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Retired Teacher Uses His Background to Appeal to Voters in Red Territory

12/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Interview with Mike Burtch

Biography: Mike Burtch is a retired school teacher from Turlock, CA. After a life of working the campaign trails for city government officials in the Northern California city, he walked into the Stanislaus County Democratic office eight years ago with a burning desire to do more for his community, and more for the local and national democratic players. In the span of time between when he first walked in to now, he has become the county chair of the Stanislaus County Democratic Committee. As a Kennedy democrat born into a conservative military family, his unique background, and warm personality has made the local Democratic party of Stanislaus county very active in helping to achieve victory for Democratic politicians in a traditionally red county.

Question: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
There are several things that I would view as my greatest accomplishment during this campaign season.
1. Voter registration - We've been able to increase the voter registration in Stanislaus County by three to four thousand. This has never happened before, and it is quite a success to see so many people eager to learn about the election and vote.
2. Getting younger voters & voters with skills involved in this election and other elections. We usually get seniors who have time to spare who want to be active and give back to their community and promote the cause of democracy, but this year, the turnout of young student volunteers has been amazing. I am really happy to see such enthusiasm with the young volunteers who walk the neighborhoods, and pass out information, assist and work in the rallies, and work very hard to get out the vote. I think with Senator Obama running for president, it has inspired the youth to be active in politics.
3. Diversity - I have seen an increase in the diversity of voters, volunteers and my collegues in the eight years that I have been working for the local Democratic Society. It has been an amazing thing to see, and experience. I am truly excited for the future of the party, because of the inclusiveness of the party.
4. Getting the word out - everyone here works many hours a day to get the word out, and it has been very effective.

Question: In what ways has your involvement in the campaign affected your friends and family?
My friends have become the people that I work with. So the way that I'm affected by the campaign is the way that they are affected by the campaign.
My kids are grown, but one of my sons and my granddaughter live with me. I don't get the opportunity to see them that often, because I am so busy with the general election. It becomes the focal point of everything that I do. My family is ok with me being gone so often, because they realize that this is something very important to me.

Question: What do your friends and family think of all this?

They think it's great, but they do worry that I may be working too hard. My granddaughter would like to see me more, but she is 17 and has her own life - so she tells me, "I'll see you November 5!"

Question: Are your community relations different? Has your volunteer work gotten you closer to politics?
My community relations have not differed because I've always been an activist. I believe in community first. Even before becoming the democratic party chair.
My volunteer work has gotten me closer to politics.

Question: In what ways has this changed you personally? In your temperament, attitudes, ideas, emotions because of volunteer work?
It has made me much more hopeful. I am more involved in national and international affairs and learning as much as possible, and how the vote impacts everything. Seeing the ins and outs of the impact of the vote made me much more knowledgeable. It also made me care deeper than ever before, because being a part of this election has made me realize that this is the most important election of my life.
As an example, an 87 year old man came into the office recently. He said that he was a lifelong republican, and he wanted to change his party in time for the general election. I told him that at the general election he did not have to change his party affiliation to vote for a democrat. He sat up in his chair, looked me square in the eye and said "I must do this". The gravity of that still amazes me.
I also care more for the safety of Sen. Obama, the closer he gets to the General Election day. My fear level for him as president continues to rise, as I hope that he and his family are kept from any harm.
As far as my temperament, I've always been a laid back person, so it has not changed at all.

Question: What was the highlight of the year? Lowlight?

I have several highlights, I was a supporter of Sen. Clinton, so meeting her during the primaries was wonderful. Also seeing the diversity in the democratic candidates was great. I also would say that knowing that I am a part of history has been amazing.
As far as lowlights, I would say it was when we moved into this office, and sitting here for about a week with no one showing up, because no one knew where we were located. Also getting the office open, because we had problems with the phones, and problems with getting recognition in our current location.

Question: Will you be able to sleep the night before Nov. 4?
No.

Question: How do you feel now with one week left before the election?

A combination of exhausted, excited, and nervous about the voters.

Question: What is going through your head?

Logistics. I am concerned about whether we will have enough volunteers, are the doorhangers that we ordered come in time, will we be able to get the rallies and other scheduled events off in time with the right amount of people?

Question: What do you plan on doing on election day?
I will be here in the office, getting out the vote, poll-watching, offering rides to those who need a ride to their polling place, calling those who have not voted, answering questions, organizing rallies, watching for any voter complaints, making sure there is a lawyer in place, and at 5:45 I will go to the election office as the democratic observer.

Mike Burtch is the chair of the Stanislaus County Democratic Committee. He has been active in the elections process for most of his life. He has a passion for politics and people.