The Gardner News: Congressional candidate Rufus Gifford canvasses in Gardner

July 9, 2018

By Stephen Landry

The Gardner News


GARDNER – Rufus Gifford, candidate for Congress in the 3rd District, hosted a canvass kick-off event at Café Edesia on Saturday. The Democrat addressed a group of volunteers before they all set off to kno­ck on doors and speak directly to Chair City voters before the Democratic Party primary on September 4. Gifford was joined by Brad Heglin, chair of the Democratic City Committee, who end­orsed Gifford in May. The candidate focused on the neighborhood around Leamy Street and Barthel Avenue.

Gifford said he wanted his campaign to focus on an individual human connection with each voter.

“We believe that that approach – the door knocking, the phone calls, the eye-contact showing up at people’s doors – is what’s going to deliver us the victory,” he said, adding that among his campaign themes were building trust and knocking down walls. “At a time when American politics is so challenged, we have to bring politics back to its truly pure form which is one person, one vote, and a candidate talking to people – that’s what it’s all about.”

Alexander Ramos Jr. of Fitchburg said he was inspired to volunteer for Gifford’s campaign after seeing the candidate’s commercial on TV.

“I see him going to coffee shops and talking to people and just listening to them, and I find that’s very important in government,” Ramos explained. “That’s how we build trust and that’s mostly why I’m volunteering.” He added that this was the first time he had volunteered to work on a political campaign.

Gifford said while his primary goal going door to door was to introduce himself to voters, he was also eager to listen to the concerns of the citizens on a variety of topics.

“Just yesterday, I had conversations about health care, abortion, climate change,” he explained. “But that’s what great about (canvassing), you have the opportunity to actually ask the candidate directly how they feel about this issue or that issue.”

Gifford said that although he doesn’t often bring up the topic of President Trump, there is little doubt the current administration is on the minds of most primary voters. “Because I was ambassador, they’ll ask me questions about how they think the world sees us now, and where are we going from here.” (Gifford served as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark under President Obama from 2013 to 2017.)

Gifford said that because the 3rd Congressional district was so large, many voters had diverse opinions on plenty of issues from community to community. Among the most important topics for voters was the state of the economy. While Gifford acknowledge the latest jobs report and employment numbers show the country moving in the right direction, he stressed more could be done to increase wages.

“If we’re going to rebuild the middle class, which I think everyone is interested in doing, this is about creating the kinds of jobs that pay a decent wage,” he explained, adding that most of the jobs being created over the past few years were low-paying service industry positions – the kind without pensions or job security.

“What we need to do is focus on bringing the kind of jobs to this region that actually pay a decent wage.”

Gifford said he was intent on running a campaign that is focused on the positive.

“I believe this is Big Ideas time, meaning I believe this time for FDR-style leadership,” he said. “He was president after the Great Depression, a very challenging time in American history, when people were let down by their government and their political leadership in this country. And he responded with big ideas, and that’s where I think we are right now. We need positive leadership, and that’s not about blaming the people who came before.”

He said simply opposing the Trump administration on every issue would not be enough, and that he would offer new and better ideas instead. “If you’re troubled by Donald Trump’s immigration policy, economic policy, climate police, whatever it may be – fight it with your own ideas, don’t just bash his.”

Gifford expressed some frustration with current Democratic Party leadership, specifically with their lack of a cohesive, unifying message heading into the important mid-term elections in November.

“Right now I’m focusing on my race, but I very much hope over the next couple of years – especially in the leadup to the 2020 election – that I could play a role in helping developing what I think should be a uniquely positive and aspirational message leading into the 2020 elections.”

He said Democratic leaders would have to work to overcome what he called the “Bernie/Hillary divide” in the party. “What I think we need to do is get beyond that, and get beyond that as quickly as possible.”

While many prominent Democrats have recently called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (or ICE) in response to President Trump’s immigration policies, Gifford said shutting down the agency would not be a solution to the problem.

“ICE’s actions are a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself,” he explained. “As someone who has worked at the top levels of the federal government, I understand who makes the decisions – it’s the president, the political leadership, and their policy guidance that we need to fight, not the agency itself.”

Gifford added that he believed ICE was in need of reform and new leadership, but that abolishing the agency would simply allow the current administration to pursue an identical immigration policy via other means.

“We are a nation of laws and they need to be enforced, but they also need to be in line with our values. That is why I believe we need to fix the system, not burn it down,” Gifford said.