Why We Run: Ben Haynes
Ben Haynes was a regional organizer for Hillary for America who is now running for City Council in his hometown of Salt Lake City. He studied Political Science and Campaign Management at the University of Utah and has always been involved in politics. He talks below about gratitude, experience, and taking the leap to become a candidate.
A lot of people we talk to express an interest in running “someday”. Did you always want to run, and how did you decide “someday” was now for you?
I don’t think I always wanted to run, I always really liked politics, though. I think it’s fascinating to see how communities of people essentially govern each other, and how some governments work really well and they can help each other, which is what I was interested in, and some don’t work at all. As far as why right now — it was 2016. I was a regional organizer for Hillary and we lost. It was terrible. I came home kinda with my tail between my legs, and then I figured, we gotta make change in our own backyard. And if I’m not going to do it, who is? So I decided to run.
How has your experience as a candidate surprised you? How has it differed from your experience working on other campaigns?
It’s a little bit weird at first to be the center of attention. You’re so used to talking about someone else, but this time it’s you, so this time it’s a lot more personal. When you’re doing call time and someone hangs up on you because you represent a candidate, you’ll just call the next person. But when it’s you they hung up on you, like, talking about yourself, and that’s a little bit harder to swallow.
Also, the outpouring of support of people that you maybe met twice, it’s amazing. People who you forgot about, you all of a sudden get to reconnect with and they’re all about you doing what you’re doing. The network and community that has come forward has been amazing.
How did your previous experience help you as a candidate?
I know what’s important, and at the end of the day the most important thing is talking to voters and making sure they’re heard. You just have to talk to people. Because if you’re doing anything else, it’s kind of a waste of time.
What was the best advice about campaigning that you got?
The best advice I’ve gotten is: don’t sweat the small stuff. Because not everything is going to perfectly or how you envision. The most important part is just to keep going.
What do you wish you’d known before you ran?
I don’t know, I felt pretty prepared to run. Because I’ve been doing campaigns since I was out of college — and while I was in college — so I know what it entails. I wish I would have known more about, like, the ‘political class’. Just sitting down and talking to the right people. It would have been nice to start out with a list, as opposed to figuring it out for myself. Especially when you’re thinking about it at first, knowing the people to go talk to. That wasn’t a very good answer.
Well how about: if you were speaking to someone who had not previously worked on a campaign, what would be the advice you would give to them? What do you think they would wish they had known?
That rejection is ok. You’re gonna knock on doors, and people are going to be upset. People are going to say no to you. But overall, people are excited when you show up. Because it’s just exciting to see someone care. Especially in Salt Lake, there are not too many people who knock on doors, so it’s been an incredible reception. People are excited we showed up.
What was the most gratifying part of campaigning for someone else, and what’s been the most gratifying part of campaigning as the candidate?
The most gratifying part of campaigning for someone else is being part of such a big team and being part of such a movement, and all the people you meet. I think it’s probably the same for this. You can explore your community through new eyes. You talk to people who you would never in your regular life talk to in a million years, and I think the best part is always the people. The people make it. A field office is just an empty building until you fill it with all those people.
What is the thing you least expected?
I least expected how when you have a team and you’re a manager, it’s much different than when you have a team and you’re a candidate. There’s much different expectations for candidate than for a staffperson. As a candidate, you’re the face of the whole thing. As a staffperson, you’re still representing the campaign but you don’t get the final say on things.
But in this you sort of make the final call?
Well, I have a campaign manager, but if we wanna do something and I say, “I think we should do this,” it’s like, yeah, we’ll do it. Just having so much more freedom is incredible. And also horrifying. It’s scary, but it’s good.
What is keeping you going on the campaign trail? Any mantras/songs on repeat?
I listen to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ a lot and sing that one, I like that it’s slow and ends really well. The mantra is, “be grateful, and then do the work.” Because there’s nothing else. If you generally look at life through the lens of being grateful, it’s cool that we get to do this. It’s cool that I get to talk to you. There’s so many things to be grateful for, and as long as you’re grateful to do the work, it doesn’t seem that bad and if anything, it actually becomes really fun.
The other thing that I’ve heard from a lot of candidates is that it’s hard to balance your own personal life with your campaigning and public life. How do you balance taking care of yourself with your public service?
So my day job is from 8:30 to 4:30 every day and then I go knock doors and then I usually go home and have dinner and then hang out with my girlfriend and it’s just, it’s a lot. But I think the first rule is you have to really organize your time and stick to it, because if you don’t do that, things will fall through the cracks.
You went to school for Political Science and Campaign Management, so you’ve been involved with politics for a while. In your childhood or adolescence was there an ‘aha moment’ where you realized politics was for you?
I think when I was in 6th grade, my mom took me to go see Michael Moore. It was in Provo, Utah, Sean Hannity had a dueling rally at the time, it was right before the 2004 election. My mom took me just to show me that both sides can get a little out of hand. People were so upset. People offered to pay $50,000 to the school to not let Michael Moore come, it was just kinda — the climate was abuzz. So I went there and I just kind of fell in love with all the energy and all the people. Then in high school I was on the student council, and politics helping people was just what I liked to do. I saw that politics and government was the most effective way to do that.
If you met someone who was thinking about running for local office, wherever is local for them, what would you like them to know?
I would tell them to go! Because even if they lose, they’re not going to be upset they did. There’s not that much to lose, right? Because if your friends give you money or if you knock on people’s doors and they vote for you and you don’t win, they’re not going to stop being your friends. If anything, you have more friends at the end, you know your community better, and you can still make positive change.