Candidates for office—be they Republican or Democrat, no matter how they disagree with one another on issues—all tend to agree that the common denominator of politics is money. The rule of the campaign always has been that passion and commitment make great leaders, but money makes campaigns. Now, however, one Salt Lake County legislative candidate, Michelle Facer Baguley, is looking to capitalize on the popularity of social media and word of mouth to run a campaign that she’s committed to spend none of her own money on or accept any donations for.
Her “Not a Dime Just Your Time” campaign would sound like more gimmick than strategy if it weren’t for the fact that Facer Baguley already has plenty of name recognition in Herriman, having served as a city councilwoman and even as an influential voice for the city’s incorporation in 1999. That, plus the possibility of having support from loyal friends spread through social media, could prove more effective than lawn signs and radio ads, says University of Utah political-science professor Matthew Burbank.
“It has the potential of paying off in a stronger way than traditional advertising,” Burbank says.
But that’s not the only unconventional approach the Republican contender is taking with her campaign. Since the payoff requires word-of-mouth support, Facer Baguley believes the strategy will pay off only if citizens get involved, which is also a big part of her platform of encouraging citizens to take control of government from the bottom up instead of being ruled from the top down.
In House District 52, Facer Baguley would be competing with three other Republican contenders for a nomination in the county conventions to fill the legislative seat that was occupied by former Rep. Carl Wimmer, who is now running for U.S. Congress. As a conservative, Facer Baguley is not running on the promise that she would enforce campaign-contribution limits for other politicians; rather, she hopes that running a campaign free of donations will allow her to interact more with constituents and, in turn, engage citizens more in the process themselves.
“We as politicians sometimes spend good portions of our time trying to raise money,” Facer Baguley says. “I’d like to spend more time actually talking to people.”
Facer Baguley got her start in city politics when she roped her “city slicker” husband into moving to Herriman when it was an emerging suburban community in the 1990s. Early on, she remembers, one of the great community gatherings was a festival sponsored in large part by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eventually, legal considerations forced the church to stop sponsoring the event. With the church out, the festival faltered. At the time, Facer Baguley was in real estate and thought she could bring the community back into focus and help market her business by hosting a community fair. The first fair, in 1994, advertised with homemade fliers, was five or six booths with snacks and vendors and a DJ playing music for a handful of onlookers.
But the fair grew with the years, and, from the proceeds, Facer Baguley helped buy equipment for city parks and recreation so the community would have more than just housing subdivisions going for it.
“With all the housing growth, we still needed a place where people felt like they belonged,” Facer Baguley says. That especially became true when larger adjacent communities like Riverton began annexations, “picking off” pieces of Herriman and absorbing them into their towns. She then served on the community council and helped lead the move for the incorporation of Herriman into a city of its own effort. She parlayed that into two terms on the Herriman City Council before she lost re-election in 2009. Now, she works full time as an activities director at an assisted-living center in West Jordan. But she still has that itch for public service.
Facer Baguley isn’t just running on the feel-good platform of getting citizens involved at the local level. She hopes that by being a community advocate on the Hill she can also engage citizens to ensure the Legislature doesn’t take control away from cities and towns.
“Sometimes we just let people do the jobs for us,” Facer Baguley says. “We just assume things are hunky-dory and we vote and then go about our daily business until a big issue comes up. We forget that we should be a part of the process and a part of the solution.”
Beyond her platform of local control, Facer Baguley’s in favor of states’ rights and is a big advocate of states administering and running Medicaid. She also has advocated that politicians submit to a background check, since those in professions such as education and social work do.
Overall, her bet is on public engagement and seeking input from citizens. She’s hedged her wager with the idea that grass-roots support can also be generated by citizens knowing they can help her set a legislative agenda.
Political science professor Burbank says that prior to the explosive growth of social media, the idea of campaigning on nothing but word of mouth would not have worked for a state legislative campaign. But now the idea has potential, since Facer Baguley is already a person with experience and can count on followers to campaign for her, as opposed to the old model of buying billboards and radio ads.
“The problem with radio ads … is you never really know what the effect is,” Burbank says. “With social media, the advantage would be that if you can interest some people [in the campaign] and get them to get other people interested, then it has a multiplier effect.”
Burbank says that if die-hard supporters bring a campaign message to their friends, neighbors and co-workers, it has a lot more credibility for undecided voters than if the message came from a flier or a radio ad.
But the gamble, of course, is whether people get involved. But Facer Baguley wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My main reason is to get people involved,” Facer Baguley says. “I’m really taking a big chance on that.”