John Tsarpalas: My guest today is now the new treasurer of Rogers County, Oklahoma, but he started off as a candidate. Within only a short period of time, he turned into a watchdog and dug up some interesting information on the incumbent treasurer.
She hadn’t collected overdue taxes from businesses- a million and a half dollars worth! She failed to collect. The next thing you know, he’s the new county treasurer. Today on Commonwealthy, it’s Candidate Watchdog Winner with Jason Carini, Commonwealthy #36.
One of the things I hope Commonwealthy can do for you is inspire you to run for local office. My guest today is Jason Carini, now the treasurer of Rogers County, Oklahoma. But back in June of 2014, he was a small business guy. He was considered an underdog in a long shot race against a twenty-three year incumbent. Jason, welcome to Commonwealthy.
Jason Carini: Thanks, John. I appreciate it. Glad to be apart of this.
John Tsarpalas: Jason, you are a story of an underdog.
Jason Carini: Yes, sir.
John Tsarpalas: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that. Give us some background here. You are in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. You were a small business guy.
Jason Carini: Yes, my family moved here about thirty years ago to Oklahoma. I’ve been apart of this area for the last thirty years. Just some background about myself, I’ve always had a passion for government as envisioned by our founding fathers.
In 2004, I helped Dr. Tom Coburn run for U.S. Senate here in Oklahoma. Ever since then, I just stayed involved. I did a lot of things politically in the state. I also wanted to be self-employed, so I had a business for five years.
Then we had a lot of things going on here in Rogers County. No one was stepping up. So at the last minute, I filed for office. Surprisingly, I actually won! I was very excited about that and so were a lot of other people.
John Tsarpalas: You and I met when? It was about 2008 or 9? Somewhere in that area?
Jason Carini: Yeah, somewhere around there. That sounds about right.
John Tsarpalas: You were a political activist working in Oklahoma, doing lots of things. You had worked for Senator Coburn’s office? Or was it just his campaign and election?
Jason Carini: It was just his campaign. I was never on the Senate staff, but that’s okay. That’s a whole other ballgame there being an employee of the U.S. government. I never wanted to do that.
John Tsarpalas: I’ve had that same feeling! I understand completely. I don’t want to get swallowed up by the monster; I want to attack it.
Jason Carini: Yeah, exactly. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to be self-employed.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, good for you. So anyway, you’ve got this opportunity that comes along. Or you spot this opportunity; let’s put it that way. Give us some background on this race, on this incumbent treasurer, and what was happening in Rogers County.
Jason Carini: Absolutely. The story really begins about two years earlier in 2012. Because I had been involved with Dr. Coburn’s Senate campaigns, including his re-election in 2010, there was a state house seat that came open in my district where I live. It was somewhat natural to run for that. In fact, Dr. Coburn has had other staffers who are in the Oklahoma state legislature.
So I ran. It was a three-way race and I lost. I actually came in second out of the three candidates. I thought, ‘Oh, good. I got that out my blood. I don’t need to worry about that.’
John Tsarpalas: That was a three-way primary?
Jason Carini: It was, yes. It was a three-way Republican primary and I came in second with about thirty-three or thirty-five percent of the vote. The winner came out with about fifty-five or sixty percent.
John Tsarpalas: Was it an open seat or was there an incumbent?
Jason Carini: It was an open seat. We have term limits here in Oklahoma. The incumbent was termed out, so it was an open seat. As anybody who has been involved in politics, you get this bug, the political bug, that bites and bites hard.
John Tsarpalas: For sure! I am still trying to get rid of that itch.
Jason Carini: We all do. So I thought I had it out of my system. I had a young family and a young daughter. I was still working on the business. Well, 2014 rolls around. In our county, we had a lot of serious concerns about the ethics of our elected officials.
We have eight elected officials in our county. Four come up every two years. That way it fluctuates which four come up. Well, in 2014, there were two county commissioners, a county treasurer, and the county assessor that came up. Also our district attorney. There was some serious concern with the county commissioner and the district attorney.
Kind of on the side, under the radar, there were some rumblings about the treasurer, how she operated her office, and what she did. I actually was just observing it from the side. I had no intention of running. The reason why I filed is because no one else filed. I had heard a number of things about what she did in office and what she didn’t do. It bothered me.
