Why We Run: Liz Doerr

Liz Doerr is a Democratic, progressive candidate who ran in 2016 for a Richmond School Board seat in a historically Republican district — and won, by a 2:1 ratio. Below, she reflects on what she learned from the experience.


Was there a particular moment you decided to run?

Yes and no. I’ve always been politically engaged and I’ve always believed education is the grand equalizer. When I was 16 I led a charge against our school board when they tried to split our district along racial lines. My grandfather was actually a superintendent who oversaw integration of schools in his district. So when the person that was holding our school board seat got elected to the Virginia state senate, I started to consider potentially running. In Richmond, we have a $280 million budget. I felt my combination of understanding education policy and caring about education policy, and experience dealing with big budgets could be valuable.

What surprised you most about campaigning?

On the positive side, I was surprised by the level of engagement. People in the Richmond community are really plugged into issues in the city. It made the process really fun and it made me happy to be living in the city I live in and serving the community I serve.

On the negative side, I feel like people treat politicians as not real people. People would say things to my face about my personality or my ideas as if I wasn’t a person standing in front of them, things that are not necessarily relevant to the campaign so it can be hard to kind of smile through them — and also stick up for yourself when you feel it’s appropriate

What was the best advice about campaigning that you got?

I talked with another woman that ran for state senate in my district, and she told me: “Win or lose, you will never regret it. You’ll meet so many new people, connect with your community, improve your public speaking and your policy understanding.” If I had lost I wouldn’t have regretted running. This wasn’t something I imagined myself doing, but it was a great experience, and would have been a great experience, even if I had lost.

It is kind of scary but once you get into it — I surprised myself at what I could do and how you can grow over the process. I think about the first forum I participated in and I cringe, but it’s amazing to think about how far you can come in half a year.

Your campaign involved a lot of hard legwork — door to door campaigning, handwritten notes. What kept you motivated?

The women in my life really showed up in a lot of different ways. There were men, too, but I’m so grateful for the network of women that participated in the campaign. It was inspiring that they were willing to give up so much of their time. That was motivating to me, especially as I got closer to the volunteers and people in community working with the campaign. I remember going into last public forum, I wanted to make sure I was doing the best by the people working for me. More than for myself, I wanted to make sure I was doing a good job for the people who had put in the time to support me.

What do you wish you’d known before you ran?

People tell you this and I knew this — but yard signs do not vote. It’s a very nervewracking thing when you’re a candidate and you see a neighborhood full of yard signs that don’t say your name. My husband would make fun of me, but I would go on a yard sign audit to see, Are my signs still up? But it really doesn’t matter. My opponent definitely had more yard signs and I beat him 2:1. We really believed in our strategies, in grassroots approaches, talking to people face to face and making as many personal connections in the district as possible. I should have not worried about other strategies that weren’t in our plan

In your opinion/experience, what makes a strong candidate?

I think that one of the things that we forget about is that you need all different perspectives in elected office. As I was thinking about running, I was worried, thinking, I’m 30 and married and thinking about having children. What if I have a child? Will that be ok? But that’s good! If I have a child it will be good to have that perspective! A friend of mine who serves with me is 28 and he was worried because he’s not married, but I think his perspective is very important as a young professional in the community. We have a podiatrist on the board and he’s really methodical in his decision making — I’m sure affected by his training.

People who are true to themselves and their perspectives will bring valuable insight.

As women, I think we — I mean, I—felt nervous about not being an expert on everything. But you don’t have to know everything. I think the merits of being a good leader are surrounding yourself with people who know more than you or are experts in different things. Being comfortable asking questions or saying you don’t have that information and getting it from people who do is just as valuable as having the information yourself.

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