The Many Levels of Service
I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. – John Adams
The very concept of running for office can be daunting even once you’ve decided to take up the task.
It’s a good thing, then, that most likely a citizen’s first election race isn’t for president, current example notwithstanding. At the local and state level, politics comes in many different flavors and requires very different commitments depending on the office. This article will break these down and dispel some of the mystery that surrounds local office races. So how can somebody get started in politics?
A house can’t stand without a good foundation. In politics, that foundation is the Precinct Committee Officer. Though this elected position is often overlooked by most members of the community, that doesn’t undermine its vital role in local politics.
As a Precinct Committee Officer, PCO to those who prefer to avoid the tongue twister, you become the community outreach for your neighborhood. With the state-provided VoteBuilder program at your fingertips and an understanding of which of your neighbors goes blue, you are the first line of offense to getting Democrats elected.
PCOs can be appointed at any time throughout the year to serve an empty precinct, and in election years, they must file for office like any other elected position. If an opponent runs against you, your name will even end up on the ballot. For most, this is the first step towards getting active and encourages community activism by calling your neighbors to remind them to turn in their ballots, help them find their endorsed party candidates, and generally represent the neighborhood they live in. These positions have a two-year term.
If you’ve ever been to local party meeting, either at the LD level or the County level, you’ve likely seen the local leadership. These volunteers help run the meetings, organize committees and generally keep the party running. What you might not realize is that they were all elected into their positions at the party’s reorganization meeting by the elected PCOs at that time.
Party officers are citizens and PCOs who have stepped up to volunteer to help keep the party running at the local level. These positions typically involve a time commitment of at least two to three meetings a month, and a variety of duties that range from clerical record keeping, to balancing the bank accounts, to community outreach and education. These positions are run for within the party, do not appear on the ballot, and have two-year terms of service.
While generally overlooked these positions provide necessary oversight to public services like water and sewage, fire departments, and public schools. Typically, these non-partisan offices garner little controversy and most races end up going unopposed due to lack of interest. A little-known fact about these positions is you don’t have to have a certain profession to run for the office. Fire Commissioners don’t have to be firefighters, the school board isn’t made up just of teachers, and so on and so forth. Time requirements vary depending on the position but are generally considered part-time jobs with little to no financial compensation.
If running for these offices is still daunting, you can look to be appointed to serve on planning commissions or the like and the local party officials can help guide you towards these positions. Serving on a public service board is a great way to gain some name recognition and dip your toe into politics without sacrificing your current lifestyle or job.
It’s at this level you tend to see politicians become public figures. City and county council positions are rewarding ways to directly influence your local environment. These positions oversee directing their city/county’s path into the future and addressing immediate local issues. The amount of time you’ll need to commit varies from part to full time, but at this level of service they also come with compensation.
Races can see multiple candidates duking it out and generally need officials seeking office to be comfortable fundraising, campaigning, and working with a small staff to succeed.
The so called “Big Leagues” of politics. Whether you want to be part of your state’s leadership or the over in Washington D.C. representing your state, these positions are big ticket and big money races that are full-time, demanding positions. While some officials start at this level, most prefer to work their way up through other forms of public service until they have strong name recognition.
Washington state boasts a large variety of experienced politicians with diverse backgrounds ranging from local business owners, community activists, and former corporate bosses. Their goals are to pass legislation and work to represent their voters and work with a staff of aides, lawyers, and researchers to accomplish their goals.
Before deciding what level of office you might want to seek, judge how much time you have to give to public service and how the position might fit into your life. While choosing to seek public office is a life-changing decision, it doesn’t have to completely alter your current status.
If you aren't sure which level would be best for you, reach out to your LD and County party’s Elections Committee. These committees exist to give a more in-depth run down of the current open offices looking for candidates, and to work with the party to implement the best strategy to win based on previous experience and current data.
Hopefully this has helped dispel some of the mystery that surrounds local office. In Part Four, we will run down the basics on how to get started running a campaign.