I had just had a son born two weeks before filing period. So my wife was on board with my running for office because she knew what it was going to take.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, let me stop you there for a moment. What’s it take to file in Oklahoma? How do you become a candidate? How do you get on the ballot?
Jason Carini: It’s just a couple step process. They have an open filing period. It lasts three days. Right now it is in the middle of April for state-wide races or state elections. For city, municipality, or school board, those are at different times of the year. Generally the filing period will about two to four months before the election date.
It will be a three day period where an individual goes down to their county election board, files a piece of paper, and pays a filing fee. It can be anywhere from a hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars. That gets their name on the ballot.
There are a few other restrictions. For example, if it is a partisan race, which most elections are, you have to be a registered voter within your party for the last six months and you have to live within the district for six months.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. So most of your local elections, like municipal elections and things like that, are done on a partisan basis, too?
Jason Carini: Correct.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. And there is just simply a form you fill out and a fee you pay. There is no petition gathering of signatures or anything like that?
Jason Carini: That’s correct.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. And do you need an attorney usually to file this paperwork? Do you just go into an office? Do you do it online? How does that happen?
Jason Carini: You have to go in person to the county election board. Now, for say the state legislature or the governor, you have to actually do it at the capital in Oklahoma City at the state election board. You don’t need a lawyer, but you do need to have your documents notarized by a notary public. That’s the only legal requirement.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you decide that the incumbent is going to be running in the primary and no one else is challenging her. You think, “Well, might at least put my name on.”
Jason Carini: Yeah, I should tell a little more background story. The incumbent apparently pulled up to the election board at 7 a.m. on the first day of filing period and sat in her car for an hour before the doors opened at 8 o’clock. She was a bit paranoid that someone else was going to file. She would call the office every couple of hours to see if anyone had filed.
So by the time I had filed on Friday afternoon about two o’clock (the filing period ended at 5 that afternoon), I had heard these stories of her and how worried she was to receive an opponent. It was somewhat comical in nature.
John Tsarpalas: I wonder why she was worried. Being an incumbent, you’d think she would think everything would be fine. Now her background had been she had been a Democrat and she switched recently?
Jason Carini: Yeah, so the state of Oklahoma has been switching to a very red state over the years. Rogers County is right outside of the Tulsa metro area. But it has been slow to change parties at the local level. At the state and national level, it has always been Republican. But at the local level, up until about four years ago, it was still a solid Democrat County. She had originally gotten elected in I think 1990.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that would be 23 years.
Jason Carini: Yeah. There were three big races in our county this last year. There was county commissioner. There was a D.A.’s race. And there was this treasurer’s race. The majority of the candidates who ran as a Republican had switched parties the previous year because they knew they could not win on a Democrat ticket.
So that was another factor that was involved in this. I was one of only a couple of candidates who could say I have been a registered Republican all my life.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. So ideologically, are these people the old kind of Reagan Democrat blue dog? Do they believe in fiscal conservative things? Or are they just people who are opportunists and want to get a job and keep their job?
Jason Carini: It’s a mix. You do have those that are sincere in their beliefs. They were the blue dog Democrats back in the day or the Reagan Democrats. And then you have your other mix of those who are just opportunists. I would classify my opponent as the opportunist.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. She just wanted to keep her job.
Jason Carini: Yes! The way she ran her office, she used county property for personal use. She subsidized her living through the county. We can talk about that later on.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you go in, you file, and suddenly you are on the ballot three hours before the opportunity closes. And then what happens?
Jason Carini: So the filing period was I think April 12th through the 14th. Election was June 24th. So just over two months. It was about nine or ten weeks.
John Tsarpalas: That’s not a long time to put together a campaign of any sort.
Jason Carini: No, it wasn’t much time at all. I wasn’t planning on running. My wife had just had our second child. Our business was going through a very busy season. I had a lawn car business with five employees. In April, that’s the beginning of spring and that’s when that ramps up. So we were in growth mode at that time.
Then all of the sudden I had to pull myself out of that. Running a campaign is like starting up a business overnight. You’ve got to have your logo. You’ve got to have your bank account. You’ve got to have your checks. You’ve got to get your supplies- your push cards, your yard signs.
