November 30, 2010 Leave a comment
Malik Neal, Columnist
It was late evening and months before Election Day in Massachusetts. Ryan Fattman, 26, had a special romantic dinner with “the most important person in his life,” his girlfriend of seven years. The setting encompassed all the ingredients of a conventional marriage proposal scene in a Hollywood blockbuster—fancy restaurant and a candle-lit dinner. Only one thing was absent—an actual marriage proposal. In its place was a political proposal, perhaps not as life changing, but equally as important to Fattman’s future.
Elected as a Selectmen, a local political representative, in Sutton County at the age of 21, Fattman had prior political experience making political climate changes in government. During his term in office, he helped bring businesses to the town of 10,000 by encouraging tax incentives and promoted transparency by making sure all town meetings were taped and accessible to the public.
So, armed with the approval of his girlfriend and his experience in Sutton, Fattman set out for higher office; but obstacles nevertheless remained. His opponent, Representative Jennifer Callahan, was a formidable candidate with years of experience. She served on the Sutton Board of Selectmen, the Sutton School Board and in the State House since 2003. A May 2010 poll said if the election were held then Fattman would get 35 percent and Callahan would get 57 percent. All of this did not deter the young and ambitious Fattman. Equipped with steely confidence, combined with humble faith, he announced his candidacy on the steps the Sutton Town Hall on April Fools’ Day 2010. The date was chosen cleverly by Fattman to represent how the state and the people had been tricked by the politicians on Beacon Hill. He stated:
“Massachusetts stands at a defining moment in its history. And the question becomes how we change direction. I don’t believe this is a question about experience, education, gender, or age. The question is about the past versus the future; and the old way will no longer do. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”
Fattman developed a new message that resonated with people. He focused on jobs, lowering taxes, illegal immigration, and per diem payments—the allowance some Representatives claim for driving to and from the State House. “People are hurting and we’re paying politicians to drive to work?” Fattman asked rhetorically. He went on: “They [State Representatives] always say there is no money, yet there is money for them to drive and eat during work.” The people of Sutton were quite receptive to this message; he was elected on November 2, 2010, defeating his opponent and becoming one of a rare breed, a Massachusetts Republican holding a state office.
In these difficult economic times, the voters obviously did not appreciate their elected officials spending taxpayers’ money (in addition to a generous salary) simply to eat and commute to their jobs at the State Capitol. His message was therefore obvious: stop wasting taxpayers’ money. It was simple, clear and convincing, and it got him elected.
“What’s lost in politics is what we brought back in this campaign—sincerity, being in touch with people, and a willingness to listen and to care,”
Fattman remarked. He knocked on doors every single day, talking with people in the district about his plans and listening to their concerns. Each day he wrote thank you notes specific to each person thanking them for listening to him, and even if they were not home, he wrote to them as well.
Fattman likes to tell the story of knocking on one family’s door that was not home at the time he came. Suddenly, the sprinkler went off at 1:00, causing him to be drenched. After the grueling experience, Fattman wrote a clever note to the family to the effect of: I now know better not to stop at your house at this time. I love your beautiful lawn, but I didn’t need watering. Please, though, consider voting for real change by electing me—wet or dry.
When asked if he had any advice for young people, Fattman answered, “For five to six years I’ve been told that something couldn’t be done. I want to make sure all youth know they can do anything they set their minds to.” This message has clearly taken hold in his district. A few days after being elected, he received an email from a 12 year-old girl about welfare reform in Massachusetts. “As I read the email, I thought it was written by a 20 year-old,” he noted. Fattman went to the girl’s house to meet her and talk about the issue. “When I knocked on the door, her mother laughed, saying “I knew you would respond but didn’t think you would stop by the house.” Fattman did and was impressed by the girl’s willingness to contact him and address the issue.
Fattman’s election demonstrates what youthful zest, diligence and proper presentation of an issue can accomplish. He found the weak spot in his opponent’s armor and pierced it with good effect. His careful and respectful presentation of his future plans to his girlfriend has borne fruit. He only needs to properly harvest it. As Fattman noted, “I’ve beat incumbents in the past and worked hard. I would not mind doing it again.”
If all goes as planned, he just might.