Are You Ready to Run for Office? by Dotty E. LeMieux

By at June 12, 2012 | 11:32 am | Print

Are You Ready to Run for Office?   by Dotty E. LeMieux

Dotty E. LeMieux

Now is the time to start thinking about the November election for all of you considering a local run.  That might mean a City Council race, a school board, water board, sewer board or other special district election.  These might be small down ticket races, but they can have very important consequences to the constituents in the district you want to represent.  Before you can make a successful bid for public office, you have to ask yourself several key questions. Among them are the ones below, complied from my experience running local campaigns for the past 12 years. Having the answers to these questions early as well as having some good backing among your friends, colleagues and “movers and shakers” in the District, will give you a good foundation and head start on the November election.

1. What office do I want to run for?

2. Why do I want that office?

3. Am I prepared to spend the amount of money time to mount a serious campaign?

4. Why would I be better than the other candidates or the incumbent?

5. Do I have the time and the interest to do the job once I am elected?

If you can’t answer these questions to your satisfaction, you may not be ready for a campaign just yet.

So let’s go over them one at a time:

1.  What office do I want to run for?

If you have done your homework, you know which offices in your community are coming up for election in the near future.  Some of the offices like County Supervisor, State Assembly or Senate, pay a salary, differing by locality. Others like City Council (except for very large municipalities like Los Angeles , New York or Chicago) may pay a small stipend and that’s all. Some pay nothing at all and you are expected to bear your own costs for attending conference and so forth.

If this is your first run, you may want to start small, at the local level, running for a school board, if that is your interest, or maybe a local water or sanitary district.  There are often issues involving these kinds of entities that can be quite interesting and challenging.  For instance, a local sanitary district turned over their operations to a giant private corporation, a move that attracted both a number of new candidates and a referendum to undue the turnover.

2. Why do I want to run for this office?

This question is obviously related to the first one.  Most people get into public life because of a pressing issue in their community that they want to change or help succeed.  If you have kids in school, you will naturally care about decisions made by the local school board.   Is the City Council too lenient with development or does it ignore the needs of the neighborhoods?  That might spur you to run for office, to try to make a difference that will affect your life.

3. Am I prepared to spend the amount of money and time it will take to mount a serious campaign?

This is a key question in deciding to run for any public office. No matter how lowly the position or how small the District you are running in, you will need to raise and spend some funds for printing, mail, party supplies for your kick off, pizza for the phone volunteers.  And it will take time.  If you plan on a grassroots campaign, be prepared to knock on a lot of doors, make a lot of phone calls, and maybe even spend some time standing at the local supermarkets and farmer’s markets, meeting and greeting voters.

And depending on how competitive the race is, be ready to polish up your public speaking skills when you address various interest groups, the local Rotary Clubs or even give your pitch on the radio or community TV station.

4. Why would I be better than the other candidates or the incumbent?

You will need a persuasive message and part of that message is why the voter should vote for you instead of the other person.  If you are running against an incumbent, this is the most crucial question you need to answer.  If you can’t tell the voters what the incumbent is doing wrong and why you are the one who can do it right, you might as well stop right now before wasting any time or money.

Many first time candidates are nervous about seeming to be “negative.” They want the campaign to be all about the issues and can talk endlessly about their vision for the town, or the district.  But you must convince the voters not only that your vision is the right one but that the incumbent does not share it.

It helps if there is a big issue connected to the race.  In a local race for County Supervisor in coastlaw California, the development of a tract of land between the freeway and the Bay was at issue.  Developers were salivating over it, while the populace wanted to preserve it for open space, and to keep the already horrific traffic manageable.

One candidate received a good portion of his campaign funds from developers and real estate interests and appeared somewhat ambivalent on the issue. The other one took a decisive stand against the development. Although she started out as a complete unknown, that issue carried the day and she won.

One tactic she used was to send a piece of mail that simply listed all the contributions the other candidate received, alongside a graphic depiction of the proposed development.  That mail, a TV spot showing traffic congestion and a lot of shoe leather carried the day.

In a neighboring county, the challenger to an incumbent supervisor uncovered misuse of funds, as well as a neglect of serious problems the county was facing. She sent a comparison piece showing the different approach she would take to these matters, and won easily on Election Day.

5. Do I have the time and the interest to do the job once I am elected?

Make sure you really want this job and are not just interested in making a point.  You will give up quiet evenings at home with the family to attend meetings, review documents, attend conferences and meet the public.  A lot of the work is routine, no matter how lofty the office, and you, and your family, must be ready to make sacrifices.

Many citizens get all fired up when they are running, with great plans to change the way business is done or bring in innovative policies and find they can’t get it all done at once, or that much more of the job than they realized consists of approving minor remodels, or discussing personnel issue than it does championing good government and sweeping reforms.  They get discouraged and end up one term legislators disappointing the public and their volunteers who worked so hard to get them elected in the first place.

Of course, life is not predictable and there are many legitimate reasons for deciding not to run again, ranging from health issues, family necessity, change in job to a genuine dislike of being in the public eye.

OK, you made the decision, now the work begins.

Congratulations, you made the decision to run; now the work begins.  Make sure you know when the filing deadline is, usually 90 days before the election. Are there contribution limits in your race?  Your first task will be to file some forms, get a treasurer on board, and then start thinking about your campaign statement for the ballot.

You might start attending meetings of the Board you are running for if you haven’t already.  Watch how they do things, what alliances exist, who you might count on as an ally.

Scope out the field to determine who else might be running in your race.  Ask people you trust who are involved in local politics what they think of you running. Will they support you?  Give money, actively volunteer? Start calling your friends and family for important early financial support.  Get your Facebook page up to date and send out that first press release announcing your run.

Then, win or lose, you can be sure you will have an interesting, challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.

Dotty E. LeMieux runs GreenDog Campaigns, a full service consulting firm in northern California. She has been successful in crafting winning messages for “underdog” grassroots campaigns. You can visit her website at www.greendogcampaigns.com     LeMieux has been called a “grassroots maven” by Christine Pelosi, author of Campaign Boot Camp and Campaign Boot Camp 2.0 and is quoted extensively in those popular “how to” campaign books. Dotty’s experience extends from Presidential campaigns to Sanitary District races to initiative and legislative campaigns.  She has also taught Practical Politics at the College of Marin and trained activists for groups such as The Sierra Club, Democratic Party, National Women’s Political Caucus, Emerge California and others.  Dotty recently presented a “Webinar” on Going Negative for Winning Campaigns Magazine

GreenDog Campaigns    8 Willow Street     San Rafael, CA 94901      415-485-1040
del@greendogcampaigns.com          www.greendogcampaigns.com

 

Management & Strategy

Related Posts

Comments are closed.