It took me about two weeks before I had the initial structure of the campaign set up. So right off the bat, I lost two out of the ten weeks just in the foundation in the campaign. Then it took me about another four weeks to build up the financial capital and get some of the basic stuff like the signs and the push cards and the pictures.
Then I really only had about four weeks of hard, solid campaigning that I was able to do. So for me, it was a very quick, very fast, and very intense campaign.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. So let’s break this down for further detail for people out there so they get an idea of what you did and how you did it. You mentioned that you had to get together some capital or something like that. What did you do? How did you get some financing? How did you support this thing? Or was this all out of your pocket?
Jason Carini: No, I cannot afford out of my pocket. In some ways, I wish I could. That way I could be independent from donors. But it is nice when people in the community actually donate to a candidate because then they are vested in the community as a whole. So that’s always encouraging.
John Tsarpalas: Right, that’s support. That support is people voting for you. They are going to spread the word. Obviously, it shows the community is supporting you. I wonder about the self-financed candidate, what message that sends. It’s like, “Well, I don’t need you community. I can do what I want.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I think you are better off.
Jason Carini: Yes. I follow along your thought as well. Sometimes it would just be nice to be wealthy enough not to have to worry about it just because it’s not fun raising money. It takes a lot of work and it’s not fun.
I mentioned earlier how I ran in 2012 for state house. One of the things I learned in that race was I didn’t focus on raising enough money. I remember hearing back in the day from when you and I used to interact with each other that you need to spend at least sixty percent of your time raising funds. I didn’t do that back in the state house race.
I thought, “Well, if I just knocked on enough doors, that’d do the trick.” So this race I changed my focus. I spent a lot of time talking to business leaders in the community and raising funds- a lot more than I would have wanted to. But by doing that, I was able to raise around $14,000 for my race.
Now, the size of the county is 90,000 citizens in this county, from little kids to senior citizens. I expected there was going to be about 10,000 voter turnout. It would have been nice to raise more like 20,000, but I was happy with the amount that I raised.
In the end, after all the financial documents are submitted, it turns out my opponent was only able to raise about five or six thousand. She had self-financed about half of that. So about three thousand she self-financed. That told me something. It told me that she didn’t have the support of the business leaders in the community or even the community leaders.
Even one of the donors for her was either a thousand or two thousand dollars. So she only had three or four donors. I had several dozen donors.
John Tsarpalas: That’s fantastic. So talk to me a little bit about how you build these relationships. Do you just get on the phone? Do you have someone try to connect you that knows somebody? Networking? How do you build these relationships with leaders in a community that can donate to you?
That’s very hard for most people to do. I am also really thrilled about you said you ran before, you lost, but you learned. I learned so much in campaigns that lost, more than I have learned in campaigns that win. Often you have to go out there and try out this. It’s not necessarily the first attempt. How many times did Lincoln run before he could win?
Jason Carini: Right.
John Tsarpalas: It’s the same thing. Good for you. Let me jump back to how do you network, meet those people, and raise money?
Jason Carini: Okay. Everyone has a different situation, so I’ll just try to tell my story. I don’t want everyone to think they have to have the same story.
John Tsarpalas: That’s true.
Jason Carini: When I had my small business for over five years, I used a CPA in the county seat of Claremore. So when I ended up running for office, I started with him. I had built a relationship with him because he was Tom Coburn’s county director back when Coburn ran for U.S. Senate in 2004. So I had that initial relationship, both the political and the professional with this one gentleman.
He opened the door over here and that opened a door over here. Every time I talked with someone, I always asked them, “Is there someone else I should be talking to or introduce myself to?” You might get one or two names. You just keep on pounding the pavement as they say.
In some ways, it feels like a multi-level marketing system. “Alright, who else can I sell my product to?” But it is more than that. It is very genuine in that you have a concern for the county. In my case, because of the corruption issues that were going on in the county with the commissioners and the D.A., most of the business owners were already familiar with what was going on.
So I just had to be able to present myself as an educated individual who is self-employed and who ran a business debt free and who had the mentality and the know-how to operate in office and hire employees. It is just basic facts that would convince business owners to support me.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. Would people give not just a name and a number, but make a call for you and get you a meeting? That’s the ideal situation. How do you get in the door?
