Meet a FLIPster: Heidi Colton

Originally from Philadelphia, Heidi lives in NC-H36, one of the flippable Wake County districts where FLIP NC canvasses. She has knocked doors with us at least eight times! Her husband, Josh, sometimes canvasses, too. The couple has three daughters and loves to see live music when they aren’t acting as “human Ubers” for their girls.

The 2016 election marked the first time Heidi got involved with voter outreach. By day, she works in biotech research and development.

Here, a Q&A with Heidi. And be sure to join her at one of our remaining canvasses in flippable Wake County! With less than two weeks until the polls close, it’s GOTV go time!

How did you find out about FLIP NC? 

I met FLIP NC’s Pat Bayer through a friend at work in 2017 as FLIP NC was just getting up and running. I got on the email list and followed the website and social media posts and was so impressed with the use of data and the efficient and targeted GOTV effort that I decided to get more involved.

What has surprised you most about canvassing?

I've been surprised by how receptive people have been to listening to what we have to say. I canvassed in 2016, and people were much less willing to open their doors and hear the message than they are now. This could be partially based on the voter pool FLIP NC is targeting, but I think it also has to do with voter enthusiasm two years post-2016. I think people are more aware of the extensive GOTV efforts this year and are generally more supportive and willing to take the time to listen.

 Heidi with her husband, Josh

Heidi with her husband, Josh

Do you like to recruit a friend or relative to sign up to canvass with you or do you prefer to be paired with a stranger to add to the fun? 

I have canvassed with first-timers, with my husband, and with friends. Each has its own silver linings. Going with friends and family can be fun, but I like to hear the stories from the first-time canvassers about what inspired them to come out for the first time. I also love to see that spark go off when they have their first really positive interaction with a voter who gained something from the information we provided. Watching their confidence increase throughout the day and sensing their excitement to knock on more doors is really inspiring.

If you've participated in other canvasses, how are FLIP NC canvasses different? 

I love the way FLIP NC uses data to efficiently target prospective voters in the most flippable districts. I really appreciate the pre-canvass information sessions, which describe how the voter pool was selected for each canvass. I believe it's much more effective to have the right message for each voter. Knowing a person is a frequent voter who could be canvassed for future volunteering versus a registered Dem who needs to be convinced to go vote during a blue moon election is really important for effective messaging and influencing reactions. FLIP NC has also been great about providing consistently updated data so we know if they've already been canvassed and what their most important issues are.        

Tell us about a canvassing conversation you remember.

Last weekend, I canvassed a neighborhood that consisted of mostly older (70+) suburban women in townhomes. The vast majority of people were very receptive and happy to receive information about the candidates and especially appreciative to hear more details about the amendments. All were excited to vote for Democrats and had a plan to get to the polls. I was feeling very accomplished, knocking on 40 doors with lots of good conversations in a fairly short timeframe. Then, I knocked on that last door. She was a 75-year-old woman who lived alone. She insisted I have some water and proceeded to explain that she was a registered Democrat, but a "centrist" who voted for Trump, thinks the press isn't giving him a fair chance, and would be voting straight Republican ticket this year because of "what the Democrats did to that poor Kavanaugh man.” She also wouldn't vote for anyone who would allow "those illegals – and don't you tell me I can't call them illegals – in our country.” I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I love a challenge! I listened and eventually figured out that she was a big proponent of giving whoever was fairly elected a chance to govern, but she was also a staunch advocate of term limits. She pulled out her judicial guide, and we went through the proposed amendments line by line. At first, she loved the victims’ rights amendment and the income tax cap. She didn't like the hunting amendment because she doesn't trust the NRA and didn't like the SBE and judicial appointment amendments because she didn't want power stripped from the fairly elected Governor. She absolutely loved the voter ID amendment. After 45 minutes of a back-and-forth (very cordial) debate, I framed my argument from the perspective that the State House and Senate candidates' legislative decisions and the amendments are all based on protecting their own incumbency by providing favors for their corporate donors and changing the courts and the voting laws to protect their seats or their donors’ money. I saw a spark in her eye. She threw down her pen and said, "You got me! I'm against all six, and I'll vote for your state candidates." While I enjoy the encouragement and appreciation I get from so many voters excited to flip the state, changing that single voter's mind brought me more satisfaction than all the other conversations combined.

