Vent alert: Since February 2018, I’ve been a dutiful candidate, never speaking ill of the party structure in public while on the campaign trail. I’m no longer bound by candidacy oath, and with no further political aspirations (ever!!), the tethers are off. Citizens need to know what our democracy is up against, and why real change is a fading dream.
It’s been one month since the November election, and I’m still processing the whole experience. Almost exactly nine months, start to finish, for my one-and-only political campaign. And what a nine months it was.
My advice to anyone considering a run for public office (your experience may vary):
- Don’t be talked into running at the last minute. Far too much groundwork is needed for any kind of effective campaign: a manager who actually sticks around and manages the campaign team, a treasurer who understands the insane election finance laws, a scheduler who stays on top of the myriad local appearance opportunities and creates a few of their own, a marketing/social media guru who can develop and maintain a consistent message, a donor coordinator, a volunteer coordinator…and that’s just for a local office!
- Don’t believe you can “run the kind of campaign you want to run.” Not happening — unless you’re into a no-holds-barred, all-in effort that gets ugly quickly.
- Don’t expect anything from anyone along the way, least of all your local county party; if you’re seeking a municipal/county-level office, the state party is a non-starter. Finding volunteers (and donors) is a full-time job in itself, and one you’ll likely have to take on yourself.
- Don’t expect to have any kind of personal life for the duration of the campaign (which is usually far too long). The hours are insane; the schedule chaotic; and unless you find a way to clone yourself, you’ll never be everywhere you should be.
- Do expect to be shut down immediately by many voters as soon as they hear which party you represent. Rank partisanship is so entrenched and so pervasive — on both sides of the aisle — that real ideas rarely get a hearing.
- Do expect to spend more of your own money than you’d ever thought possible, with next-to-no chance for reimbursement.
- Finally, do align yourself with like-minded fellow candidates. They will be your strength, your support group, and your sanity check when things get really crazy. I could never have survived the journey without the four fantastic women who shared my campaign cycle.
If I’d know any/all of that when I was approached to run for county office, I’d have run away — fast. Political office is certainly not something I sought out, and I’m still not sure why I agreed. Frustration with the state of our current government? Boredom with my humdrum occupations? Ego? Probably some combination of those, and more, but the uncertainty makes it awkward for me when the many kind people I’ve met along the way say, “Thank you for running.” I feel a bit of a fraud, with the imposter syndrome kicking in.
Yet here I am, a survivor of the political chaos, with another interesting line on my résumé. And so many mixed feelings, still.
One thing stands out (and it overshadows all the rest of the emotions): as I’ve said for many years, and have written about in “Two Sides of the Same Coin” (pub. in 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, Sugati Publications 2016), the system is broken — in more ways than I ever imagined. And after this experience, I’m not sure it can be repaired.
In 2018, forward-thinking, progressive candidates in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, California and elsewhere ran headlong into an intractable party structure that does not bode well for the future of our democracy. Throw in hyper-partisan ideologies, and I fear for our country:
This partisan divide is such a big part of people’s political identities, in fact, that it’s reinforced simply by “negative partisanship,” or loyalty to a party because you don’t like the other party. A Pew Research Center poll from last year found that about 40 percent of both Democrats and Republicans belong to their party because they oppose the other party’s values, rather than because they are particularly aligned with their own party.
Many Americans are aware of/can agree that on the federal level, politics=money/influence, and the vast majority of us are overlooked by the ruling elite. Add in 2000’s hanging chad debacle in Florida and continuing on to the present voter suppression and hacks, and confidence in national elections is at an all-time low. At least partly because of this, voter turnout is abysmally low, even with the 2018 “blue wave” bump. There were precincts in my county where fewer than 20% of the registered voters bothered to go to the polls. And from what I heard on the campaign trail, repeatedly, is that those numbers are not likely to change. Far too many citizens feel their vote, their voice, simply doesn’t matter.
After these past nine months, I can’t blame them. As with sausage, you don’t want to see how politics are made — nationally or locally.
For all my confusion over running for office in the first place, I’d hoped to make a positive difference for my community. I wanted to raise important issues, to help educate my neighbors on projects and behind-the-scenes activities that are detrimental to our shared ideals. And I wanted the complacent, too-often arrogant, elected GOP to have to work for their seat, not continue to inherit it as a matter of course (all 16 county-level offices are held by white male Republicans). I think I was able to do those things, so in that respect, I count my November loss at the polls as a win.
How do we break this gridlock? Where do we go from here to affect real, positive change — for the good of our country as a whole, and not just for a chosen party?
I wish I had answers. Instead, I end this nine-month adventure with more questions and more frustration than I started with. I’m still figuring out what to do next. I do know it won’t include running for office again. Ever. But as a fellow candidate often said, I know too much to do nothing.
Move to Amend — to overturn Citizens United? Better Angels — to find a way to communicate across the aisle? Or maybe just attending more local government meetings and holding those elected officials accountable. I’m not sure yet.
This post is a start.