Jason Carini: You know, John, there were a couple of different scenarios. After a week or two of meeting with some key folks, I could walk in to a business and say, “These five people are supporting me.” That would generally give enough repot to whoever I was talking to.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you had credibility by referrals. Cool.
Jason Carini: I tell you what; that credibility was key. That was extremely successful. By having the mayor of the town or this CPA or this business owner support me and be able to walk into a business, it gave a lot of credibility. If I didn’t have that credibility, I wouldn’t have been as successful.
John Tsarpalas: So you say walk in. Did you literally kind of go door-to-door in the business community? Or did you get on the phone? Or both?
Jason Carini: I did not have enough time. So there were, just like in any community, key figures that stand out for one reason or another. It could be the car salesman. It could be the owner of the funeral home. But there are key folks that are faithful in what they do day in and day out. They have a name for that. Those were the people that I focused my attention on.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, great. So you raise $14,000 in a very short period of time, which is tremendous. In a county that size, it was enough. Obviously more is always better. But that’s cool. That’s really cool.
So you said you had push cards and yard signs. Let’s talk about some of the things you bought. You did mailings as well?
Jason Carini: I did. I did three mailings within the last three weeks of the campaign.
John Tsarpalas: And let me define a push card. A push card is the piece of literature you walk around with and people pass out for you?
Jason Carini: Yes. It is generally two inches by six or seven inches long with a horizontal or vertical layout. It had some of my beliefs of who I am, what I have done, what I have accomplished, and basic facts like that.
John Tsarpalas: Right. We actually had a podcast on that, Commonwealthy #5, campaign palm cards is what we call them here in the north.
Jason Carini: Palm cards, really?
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, we call them palm cards because they fit in the palm of your hand.
Jason Carini: That’s brilliant. They go by three or four different names. It depends on what region of the country you live in.
John Tsarpalas: Anyway, if people want more background on palm cards, go look at Commonwealthy #5. That podcast is all about them. So anyway, back to push and palm cards. I just wanted to identify that.
Yard signs- about how many yard signs did you think you needed for your county?
Jason Carini: I actually had to make two orders. It has been over a year now, so I don’t remember how many. I am pretty sure I bought about a hundred two by four coroplast (the plastic yard signs), double sided. My logo just had two colors on it. Some candidates can get pretty crazy with the color and the design.
John Tsarpalas: It keeps your cost down with less colors, right?
Jason Carini: Right. They just need to see the name and an image associated with that name, like a star or a flag. Keep the colors down because it saves a lot on printing. I probably bought five hundred to a thousand of the smaller yard signs like an 18 by 24 size.
John Tsarpalas: To go in people’s yard literally. The other ones would go on fences and corners and places like that?
Jason Carini: Yes.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. And who designed it for you? Who came up with your logo?
Jason Carini: That was another connection through my small business. Because I was a small business owner, I had to have some letterhead and envelopes printed up. So I just went to that printer and he helped me along.
Now the logo I just reused from the 2012 state house race. I just changed out the name. That’s what I did there.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, that’s smart. Why not? So you had already had some of this done. Why not just keep using it and keep going? People might remember having seen that logo before and that name, so you built some name ID and recognition in the area before. How much did the state rep area match the county?
Jason Carini: Good question. There was probably only a third of it that overlapped. The other two-thirds of the state house ran into two other counties. It was a multi-county seat. About a third of it, which is my hometown of Catoosa, which is in the southwest corner of Rogers county, was the overlap. So in my hometown, everyone would be familiar with those yard signs. But that was about it.
So overall, it was not a large percentage of the voting population. But I tell you what: every vote counts. Every vote counts.
John Tsarpalas: Sure. People driving through the area might see who don’t necessarily live in the same county now and whatever. So you just never know. You never know where it is going to lead.
Jason Carini: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: So then you said you mailed. How many mailings? Did you mail to every Republican voter? In Oklahoma, do people register as a Republican or Democrat?
Jason Carini: That’s correct. You have to register with a party. We do have a closed primary system. Only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary.
