make the best work environment for our field organizers and press folks and the advance team.  And so after looking around at the furniture that was available [we] decided to have it built both because it was more affordable and we could have more control over the design of it.  So my houseman built the tables.  The materials for them cost about a hundred bucks per table, which is much, much better than the heavy metal desks that are quite affordable but not very functional.

Q. The design is--?

The design first of all meets the space.  So we'll have three of those running this way, three long rows a table, and then people in different areas will be clustered together so field organizers who need to be talking quite a bit with one another will be working together.  The same thing with the advance team, and the advance team will be set up outside the press office because they work closely together.  And so it's designed to make sure that the communication is as good as possible with the least amount of effort required.

Q. And how much space do you have?

I think it's about 4,000 square feet.  [not including the space next door]

Q. So you'll have access to additional space.

Yeah if we need it; if we need it. We're going to see how it goes.  It's hard to know.

Q. Have you ever done anything like this before?  I know you've been very active in politics, but running a campaign like this?

Nope, this is the first time I've worked in a presidential primary in the states and it's the first time I've run a campaign at this level.

...Is there are learning curve?

[Laughs].  Are you kidding?  There's a huge, huge learning curve.

...What was one of the interesting things you learned?

I guess recently what I've been struck by is two things.  One is the incredible ramp up that goes on, that literally you go from having two or three people working in their kitchen to a staff that's enormous.  And I don't know exactly what the number is going to be but within a eight-month period you go from a five-person operation to probably 70 staff people for some period of time and a huge volunteer operation, and so when you chart it out, the ramp up capacity just really is mind-boggling and presents really really unique challenges to ramping up something that quickly in a very high pressured environment where quality matters a lot and the outcome obviously matters a lot.  So that's one thing that has sort of struck me.

And a second point related to that is that when you're doing this kind of work over this time horizon with the stakes as high as they are and you're working with a lot of people who haven't worked together and for many of the--especially the field staffers this is their first job out of college or maybe their second campaign, but they're very, very young and have limited experience.  And so one of the things that I've been struck by is how explicit you have to be about expectations about the values we have to share to work effectively as a team together and you just have to state it over and over and over again so that people are working with a common understanding of both why they're here, what the task is that we have to accomplish and then what values do we need to share in order to accomplish that task.

Q. When did you first meet Howard Dean and how did you come to sign on?  Did it take persuading [sic] for you to accept this position?  Can you talk a little bit about how you come to be state director?

I certainly have been aware of him for a number of years and have seen him on and off.  I can't pinpoint the first time I saw him.  It was probably while I was working in state government and he worked closely with Governor Shaheen through the National Governors Association.  So I certainly had an awareness of him for the past six or seven years and admired the work that he did as the governor of the state of Vermont.

And the first time I really had a conversation with him was around working on the campaign that was more than in passing and hello, he marched--I was running a parade for Gov. Shaheen, I guess Memorial Day--it was either Memorial Day or Labor Day, and so I spent a little bit of time talking to him.

...he was marching in the parade?

Yeah, he was.  He already knew he was running, but Gov. Shaheen was running for the Senate at that point.  I think it was probably Labor Day [ed. it was the Labor Day parade in Milford, Sept. 2, 2002].  So that was the first interactionn that I had, but it certainly wasn't specific around working on this campaign.

After the last election I went away to India for a month and really hadn't figured out what I was going to do until I came back.  And wasn't planning--  A lot of people on the last cycle came to New Hampshire to work with the understanding that they were going to jump on a presidential and that was never really my intention at all.  Hadn't given it serious thought.  I thought Gov. Shaheen would win that election.  So I thought I'd continue working with her.  And I was tired after the last election; it's an exhausting process and it's very hard to lose.  And so went away and didn't think terribly hard or long about what I was going to do.

And then being away certainly gave me perspective on what's at stake in our country in this upcoming election.  And so trying to figure out what I was going to do, I initially thought I would do something not political and then came to the conclusion that first of all it would be irresponsible of me, feeling the way that I do about the direction that the country's headed in, to sit it out, and given the importance of the primary up here this was just not the time to change careers and do something else.  So once I decided that I was going to do this and it was sort of open season for political organizers.  Rather than having to go out and sort of market yourself and find a job, people were really banging on my door because anybody who's organized in New Hampshire is sort of a hot commodity.  We don't usually have this much competition for those kind of jobs in New Hampshire, given that there's ot a lot of primaries.

So the way I picked Gov. Dean was that it was pretty clear that he was closest to where I was from an ideological perspective, and then after meeting him, I just liked him.  And I've had the good fortune of really liking everybody that I've ever worked for and liking them more the more I get to know them and that's certainly the case with him.  So it was both a good match up from a philosophical perspective--  I've done a lot of policy work on health care; it's the issue that I feel most passionate about and so I was excited that that was going to be such a centerpiece in his campaign and it was the campaign where I had the best opportunity in terms of running it.  I could have joined the team of another campaign, but this was the one where I had the opportunity to run it.  It's a stretch for me.  I haven't done it before.  So it will be a great challenge and opportunity.

Q. Are you happy [doing this]?

I'm getting happier.  At first it was really hard because part of what's great about campaigns is the connections with other people and working together, and so when you're sitting in your kitchen looking at the enormity of the task, you feel like you're doing it not entirely alone, but certainly in isolation.  And so that now that we're in a space together and we're starting to feel more like a campaign.  There's more and more people every day.  People are showing up; we have volunteers in the office.  So that makes me feel much, much better and we're building a fantastic team.

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