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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Free advice for candidates

  Last week was the official start of campaign season that saw swarms of candidates filing for various offices and in some cases plunking down the fees that go with them. Kudos for your public spiritedness and participation in the democratic process. But as my father always said, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
   Some of candidates have been around the block once or twice already and know the basics. A few have been around the block so many times they’re starting to wear their own paths.
   But some are new to the game, and as is traditional around filing week, Spin Control offers its eight simple rules to live by for new candidates and their campaign staffs. It's free advice, which my father always said is usually worth exactly what you pay for it. But it could save you some grief down the road:
   1. No whining. We congratulate winners and console losers, but we will brook no whining, especially on things that are “part of the deal.” That includes filing your Public Disclosure forms on time, and doing it online if that’s required. No lame excuses like “I’m not good with computers.” Join the 21st century or find a 12-year-old with a laptop....

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  2. Keep track of the money people give you. If you can’t add or subtract, hire an accountant or bookkeeper who can. Come to think of it, if you can’t add or subtract, what are you doing running for office? Double-check your work because your opponent will be all too happy to rat you out if you don’t file properly or on time. When that happens, see No. 1.
   3. Have something to say. Candidates sometimes claim they’re running because so many other folks said they should. That’s abdicating responsibility for their first political decision, so why should anyone trust them with a second? When you call a press conference to announce that the garden club has just endorsed you, and someone asks what you plan to do about taxes or budget deficits or highways or health care or crime or anything else voters will expect you to handle if elected, don’t try to fake it with a line like “Great question. I’m studying it really closely, and expect to have a white paper soon.” If you do that and no to come to the next event, see No. 1.
   4. Know what the job entails. Candidates occasionally run for City Council by offering great ideas to improve schools, or for the Legislature on a platform of ending the war. Cities in Washington don’t run schools, and the Legislature ain’t Congress. If you’re passionate about an issue decided in another arena, run for that office.
   5. Don’t say “I’m not a politician” followed by some variation of “I’m just a good person who just wants to give back by doing good things for the good people of this great community.” By running, you are, de facto, a politician; don’t act like the term is synonymous with terrorist or child molester.
   6. NFUOASND. This is an old axiom in journalism; the PG version stands for “never foul up on a slow news day.” It means that a mistake made on the day terrorists fly planes into the Twin Towers gets less notice than on a day when my bosses have nothing for the front page. How do you know it will be a slow news day? You don’t; to be safe, don’t mess up.
   7. When you mess up, ’fess up. Since everyone makes a mistake sometime, admit yours and take your lumps. You look foolish – and prolong the story – by insisting you did nothing wrong and everybody is out to get you so they hacked your Twitter account or lost your paperwork or are part of an elaborate conspiracy. (See No. 1.)
   8. It’s called public office because there’s not much privacy. You want the public to hire you for a job; like most bosses, the public wants to know about you before giving you the job, and check up on you afterward. If you don’t want to file financial disclosure forms that explain how you make your money, don’t like phone calls late at night or early in the morning, don’t want your divorce records combed through by an opponent, or in general don’t like people, that’s understandable. Just don’t run for office.
   If you do, and you run into problems – which you will – see No. 1.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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