So you’re running for office: Tips for politicians (yes, you)
Last week marked the official start of campaign season. Swarms of candidates filed for various offices and plunked down the necessary fees that go with some spots. 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 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 on the sidewalk.
But some are new to the game, and, as is traditional around filing week, Spin Control offers new candidates and their campaign staffs its eight simple rules for survival from now through Election Day.
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 an iPad.
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. If your whole platform consists of “children are our future,” don’t be surprised if 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. If you don’t have a clue, don’t try to fake it with a line like “Great question. I’m studying it very closely, and expect to have a white paper soon.” When no one checks back for the white paper or shows up for the next event, see No. 1.
4. Know what the job entails. Candidates occasionally run for city council by offering great ideas like exchanging the B&O tax for a state income tax, or for the Legislature with a call to bring home the troops. Cities don’t set state tax policy, and the Legislature can’t invoke the War Powers Act. If you’re passionate about an issue controlled by another office, 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 rated-G 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 editors 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 have mounted an elaborate conspiracy. (See No. 1.)
8. It’s called public office because there’s not much privacy. You are 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 to 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 not a crime. Just don’t run for office.
If you do, and you run into problems – and you will – see No. 1.
Spin Control, a weekly column by veteran political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at www.spokesman.com.