So I looked at some of the voting history and some of the elections that have happened over the last two to four years to see the voting patterns. I estimated that up to ten thousand voters would vote. In the end, there were 9,400 and some odd voters. I felt confident there with my numbers.
For a new candidate coming into the field, all you have to remember is you have to win fifty plus one percent of the vote to win.
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Jason Carini: So I did not need all ten thousand voters. I needed five thousand and one voters. So what I did is I targeted my voters. Here in Oklahoma, they classify them one of four, two of four, three of four, and four of four.
John Tsarpalas: Right. That means how many times they’ve voted in four elections or whatever.
Jason Carini: Right. So I focused my attention first on the three’s and the four’s because the chances of them voting again would be pretty high. Also, for the new candidate out there, when you get a voter list, you are going to have what is called multiples or households where you have a husband and wife and maybe their twenty-year-old college kid that still lives in the house. So you will have three or four voters in one household.
If you take that down, instead of mailing out ten thousand mailers, I actually focused on about seven thousand voters. When you included the household people, I actually ended up sending around four thousand mail pieces out. So I really focused on about four thousand homes instead of ten thousand voters.
John Tsarpalas: Okay, that makes sense. Mailing should think about it by household. That’s how I usually calculate it. Very good.
And then you said you got about the business of campaigning. What does that mean? You run around. You get some money. You try to get all of this stuff order. And then what?
Jason Carini: Oh, man.
John Tsarpalas: There’s so much; where do you start?
Jason Carini: Where do you start? Yeah. This was something small, but I got a phone from Walmart, a Go phone or burn phone, however you want to call it. I had that set up just for campaign phone calls. That way I could keep my life a little simpler.
John Tsarpalas: That’s a good idea.
Jason Carini: Yeah. When I walked (and I had friends who helped me walked), we only walked the areas that had a high voter density or high population density. We didn’t want to waste time walking five minutes between homes finding voters.
Rogers County is still considered a rural county. There are not large pockets of towns. We just limited ourselves to those neighborhoods where there were a lot of voters when we went door-to-door.
Another thing that I did was I focused my attention on the absentee voters. So in Oklahoma, if you know you are going to be gone over an election period, up to thirty days before an election happens, you can request an absentee voter form. That is made public to candidates.
So I could go to the election board on a daily basis and say, “Hey, can I get a list of those who requested an absentee ballot?” They would give it to me and then I would immediately send those people a letter with a postcard saying, “I would appreciate your vote. Here’s why I think I am the best candidate for the job.”
In the end, I won the majority of the absentee candidates. Those are critical votes because they are going to tell their friends who they voted for. They’ve already made that commitment. If you can win the early vote, you are more likely to actually win the general vote overall in the race.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Well, that’s wonderful. So did you have some volunteers- people who would go out door-to-door with you and help you with things?
Jason Carini: Not really. I hate to say that.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. Well, it was last minute. You didn’t have time to recruit.
Jason Carini: Right. Even for my presence in the parade, there would just be a couple family members at best. It wasn’t a whole crowd of fifteen or twenty people walking down the parade or hitting a neighborhood at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I was out by myself just knocking on doors one after another.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, being a candidate can be lonely.
Jason Carini: Yeah, especially when you have a wife at home with two kids under two.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s hard.
Jason Carini: It’s sad to be out there.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, but this wasn’t a real long time period. It was a fast campaign. In your area, I assume when you win the primary it is assumed you are going to win the general. Did you have to do much campaigning for the general?
Jason Carini: No, because the incumbent had been a Democrat, no Democrats actually filed for the office.
John Tsarpalas: Wow, that is fantastic.
Jason Carini: Right. So once I won the Republican primary, I had secured the election overall.
John Tsarpalas: You were unopposed in the general.
Jason Carini: That’s correct.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. Well, the Democrats were foolish to not have recruited somebody for the primary.
Jason Carini: Yes, they were. But they did recruit a county commissioner candidate in one of the districts. But that individual lost pretty handily. I can’t remember; I think she got thirty percent of the vote. Even if they had recruited someone, it would have most likely been lopsided just with the voter dynamics of the county.
John Tsarpalas: Right. I know that there were some things that came up last minute on the incumbent that helped you.
