One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors – Plato
The biggest stumbling block that keeps people from seeking a positon in public office is themselves.
Too often, our local Democratic party has had to spend time not campaigning to win elections, but convincing candidates to run at all. Newcomers to politics usually wonder why any of it matters. Those local offices must not mean a lot if nobody is willing to run for them, right?
Those local offices oversee vital community services like the Fire Districts, the Water Districts, public utilities and, most importantly, the school boards. Without Democrats to run for those positions, many times Republican or Libertarian candidates go unopposed. Parties that most want to see these government programs weakened, eliminated, or turned over the private sector cannot be given a free pass to decide how our communities will be shaped in the upcoming years.
Given how high the stakes are in even the smallest races, why don’t we have willing candidates? Here are the biggest reasons why people choose not to run:
Politics does not require a degree. You don't need a doctorate or a aHHarvard Law diploma hanging in your office. The only requirement to get involved is that you are a member of your community and you care about what happens to it. All politicians have to start somewhere, and local politics provide positions with a wide variety of time commitments, compensation, and focus. As Democrats, we shouldn't hold ourselves back because we’re not the “perfect” candidate. Republicans have no such compunctions. By letting them run unopposed, we stand to lose elections from the grassroots up.
Nobody has all the answers, and if somebody says that they do they’re trying to sell you a bridge in the next city over, so to speak. Politics isn’t about knowing the solution to every problem. It’s about being willing to work until you can find a resolution. Even then, it may not be perfect. A politician must learn on the job, and does so by listening to their constituents and to the people on the committees dedicated to doing the in-depth research. The president doesn’t run the government alone but instead looks to their staff and advisors and citizens to help them parse out the best path to a solution with all the data.
It’s a good thing that no politician runs alone. The local and state parties are dedicated to helping get Democrats elected and are ready to provide aid. A candidate doesn’t knock on doors by themselves or attend events alone, but instead looks towards the network of friends and connections that are already established and ready to be used. By seeking endorsements and support from not just the local party, but local unions and advocacy groups, a candidate can not only garner money but the all-important power of the local volunteer. A system is already in place and ready to be used. That’s the beauty of local party advocacy.
A good lesson to learn from the 2016 election is the power of grassroots fundraising. Already, local parties are looking to capitalize on the monetary structure of the monthly micro-donation to help publicly fund elections and ease the burden on candidates so they don’t have to beg for money from large corporate donors.
Candidates in state or federal elections can sometimes run up large, intimidating bills, but big money isn't needed to campaign for your local school board or fire commissioner. That’s why these positions are also a good opportunity for beginning politicians to gather the support network that makes asking for money easier later in a campaign.
Last of all, while money is great, nothing works better than getting out and meeting with the people. Town halls, debates, doorbelling, and phone banking are still the most effective ways to get elected. Often, the only cost is the price of pizza for your eager volunteers.
You can’t change a system you’re not a part of. The best reason a person can get involved in politics is not for their own gain, but because they saw a need and they sought to fix it. When elected officials talk about why they first got involved, it usually goes back to trying to fix an issue, either a pot hole outside their house or an education system that was failing their child. If you don’t like a system, be a part of the change by getting a voice and sitting on that board or panel or council. A little passion and a fresh set of eyes can fix some of the most stymied problems.
Now, this list certainly isn’t comprehensive. There are as many excuses not to run for public office as there are reasons to do so.
Hopefully, you are starting to see that being involved in politics isn’t something reserved for the richest citizens or the ones with the biggest name recognition. The only qualifier to be an elected official is that you’re a voter who cares about what happens in your community, no matter how small or how big that may be.
In Part Three, we will address the levels of activism you can participate in, from local party offices all the way to the big leagues.