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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Here are 8 simple rules to help new candidates

Campaign buttons and paraphernalia, some dating back more than 70 years, from a display on the wall in The Spokesman-Review's Olympia office. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
Campaign buttons and paraphernalia, some dating back more than 70 years, from a display on the wall in The Spokesman-Review's Olympia office. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

Monday marks the beginning of candidate filing week, when people who have been talking about running for office have to decide whether to put up or shut up. If they put up, they likely won’t shut up until sometime after election day.

This year’s races are mostly local – everything from city councils and school boards to fire commissions and cemetery districts. These are important jobs, but also what some might consider starter positions for politicians with higher aspirations. 

That means many of the people filling out their forms and, in some cases, plunking down their money will be rookie candidates. This time of the year, Spin Control typically offers its eight simple rules for running for office. Some readers might think of it as a rerun. We like to think we are recycling.

1. No whining. Just as there’s no crying in baseball, there should be no whining in politics. Some things just come with the territory – most of them are annoying things called “laws” – like needing 60 percent to pass a bond issue or knowing whether you’re supposed to file campaign reports online. If the latter applies to you, don’t scribble something illegible on a printed form that you mail in with some lame excuse like “I’m not good with computers.” It’s the 21st Century. No one under 90 will have any sympathy.

2. Keep track of the money you get and how you spend it. If you can’t add or subtract, hire a treasurer who can. For that matter, if you can’t add or subtract maybe your treasurer should be running because almost every political office involves some basic math skills. File on time, because it’s the law, and because if you don’t, it’s a safe bet your opponent will notice and rat you out. When that happens, see Rule 1.

3. Have something to say. Don’t have a campaign speech that consists of bumper sticker slogans like “children are our future” and ignore all tough issues about taxes, spending, transportation, crime, health care or anything else voters might reasonably expect you to handle in office. Don’t respond to those inquiries with “Great question. I plan to study that very closely and issue a five-point plan in the near future.” When people write you off as a light-weight, contributions dry up and no one shows up for your next speech, see Rule 1.

4. Know what the job entails. A city council member can’t make Washington’s tax system more progressive by swapping the sales tax for a state income tax and a member of Congress can’t fix the potholes on a neighborhood street. If your biggest passion is an issue controlled by another office, run for that office. If you’re just using the current office as a stepping stone to another office, you’ll have to do a good job on the things this office handles or you won’t be moving on.

5. Don’t say “I’m not a politician,” followed by some variation of “I’m just a concerned citizen trying to do good things for the good people of our great community.” For one thing, that might make everyone gag. For another, running for office MAKES you a politician. Stop acting like it’s the same as saying you’re a Nazi war criminal or a child molester.

6. NFUOASND. This is a journalism acronym; the G-rated version is “Never Foul Up On A Slow News Day.” This admonition acknowledges that if you do something stupid on a day when a tunnel full of nuclear waste collapses on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the president fires the head of the FBI, your boo-boo might wind up back near the classifieds. Do it on a day when nothing’s happening, it will end up on 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. Everyone makes a mistake now and then. If you admit yours and take the lumps, you look human and might even get a bit of sympathy. If you insist you did nothing wrong, your computer was hacked, that signature is forged and there’s an elaborate conspiracy against you, you’ll look foolish and prolong the story. And you’ll have violated Rule 1.

8. It’s called public office because there isn’t much privacy. Look at it this way: You’re applying for a job and the public is the potential boss doing the hiring. Bosses want to know things about a prospective employee before hiring them, and check up on them afterward. If you don’t want to tell people how much money you make and how you make it, don’t like angry phone calls late at night or early in the morning, don’t want your divorce records combed through by an opponent, or just don’t care much for people outside a small circle of like-minded friends, that’s not a crime. Just don’t run for office.

If you do, and you run into problems – which you will – see Rule 1.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.