 Andrea Cash, Lori Mathews, Heidi Colton, and Josh Colton at a Happy Hour this spring in NC-H36

Andrea Cash, Lori Mathews, Heidi Colton, and Josh Colton at a Happy Hour this spring in NC-H36

What's your top canvassing tip?

Listen. Know your audience. If a person is not interested enough in politics to be a solid midterm voter, it's likely they won't be interested in hearing the details of the process to appointing state board of election seats. For some people, the best message is: "Since you're a Democrat, the state isn't currently represented by people who make laws based on what you believe. There are people who are running who you'd probably like better. They're running in very tight races in your district, and yours could be the vote that helps them win. If we don't vote, they'll lose. Also, the amendments are misleading, very risky, and we gain nothing by voting for them." Other people who are well informed about the issues may need more clarification on some amendments. You won't know until you listen. Lastly, if their baby is crying, their dog is frantically trying to escape, or their dinner is burning, hand them the literature, remind them to please vote, wish them luck, and leave them alone!

What is really motivating you to get involved? Obviously, you want to FLIP NC, but tell us a bit about the “why.”

Volunteering for GOTV efforts is the only thing that has really brought me peace and sanity since 2016. I decided in 2017 that staying home and yelling at my TV and getting depressed and angry reading the news is a waste of energy that could be used to actually help make a change. We saw a mini blue wave that flipped our local seats in November 2017 due, in part, to the post-2016 voter and volunteer enthusiasm. Having seen those efforts translate into effective change inspired me to step it up even more for these midterms. I believe that we're on the verge of a major assault on voting rights, which will shift us even further toward GOP politicians choosing their voters. If we don't change those who write, interpret, and implement the laws this year, we may not have another chance to bring back the appropriate balance.

How are you feeling about the 2018 election?

I do feel optimistic. During my door-to-door and phone bank interactions, I've found that the majority of voters are enthusiastic and informed. There are more registered Dems than Republicans. If we can get more of them to vote, it will translate to winning back seats. Grassroots organizations like FLIP NC – in addition to the traditional party-affiliated groups – are making sure that happens.

Who do you admire in politics?

I admire the young people. Not one specific young person, but the overall rise in young activists. I admire young candidates who run for local offices as well as young candidates who have surprised everyone in the primaries this year. It takes a lot of guts to break into a field full of older people who know the ropes and who can be condescending and dismissive. That's true for any occupation, but it takes even more guts to be confident enough to run a campaign and depend on voters believing in your platform and your ability to pull it off. In addition to young candidates, I admire the young activists. It has been so inspiring to watch the students from Parkland launch a national movement. Their energy and enthusiasm, as well as their ability to organize and get their message out, has been incredible to witness, and the 2018 GOTV efforts wouldn't be anywhere near as successful without them. The increasing number of young candidates and activists this year gives me hope for the future.

What would you say to someone who is feeling totally dejected by our current state of politics?

I ask them if they like the way things are going. If they don't, I remind them that the only way to change that is to vote and to bring others to vote. Sitting this one out is not an option and is essentially sending the message that what they're doing is OK with you. This might be the last time our vote really counts – so it's now or never!

Tell us about a political moment that inspired you, whether it was a personal conversation, a speech given by a president, or a recent "blue wave" moment.

I know it's cliché to pick two Obama moments, but it's hard to deny that election night 2008 was anything but intensely inspiring. I really felt that the country changed for the better that night – as if the country was the Grinch's heart that grew three sizes. Sadly, we learned later that there was still some festering Grinch-iness hiding in the shadows. On the flip side of that, Obama's September speech 10 years later at the University of Illinois was a glimmer of hope. It was a rally cry to GOTV, a reminder to be hopeful, and a humane counterpoint to all the hate that's been spewed for the past two years by the politicians who soak up all the current press coverage. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air at exactly the right time.