Running again and again and again and…

In this blog, I spout out all kinds of speculative nonsense about Taiwanese elections.  In my real job, I do much more boring and sober analyses of the patterns of competition in elections.  To this end, I’ve been building the mother-lode database of Taiwanese elections.  Ultimately, I’d like to have data on every candidate in every election since the beginning of the ROC era.  I’m still a long way from that, but I’m pretty sure I have a bigger electronic database than any other scholar and maybe even bigger than the Central Election Commission’s.  For the most part, what isn’t already in my database only exists in hard copy (if at all) and is scattered all over the island.  Anyway, today I thought I’d share a little bit of fun trivia gleaned from this massive trove.  These are the types of details that will never make it into a real research paper or that casual observers would ever want to know.  It’s just that I’m an elections nerd, and these sorts of tidbits make me happy.

My database currently has 54121 lines, one for each candidacy.  For example, Lee Teng-hui 李登輝 has one line for his 1996 presidential run.  Huang Teng-hui 黃登輝 also has one line.  Huang ran for the National Assembly in 1991 under the banner of the Chinese Old Soldiers Unification Party 中華老兵統一黨.  He got 436 votes, just 5813263 fewer than his more famous namesake.  Chiang Teng-hui 江登輝 ran unsuccessfully four times for the Taitung County Assembly between 1986 and 2002.  And from the one of the most obscure corners of my dataset, there is also a Luo Teng-hui 羅登輝, who won two campaigns for the Kanting 崁頂鄉 Township Council in 1973 and 1978.

So my useless question for today is, who has run the most times?  It turns out that there are three people who are far out in front of everyone else.  Unless you are a true elections junkie, you aren’t going to guess them.  For most people, the first guess will probably be LY Speaker Wang Chin-ping 王金平.  That’s a very good guess, but his 12 campaigns only put him in a five-way tie for fifth place (the other four are Hsu Rong-shu 許榮淑, Huang Yu-chiao 黃玉嬌, Weng Chin-chu 翁金珠, and Chen Yuan-chi 陳原琦).  (If you are interested in victories, Wang’s 12 victories are two more than anyone else.  However, today we’re looking at getting on the ballot.)  Liao Hsueh-kuang 廖學廣 is in fourth place, with 13 candidacies.  Huang Yu-chiao ran her last race in 1998.  The other five also might be done, though it is possible they still might have one or two more campaigns in them.  However, it doesn’t seem likely that any of these will catch the top three.

Third place belongs to Fang Ching-chun 方景鈞 with 16 attempts at public office.  Like Speaker Wang, Fang has run in all 12 legislative elections since 1975.  He also ran three times for Taipei City Council and once for the National Assembly.  Fang is a retired high school teacher, and it appears that participating in the process is what drives him.  He doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in actually doing the dirty work necessary to win votes.  He got 5063 votes in his first campaign and has never broken even 2000 votes since then.  At 84 years old this year, he might be finished.

Let’s skip over second place and go straight to the champ.  Lin Ching-yuan 林景元 has a stunning 21 lines in my dataset, four more than anyone else.  To put it another way, 99.4% of the individual in my database have run 7 times or fewer.  Lin has tripled that mark.  In fact, this is underestimating Lin.  His Wikipedia page says he has run 27 times!  How do you do this?  Well, it helps to live a very long life and have a very long career.  Lin was born in 1925 and ran his first race in 1960.  He lost that race, and he would lose 25 other times.  Lin ran for pretty much every office.  In my database, he tried 3 times for the Provincial Assembly, 6 times for the legislature, once for the National Assembly, four times for the Kaohsiung Municipal Council, once for Kaohsiung County Magistrate, once for Kaohsiung City Mayor, and four times for the Kaoshiung County Assembly.  Wikipedia says he also ran for Fengshan Township mayor, but I don’t have those races before 1986.  (Incredibly, I don’t have anything for him for the entire 1970s, though I assume this probably reflects holes in my data rather than a mid-life crisis spent hiking through the Andes.)  His two wins came early.  He won seats in the Kaohsiung County Assembly in 1961 and 1964.  As his career went on, his vote totals got lower and lower.  This is part of the burden of the career turkey.  If people know you are a habitual loser, then they don’t take you seriously and any support you might have had looks elsewhere.  Losing usually feeds into more losing.  In 2012, Lin announced that that legislative campaign would be his last.

The second place finisher is my favorite, Lee Ching-wen 李景雯, who has run 17 times in my dataset and 20 overall.  (It is a weird little quirk that all of the top three share the character “ching” 景, or scenic view.  Maybe the seventh definition of the character is, “futile campaign.”)  Unlike the other two, Lee’s political career has been crammed into a fairly short period.  In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that politics is his post-retirement career.  His first run was in 1981, when he was already 53.  His other 19 runs came between 1989 and 2005.  I’m missing the three victorious campaigns for the Pingtung Township Council (1990, 1994, 1998), but I do have records of his two tries at the Provincial Assembly, five runs at the legislature, two stabs at the National Assembly, three shots at Pingtung City Mayor, four attempts to become the Pingtung County Magistrate, and one go at the Pingtung County Assembly.  What I like about Lee is that he was not just playing politics.  Unlike Lin, Fang, and countless other less persistent turkeys, Lee actually went out and got some votes.  He is the rare person who got a reputation as a loser but still managed to overcome that albatross and increase his support over time.  In the early 1990s, he was usually under 5000 votes, but in the late 1990s he was regularly surpassing 10000.  In 2002, after over a decade of constantly trying to move up from the township council, he finally managed to win a seat in the county assembly.  It was a great triumph, the result of a long, slow, steady decade of hard political work.  And then he did what has to be my favorite detail of all.  After defying the odds and successfully climbing this mountain, when he decided in 2005 that he still had one more campaign in him, did he run for re-election?  Of course not.  He ran for county magistrate instead.  He lost, of course.  But did you really expect him to try to rescale the same mountain when a bigger, more hopeless one beckoned?



2 Responses to “Running again and again and again and…”

  1. R Says:

    Being from Ping Tung, it amuse me greatly to see 李景雯 mentioned on here. The spirit to which he ran is inspiring indeed. My memory is fuzzy, but I remember him having a rather impressive resume too, do you happen to have knowledge on those as well?

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