Spin Control: Running for office? Great. Now listen up.
Filing week ended Friday, so people who were on the fence about running for office should have landed on one side or the other by now.
So many landed in the Spokane city races that the total number of candidates for municipal offices is getting close to the number of Democrats running for president, with nearly as much variety.
Because 2019 is a year for local elections, that’s often the place where career political leaders get their start with a run for city council, school board or fire commission. Although there’s a nationwide effort called “Run for Something” to encourage new candidates, experience has shown that once they file for office some have unusual or unrealistic expectations about what happens next.
As it does most years at this time, Spin Control offers novice candidates – and veteran candidates who perhaps didn’t pay attention last time – its eight simple rules for running for office. With all this talk of being environmentally conscious, we contend it’s not a rerun but a repurposing for new consumers.
1. No whining. Some of you will win; statistically, more than half of you will lose. Voters tend to congratulate winners and console losers, but don’t have much use for whiners.
2. Follow the laws and the regulations. That includes even the ones you think are stupid or didn’t know about when you signed up to run. You’ll have to win to have a shot at changing the stupid ones. Hire someone who can keep you on track for the ones you didn’t know about because they still apply to you. Following the rules won’t guarantee you a victory but ignoring them will make winning much harder.
3. Pay attention to the money you get and how you spend it. File campaign reports on time and online if that’s required. “I’m not good with computers” will get you about as much sympathy as “the dog ate my homework.” If you mess this up, expect one of the “citizen watchdogs” who live to file campaign finance complaints to report you. When that happens, see Rule 1.
4. Have something to say, and be ready to back it up. Don’t fill a campaign speech with bumper-sticker platitudes like “Children are our future” or “I want to be the people’s voice.” If you want new or expanded programs, be ready to explain what they will cost and where the money will come from. If you insist it can be done with existing funds, the next sentence should be what existing programs you’ll cut, how much that will save and what you’ll say to the people who rely on that program or policy. Don’t claim “We can just cut waste, fraud and abuse” because politicians have been promising that for decades; if that was a viable solution, there’d be none of those things left. If you try to fake your way through this, reporters and the voters will call you on it. See Rule 1.
5. Don’t say “I’m not a politician,” as if that were akin to being a mass murderer or child molester. Running for office MAKES you a politician. Know what that office does and focus on that. A mayor can’t do anything to enact or block a state income tax. A city council member doesn’t have anything to do with ending or protecting abortion rights. If your biggest passion is an issue controlled by another office, run for that office.
6. NFUOASND. The G-rated version of this journalism acronym “Never Foul Up on a Slow News Day.” Translation: If you do something stupid on a day when Congress votes to impeach the president or the U.S. goes to war with Iran, your boo-boo might wind up back near the classifieds. Do it on a day when the president skips Twitter, Congress is voting on naming post offices and the City Council and Mayor David Condon are making nice, it could be front page news with a big color photo. Since you never know when it will be a slow news day, the safest strategy is don’t foul up.
7. When you mess up, ’fess up. Everyone makes mistakes. Admitting yours and taking the lumps might even get you a bit of sympathy. Insisting you did nothing wrong, your computer was hacked, your signature forged, the compromising picture was photo-shopped and an elaborate conspiracy is out to get you is just daring reporters to prove you wrong. It also prolongs the story. And violates Rule 1.
8. Remember it’s called “public” office. There isn’t much privacy. You’re applying for a job where the public is your potential boss, and the campaign is the hiring process. Bosses want to know things about a prospective employee before hiring them and check up on them afterward. If you don’t want to tell people how much money you make and how you make it, don’t like angry phone calls late at night or early in the morning, don’t want your divorce records or social media posts dissected by an opponent, that doesn’t make you a bad person. But it may make you a bad candidate. So if you run into problems – which you will – see Rule 1.
Beyond that, welcome to the campaign to all new candidates who decided to dip a toe in the political waters. But be warned: The waters are full of piranhas. Some candidates wind up with only nine toes.