Jason Carini: Yes. One of the things that I did and I thought was very helpful is I did a number of open records request. I did it on two aspects of my opponent. The first I did was her spending habits within her office. Here in Oklahoma, whenever you make a purchase, it becomes and open record. So anyone can walk in and see the purchase history of those who came before you or the elected officials.
The second I did was on how she collected her taxes. Here in Oklahoma, we essentially have two taxes. We have the real estate (or ad valorem), your property taxes. Another one is called your business personal tax. That includes everything from mobile homes and equipment that a business would have (they get ad valorem tax on that as well).
For your business personal taxes in Oklahoma, they can go delinquent up to seven years. At the end of seven years, they fall off the books and aren’t collected. In the twenty-three history that my opponent had as county treasurer, she never once collected on delinquent business personal taxes. So by doing some open record requests and adding some numbers up, I figured that within just the last seven years alone, she had not collected one and a half million dollars.
John Tsarpalas: Oh, my!
Jason Carini: And that does not include the other sixteen years of numbers that fell off the books.
John Tsarpalas: Wow. Okay, so you are doing these open Information Act requests. You are filing them with state government or county government? Does she know you are coming in? Does she have a way to block it?
Jason Carini: No, she does not have a way to block it. They were open. I also did an open record request on her emails as well just to observe what she may or may not be saying on the county computers.
John Tsarpalas: And had you done any of this prior to your filing? Or did this all while you were campaigning?
Jason Carini: No, this was brand new for me. I had been around people who had done it in the past, but I had never done it myself.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you put all of this together in that two-month period, too.
Jason Carini: Yes.
John Tsarpalas: Wow! When did you sleep? Well, you didn’t with two little kids.
Jason Carini: It was quite the two-month experience. I don’t want to have it again. I look back at it and I laugh at myself. I’m like, “I really did all that?” Not just myself personally, but my wife did all that and my family did all that. It’s crazy to think about it.
John Tsarpalas: It is crazy. So you started digging around and you found out that she hadn’t been collecting all these overdue taxes from businesses. How did you get that out to the public?
Jason Carini: Well, we had two different forums here in our county. The one was right after Labor Day. The other was about two weeks later. Now, what is really neat here in our county is the county seat is Claremore and there is a college called Rogers State University there. Rogers State back in the day had set up a TV and radio program. It’s still a very solid TV station, even though it is very close within the Tulsa market.
Every year when there is an election, they always get the candidates to come in to do a forum. They record it on camera and they air it on TV. So I was able to reach a lot of voters through that method of the TV to bring out some facts about my opponent, the incumbent.
John Tsarpalas: So you announced at this forum that you had been doing this research and had found these things. Did she get a chance to respond? What did she say?
Jason Carini: Yeah, I actually called her out in the first forum. I said, “Is it true that you have not collected on delinquent taxes?” To my shock and horror, she agreed. She said, “Yes, that’s correct.” I thought, ‘Wow, this is my lucky golden nugget here that my opponent just admitted that they are not doing their job.’
I felt very fortunate. That should not have happened. She was a bad candidate for admitting it. But I ran with it. I took it. I was in it to win it, not just to make a valiant effort.
John Tsarpalas: Absolutely! You are doing the taxpayers a service. They don’t know that this money is not getting collected. Therefore, people are paying more taxes or maybe they are talking about at some point raising rates or whatever. But everyone is being cheated.
Jason Carini: Oh, yeah! I did more research as well, John. One of the things that I did is I looked at where my opponent had a lot of her signs up. Then I would go back and see if that person owed any delinquent taxes. So I actually had a list in my back pocket that I was able to pull up and say, “Why are these people who are supporting you not paying their taxes? How come they have yard signs in their yard?”
John Tsarpalas: Wow, that’s amazing! That’s a lot of work.
Jason Carini: Yes, it was a lot of work, but I was serious about this. I was ready to go to the mat for it.
John Tsarpalas: That was a great strategy. You started off doing these information requests. Did this sort of pop out of you as you were going through it? How did you come up with this idea?
Jason Carini: Yeah. Just like any small community, you have folks on different sides of the aisles. I had some individuals who approached me and told me stories me about this or that situation. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. You take this piece and you plug it there. You take that piece and you plug it there. Before you realize it, you have a picture.
