Sunday, August 14, 2016

Thoughts From a Past Candidate for Office

Campaign season is in full swing. Which means it might be time for me to explain a few things to my friends and acquaintances.

Pay attention because this just might alter the view you currently hold about people who run for office.

Voters complain. Too many phone calls. Too many mailers. And God help us if a candidate dares knock on the door.

Seriously, what ARE they trying to do?

And then there are those who bandy about statements like “they’re all crooks and liars; all of them.”

Honestly, I wish there was a reality show based upon local candidates running for office. A show that would follow them around for an entire campaign season. Maybe then things would change.

Let me set the record straight.

First of all, running for office doesn’t pay. A single dime.

Nope. It’s a six month full time volunteer job.

It takes you away from your family evenings and weekends and pretty much any other free time you have available unless you wise up and balance things. But that takes a first campaign learning curve to understand and appreciate.

It causes people you know to avoid you.

It causes sleepless nights and endless days.

It forces you to knock on the doors of strangers, never knowing exactly what will be meeting you on the other side. Sometimes hostility, sometimes kindness and support and, most often, usually apathy and irritation.

It also forces you to ask people to invest money in your efforts. I was never able to reconcile this part of campaigning for myself; there was always doubt that I wasn’t worth it. Which meant a large chunk of my campaign was funded by my family.

It exposes you to the ugly views of people who live just down the street that you previously were unaware of. I experienced neighbors in my own subdivision destroy my signs. And the day after the campaign, after I had lost? Picking up trashed and ripped up signs felt like someone had punched me right in the gut.

No, there are many things about being a candidate that hurt.

It can result in stomach issues and anxiety that never fully go away and are always right there, lingering.

It causes you to doubt yourself and carry the weight of disappointment when you lose after the very rare donor contributed and when the even rarer volunteer canvassed or made phone calls for you.

I’ve met many candidates, far more who lost their campaigns than won. And every single one of them volunteered to serve their community out of sheer altruism.

Some know that they can’t possibly win based upon the demographics in their community. They step up anyway, because they believe in their heart that voters deserve a choice. And because they hold a deep desire to make a difference.

Some have been asked to run because they have the skill set to make good legislators and their districts are competitive. For those candidates, the support is greater. They can be assured of, in small part, a handful of volunteers and potential donations from organizations.

But it isn’t easy. For any of these candidates.

Candidates receive a barrage of “surveys” from all over the state. Lengthy, sometimes confusing surveys, meant to pigeon-hole a candidate regarding special interest groups and their manipulation. They are told they need to raise a minimum amount of money by a certain date if they even hope to get a sniff from these same groups when it comes to donations.

Candidates have to set up their own websites, write their own content and create their own walking cards and ads unless they have the money to pay someone else to do it or unless they have generous contacts willing to do it for free. I was extremely fortunate and a wonderful local writer graciously helped me out. Not all candidates are as fortunate.

So I ask you, honestly, what would you like from them? How can they meet you, talk to you, hear from you and share themselves openly and honestly if they don’t reach out to you? Are you willing to go to their website, read about them, email them, attend a community forum or call them?

I spoke with voters who warmly agreed during our discussions about public education and the state budget. At the end of the conversation, many of them would grimace, shake their heads and say “but I just can’t vote for you because you are a Democrat.”

I met voters who, because my party affiliation is the glaring minority in this district, sheepishly looked left and right towards their neighbors and then would whisper “I’m sorry, I just can’t put out a yard sign because I don’t want my neighbors to get mad.”

I received emails from voters abruptly ordering me to remove them from my mailing list. The only problem is, I didn’t create the mailing list. The printers did. And they do their best to target non-party-base voters.

I was bit by a dog once while canvassing.

Told by two young professionals that they hated the current State Representative, were very impressed with me and thought I was extremely bright and sensible, but would still vote for him because he was a Republican. Period.

I listened to voters berate the state Democratic Party because we didn’t have a candidate in every race but none of those people ever offered to run themselves or offered to work behind the scenes to support local candidates.

I knocked on doors that were open and a few times even made eye contact with an occupant who just left me standing on the step.

I know a candidate who was threatened with being shot if she didn’t get off the property.

Another who was asked why she didn’t have children and if she was barren.

One fellow candidate was called a baby killer.

Here’s the thing.

It’s a free country, yep, that is for sure.

And you don’t have to talk to candidates. You don’t have to engage in the process. And you certainly don’t even have to vote.

Just don’t be an asshole to local candidates.

There’s no reason to be disrespectful, rude or dismissive. I didn’t receive any benefit from running other than knowing in my heart I was trying to make things better for my family and for my community. The current candidates I know feel the same way.

Sure, we may not always agree on the specifics of HOW to make things better but nobody puts themselves out there to potentially be abused, sacrifice their own time and money and work feverishly to learn about the political processes and current budget issues (talk about boring reading) unless they are a masochist, narcissist or, most likely, a darn good neighbor who cares.

So when a local candidate knocks on your door or calls, give them just a tiny bit of your valuable time. Without them, this great Democracy would cease to exist.