Running for office is a profoundly personal decision that should be thought through very carefully. You need to be honest with yourself and lay out all of the pros and cons, ask family and friends for their advice and input and seek council from other office holders. Up front you should know that running for office isn’t easy and isn’t for the faint of heart. It will push you outside your comfort zone and challenge you in ways you never thought possible. Engaging with fellow citizens will make you think in ways you’ve never thought before and confront problems you didn’t know existed.
However, fighting for something you believe in is extremely empowering. Communicating your ideas and beliefs not only gives you a sense of purpose, but will also help others find their voice in your message. To quote President Kennedy, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” By putting your name on the ballot you have the opportunity to change the conversation and advance your ideals.
All that said, citizen participation is vital to our democracy. In the entire history of mankind, the ability to self-govern ourselves is only a recent phenomenon. Representative democracy allows us to work together in large societies, creating wealth and knowledge that makes modern life possible. Without democracy and citizen participation we would go back into being ruled by kings, dictators, or descend into anarchy.
Ask yourself these questions:
Are you eligible to run for office?
Certain offices have age and/or residency requirements. You may need to have lived for a certain amount of time in the district in which you want to run. Your City or County Clerk should have these requirements listed on their website. For offices that are governed on the state level, you should check with your Secretary of State.
Why are you running for office?
Vacancy alone shouldn’t be a reason to throw your hat in the ring. Do you see something that could be done better? Do you have talents and skills that you can bring to the table? Think about the needs of the community and how you would solve those problems. Use your family and friends as a sounding board for your ideas. The first question you need to have answered is why.
Can you communicate with others?
You do not have to be a Cicero or a Churchill when it comes to public speaking. Communication is not always speaking, it also involves active listening which means concentrating on the person you are speaking with and not talking past them. Being uncomfortable speaking in front of others is natural and can be a positive in that it forces you to be focused and disciplined. Being self-aware is more important than always choosing the right words to say.
Do you have the time and money?
Time and money are the two things that you will never have enough of during the campaign. For those of you who have been parents of little ones you know how complex your schedule can become and how much you can do with little sleep. You should tell yourself up front that any other hobbies you may have are going to get put off until after the election.
You should also be comfortable asking people for money. Campaigns are expensive. Even a small race can cost a few thousand dollars for political advertising and signage. Unless you are willing to pay for everything yourself, you need to be comfortable asking your supporters for money.
Should I ‘wait my turn’?
If you can answer all of the questions above in the affirmative then you shouldn’t accept the argument that you should wait for “your turn” to run for an office. Deference should not mean dormancy, nor should amenableness translate into acquiescence of the status quo. Too many times people talk themselves out of taking action because they either don’t feel accomplished or adequate.
Did you know?
A 2015 survey found that 82% of voters say ordinary citizens should run for office, not lawyers and professional politicians. 82% of voters agreeing on anything is an astonishing number in our modern political system. So if you do decide to run, the one objection you won’t hear from voters is that you don’t have enough job experience for the office.
If this blog post has motivated you to run for office, then follow this campaign checklist to get yours going.
I have spent over a decade working with political campaigns and national fundraisers. At PrintPlace, I am responsible for all political marketing pieces and work hand in hand with candidates and their consultants.