So that’s what I did with all of these tidbits of information. It just kind of added up. So I was prepared if I needed to present it to the voters.
In addition to that, (I am not talking to you, John; I am talking to the new candidate out there) a lot of these situations can be complex with multiple relationships going this way and that way. It is sometimes hard to communicate that to a voter. What you want to be able to communicate to a voter is something very quick and succinct and easy to understand.
I felt like some of this other stuff that I had wasn’t as succinct. It is a lot of pieces to the puzzles. So there were other things that I focused my attention on. One of things that I did was the county had just built a new courthouse. The incumbent had bought over $40,000 of brand new furniture for her office, including a $2,000 refrigerator and a $300 microwave. She was an excessive spender.
John Tsarpalas: A two thousand dollar refrigerator? What did it do? We don’t need details; I am just blown away at the cost.
Jason Carini: Yeah, it was absolutely insane. She had bought two flat screen TVs, one for her personal viewing in her private office. I said, “That’s crazy. We don’t need that in our county. We need our county officers to work, not to be watching TV during the day.”
I know I am presenting a lot to you now. When I went door-to-door talking to people, I emphasized the big things that would catch people’s attention.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. Let me take a little aside here. One of the things happening here is a just lack of watchdogs. You don’t have to run for office, but you can be an activist and a watchdog and do some of these information requests. Start looking through things at your local government.
If you find some things, you can put them out in the press, create a blog, or do something to get it out. There’s more than one way to get this information out.
Now, thank goodness Jason took the time to do this in his challenge of this incumbent. Obviously he cleaned up a mess in this county that frankly was not being operated properly. So good for you. This is really cool. But I also want people to know there are ways to take care of some of this without running for office.
That was something back in the day when I was at Sam Adams that we would do. We did a lot of freedom of information requests classes and things like that. So I harken back to those things, too. And you know me from those days.
Jason Carini: I am actually glad you brought that up, John, because one of our neighboring is Wagoner County. They are very proud of their website because they have an A- rating with Ballotpedia.
John Tsarpalas: Right, which also was related back in those days.
Jason Carini: Exactly. Our county website is awful. It just has no significant information on there for the public at large.
John Tsarpalas: So hopefully you are fixing that.
Jason Carini: That is one of my goals.
John Tsarpalas: Good! That would be great. It’s important. There are counties that literally put their checkbook online. They put all their contracts online. They put everything so people can see. If you’ve got complete transparency, it can’t be hidden. How can anybody criticize that you aren’t open and honest? They might not like where the money is going, but somebody voted for it and it is going where it is supposed to.
Jason Carini: Absolutely.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. So you guys collect and pay the bills?
Jason Carini: The county or my office?
John Tsarpalas: The county treasurer’s office. What does it do?
Jason Carini: Okay, so the county treasurer sends out all the tax statements and then collects all the money. It is essentially the banker for the county. Then it also portions money out. Most of the money goes to the schools. Some of it goes to the county. The rest goes to cities and towns.
John Tsarpalas: Okay. So it comes in and you transfer it back out.
Jason Carini: That’s right. We have over a hundred million dollars that comes in and goes out throughout the year.
John Tsarpalas: Wow! That’s a huge amount of money.
Jason Carini: Yes, it is.
John Tsarpalas: Well, gosh, this is exciting. This is very cool. Any thoughts for people who are thinking about running for local office? Quick thoughts that you haven’t already imparted? Something we haven’t talked about here?
Jason Carini: Oh, my word, John. That’s a big question. It could be answered real easily or it could be pretty lengthy. It really depends on the situation of the individual and the community.
For me, I know I would never have run for county treasurer if I had not run for state house. I would have not run for state house if I had not been a part of the campaigns for Tom Coburn running for U.S. Senate. I would not have been apart of those campaigns if I hadn’t just done some basic reading and researching of the founding of America and Oklahoma.
So I see running for county treasurer not as a blimp in my life, this kind of oddball. It is the culmination of what I have been doing for the last ten or fifteen years of my life. Everyone is going to have a different path.
