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Spin Control: Looking to run? Take my advice

Sun., April 12, 2009

For some, spring means it’s time to train for Bloomsday or get the Hoopfest team together. For others it’s time to lose a few pounds, tone up the abs or biceps and get ready for the lake.

But for anyone planning to run for office, spring is the time to get moving. The state moved the primary up to August a couple of years back, and all the other deadlines moved up, too. To have a campaign in full swing by June, you need to make up your mind pretty quickly.

Thus far, the campaigning has been nearly nonexistent. The city of Spokane has three council seats on the November ballot and has three announced candidates. The city of Spokane Valley has four seats up and three candidates.

Other surrounding towns and cities also have seats on the ballot, and city and county officials have various tax proposals they want to put on the ballot.

Before campaign season begins in earnest, Spin Control offers its eight suggestions for candidates and campaigners.

1. No whining. We will congratulate winners and commiserate with losers, but we will brook no whining about things that you knew were “part of the deal.” That includes meeting filing deadlines and rules like getting a 60 percent supermajority for bond issues. Yes, it’s a high bar, but you’re asking for a lot of our money, so you need to convince three out of five of us it’s going to be money well spent. And it’s the law.

2. File your paperwork. Anybody can talk about running for office; real candidates file the forms. This includes Public Disclosure Commission reports on campaign spending and fundraising, filed on time and properly. 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? If state law says you have to file online, don’t complain that you’re no good with computers or don’t have access to one. (See No. 1.) There are computers in the libraries or you could hire a 12-year-old with a laptop and spend a few minutes at Starbucks.

3. Have something to say. Some candidates announce a campaign by saying they’re running because so many people encouraged them to do so, which takes no responsibility for the decision. Their kickoff speech boils down to “drugs are bad, schools are good, children are our future.” When asked what they plan to do about taxes or budgets or potholes or law enforcement or zoning changes or any of the things they’d handle if elected, they offer a weak “That’s something I’m studying really closely, and I’ll be getting back to you.”

4. Know something about the job. Candidates will occasionally run for City Council on a platform of improving schools, or for the Legislature on a platform of ending the war. Cities don’t run schools, and the Legislature ain’t Congress. If you’re passionate about an issue that is decided in another arena, run for that office. Don’t offer the lame explanation that if you’re elected to the council, you’ll lobby the Legislature for the changes you think the city needs.

5. Know something about what worked in the past and what didn’t. A case can be made for putting fluoride in the local drinking water, enacting a business-and-occupation tax in Spokane, forming a port district to encourage economic development, or instituting a statewide income tax. But these things have all been tried before; some failed miserably, others failed and took candidates down with them. Don’t just say it’s a great idea, explain how you’re going to succeed where others failed. And if you didn’t know that other people have been blown out of the water with the same basic idea, fess up and see No. 1.

6. NMUOASND. This is an old axiom in journalism, which stands for “never mess up on a slow news day.” It recognizes that a mistake made on the day terrorists fly planes into the Twin Towers gets less notice than a day when editors are looking to fill a spot on the front page. How do you know it will be a slow news day? You don’t, so to be safe, just don’t mess up.

7. When you make a mistake, admit it. Since everyone makes a mistake sometime, admit yours and take your lumps. You look foolish if you insist that you didn’t do anything wrong and everybody is out to get you so they’ve lost your paperwork, blocked your lawsuit or forged records in an elaborate conspiracy.

8. There’s not much privacy in public office. You’re asking 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 perfectly fine. Just don’t run for office.

But if you do, and you run into trouble, see No. 1.

Spin Control is a written by Jim Camden, who can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@spokesman.com. Spin Control is a blog at www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.


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