Afghanistan vet, 24, paved 200's defeat - The Explorer: Editorials

Afghanistan vet, 24, paved 200's defeat

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Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:33 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Do you know who managed the successful campaign against Tucson's Proposition 200, the initiative that would have mandated hiring more police officers and firefighters without a revenue source to pay for it?

Before I reveal the answer, think of what the No on 200 folks accomplished. Early polling had the proposition winning 58 percent to 23 percent, an overwhelming 35 percent margin. To raise the stakes even further, the Yes on 200 forces outspent the No on 200 campaign 6 to 1. And it's always an uphill battle when you have to fight against hiring more first responders.

Yet Prop 200 went down to a whopping 40 percent defeat, 70 percent to 30 percent.

If you think the campaign manager was a seasoned political veteran, think again. He was a 24-year-old Air Force veteran named Brandon Patrick.

I met Brandon in July 2009, a few months after he returned from Afghanistan. Actually, I met him on Blog for Arizona six months earlier without realizing it. He was one of the more intelligent, politically astute commenters on the blog, using a made-up name to remain anonymous. When I found out he was in a soldier in Afghanistan, we began e-mailing, and he told me reading my blog helped him feel a connection to home, one of the most gratifying things anyone has ever said about my writing.

Brandon joined the Air Force at 19. He went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, Calif., and learned fluent Arabic. When he was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he flew over Iraq at night, translating enemy communications from Arabic into English. Later he worked security on construction sites at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where his language skills came in handy translating for some of the Arab-speaking workers.

A few weeks after he returned home last May, Brandon and his wife Rhiannon, who taught at TUSD's Hohokam Middle School, went to the Congo for six weeks to teach English. Rhiannon had gone the summer before, and she wanted Brandon to experience it with her. (Rhiannon was one of the victims of the state budget cuts to education and didn't have her contract renewed, but she bounced back and was hired at University High.)

I met Brandon soon after that. He's one of those people who gives you the sense he can succeed at anything he puts his mind to. He talks with an intelligent, forceful urgency, looking you in the eye, exuding confidence without seeming cocky. That's probably how he got the job running the No on 200 campaign despite his youth and inexperience.

"I ran the day-to-day operations," he told me. "It was a steep learning curve, moving into politics right out of the Air Force. Lots of long days and sleepless nights. Of course, I had plenty of very smart people helping me."

I saw him debate the pro-200 forces on television. He was in his element — articulate and on message — convincingly hammering home the term, "unfunded mandate," which was the theme of the campaign. Every time someone understood there was no money to fund the initiative, he told me, he gained another No vote.

Brandon plans to stay in the world of politics. He thinks of it as another way to serve his country and make a difference. He and Blake Morlock, who wrote on politics for The Citizen until it folded, have formed a political consulting group, Citizen Strategies.

And Brandon plans to join the Air Force Reserves as an officer. He's looking forward to the chance to redeploy wherever he's needed. "I miss wearing a uniform," he said, "and that feeling of brotherhood."

Patriotism, according to Brandon, has nothing to do with your political party.

"The idea that either Democrats or Republicans make better patriots is a falsehood," he says, a statement his own experiences illuminate.

Brandon Patrick. Remember that name. You're likely to hear it again.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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