Here again in Rogers County, one of the county commissioners had never been in county government at all or helped out with any campaigns. But he did have a history of being a manager for retail companies like Lowe’s. So when it came time for him to run for office, he had always worked with large budgets and had been around the construction industry for a long time. So that benefited him.
So each of us have our own stories. Personally I believe God ordains our lives and weaves us through what we should be doing. But even while we are living our lives, we always need to be vigilant and aware. I never would have run for county treasurer if I hadn’t been aware of how bad the situation was at our county government and courthouse.
John Tsarpalas: That’s fantastic.
Jason Carini: So live your life and always be ready. I think that was the motto of the minutemen back in the day.
John Tsarpalas: Was it really? You are a minuteman. That’s wonderful. Actually, maybe a two-month man! But, hey, two months and look what has happened. Looked at how a county in Oklahoma is so improved, which is fantastic.
So thank you so much. This was fun. How can people find you? Do you still have a campaign website? Can they reach you through there? Is there an email address or Twitter handle you can give us?
Jason Carini: You know, I actually took some of that stuff down. I would say for the most part if someone does want to contact me, probably the best way is my personal email account. That is JasonCarini@gmail.com. Now if someone types in Jason Carini, they will find me on LinkedIn and on Facebook. They are always welcome to do that. I will be glad to talk to whoever and encourage whoever I can.
John Tsarpalas: Well, thanks! That’s wonderful. I think that this has been really helpful. I love practical advice coming from someone who has recently run and, in this case, someone who has gone beyond just a campaign, but did some real watchdog work for the community. So thanks!
Jason Carini: Appreciate it. Can I share one quick story?
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, go ahead.
Jason Carini: Alright. I am still new there at the courthouse. I have only been in office for four months. Sometimes I wonder what I need to focus on to best serve the citizens of Rogers County.
There was a situation that just came up where one of the vo-tech districts was trying to raise property taxes. They were asking for a 17.7% tax increase, which would equate to about $1.2 million extra per year for them. Well, this was very unpublicized. There as hardly any information about. In fact when I found out about it, I called the newspaper and they hadn’t heard about. This was about three weeks ago.
So I just put a quick treasurer’s memo together discussing it and telling people how it would affect their property taxes. I sent it out to all the newspapers and to a few other folks that I know who are active.
I was shocked within the last week or so that treasurer’s memo went out on Facebook like a little wildfire and kind of blew up. Everywhere I looked, there’s that memo. Well, they had the election just yesterday. The tax increase was voted down overwhelmingly, seventy-five percent to twenty-five percent.
John Tsarpalas: Wow! Nobody even knew about it. They were trying to sneak it through.
Jason Carini: Right. Until three weeks ago, no one knew about it. I don’t want to say that I am taking credit for it because there are other people that were also involved. But it is nice to know that because I was in office, I had a hand in the defeat of that tax increase.
John Tsarpalas: Take it to an even higher level. At least you informed the voters of what was happening and that they had a choice.
Jason Carini: Yeah. That’s what I think is the most important thing. What I will focus in my position here is to present information to the citizens. Information is power. If one person or several people keep all that information, they retain power. So if we can give information out to the citizens, then we empower the citizens and they can become educated on whatever issue or situation it might be.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Wonderful. Keep up the good work and thank you.
Jason Carini: Thank you, John. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this program today.
John Tsarpalas: Thank you. I hope you found that inspiring. I know I did. I am so happy that Jason stepped up, got his name on the ballot, and went on to win that election. In the process, he helped clean up his county government. A million and a half dollars of uncollected taxes is huge for a small county!
If you would like to hear more stories like this, let me know! You can email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Check it out at Commonwealthy.com. You’ll see it on the right hand side. It will say free GOP guide. Just sign up and we’ll get that to you. Thanks for listening!
Jason Carini: For the new candidate out there, when you get a voter list, you are going to have what is called multiples or households where you have a husband and wife and maybe their twenty-year-old college kid that still lives in the house. So you will have three or four voters in one household.
If you take that down, instead of mailing out ten thousand mailers, I actually focused on about seven thousand voters. When you included the household people, I actually ended up sending around four thousand mail pieces out. So I really focused on about four thousand homes instead of ten thousand voters.