Senatorial campaign unconventional

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

Classic rock plays in the background as Von and Drake Hougo discuss campaign strategy in the dining room and garage of their home in Santa Clarita, which doubles as a “campaign headquarters.”  The father-son duo works morning and night in between Drake’s school and track practice and Von’s full-time teaching, making phone calls, answering emails, editing videos and managing social media. According to Drake, Led Zeppelin and Jack White, lead singer of The White Stripes, have become the soundtrack to the campaign for his father Von’s senator bid.

Von is running for the senate seat currently held by incumbent Barbara Boxer D-Calif., who was elected in 1992 and is scheduled to retire in November, according to the Associated Press. Thirty-four candidates have filed for the position, however only the top two highest vote-getters in the June 7 primary will advance to the general election on November 8.

For a campaign manager, Von chose his son, who will study political science and business at Stanford in the fall.

At 17 years old, Drake isn’t legally old enough to vote. Yet, as the only staff member for the Hougo campaign, he has taken the reigns as campaign manager, video producer and social media coordinator.

“The campaign has certainly bonded us closer as we are both working extremely hard towards the same goal,” said Drake. “However, that’s not to say we do not bicker. We often disagree on the wording of posts or how to handle specific voters. This has certainly been a stretch of both mine and his comfort zones, but the political climate is right, and we both agreed it was time to step up.”

At the end of every school year, Von, an eighth grade science teacher at Arroyo Seco Junior High School in Santa Clarita, talks to his students about what the future will hold for them. He tells them the bad and the good and discusses the responsibilities they will face as young adults. It was during this speech last June, while he lectured his students about the importance of voting, that Hougo first thought about running for the U.S. senate.

“I felt like a liar and a hypocrite telling the kids that their vote matters when I know that deep down it doesn’t,” said Von. “It was time to step up or shut up.”

After he decided to run, Von collected the 65 signatures required to get on the ballot, and he scraped together $9,700 to pay for the registration and voter information guide from his personal savings account. According to Von, his campaign is donation-free in an effort to maintain transparency and avoid obligation to special-interest donors.

The Hougos attend political events around California when they can peel away from their full-time obligations, appearing both alone and together when possible. In May, Von attended the Republican State Convention in Burlingame, candidate forums in San Mateo and Monterey and Tax Day protests in Redwood City and San Jose.

Von is running as a Republican but he identifies with an independent strategy.

“That was the box I checked when I was 18,” he said of his Republican designation. “I vote for the issue, I could care less about the letters. Being a Republican in California hurts my chances. I never bothered to switch it before and I felt that it was disingenuous to switch now.”

Seven Democrats, 12 Republicans and 15 third-party candidates are running for the senate position, according to the Associated Press.

“I’m an eternal optimist so I hope to get second [in the election],” Von said. “If I was in Las Vegas betting I wouldn’t place money on me, but this is the year of change and people clearly don’t want the same old status quo.”

If elected, Von said he will vote the way California voters tell him to, regardless of the party’s stance or his personal feelings about an issue. According to Hougo, if he were to get elected, he would consider switching to Independent. “The people of California don’t line up with either party and are left voiceless,” said Von.

Von aims to encourage disenfranchised California voters to partake in the political process through his Democracy 2.0 online voting portal, a program that will allow users to create an account with their driver’s license and voter registration information. They can then specify the issues they care about, view any bills within these categories in layman’s terms, and vote yes or no on them. Drake is working on a video that demonstrates the details of this process.

“If a 17-year-old Stanford-bound student as a campaign manager and a junior high teacher running for U.S. senate isn’t an underdog story, then I do not know what is!” said Von Hougo. “If we prevail in the primary, this campaign is the epitome of the American dream, when anyone with an idea and passion can succeed.”