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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

For candidates seeking advice, here’s ours for the upcoming campaign

Sen. John Kennedy campaigns in Spokane in 1960. (Spokesman-Review archives)
Sen. John Kennedy campaigns in Spokane in 1960. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Friday marked the end of candidate filing week, which was put up or shut up time for people talking about running for office. With a national movement urging people to Run for Something, so many of them put up that we won’t have peace and quiet for months.

Although some are incumbents or people who have run before, others are new to the political fray. As a result, Spin Control offers this time of year its eight simple rules for running for office. Don’t think of it as a rerun; think of it as reusing and recycling for a new audience.

1. No whining. By its nature, politics expects to have winners and losers, but it doesn’t tolerate whiners. There are laws and regulations that have to be followed, even if you don’t like them or didn’t know them before launching your campaign. If you don’t like them, you’ll have to get elected before doing something to change them. If you don’t know them, hire someone who does, because they still apply to you.

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 away because almost every political office involves some basic math skills. File on time, and online if that’s required, without some lame excuse like, “I’m not good with computers.” It’s the 21st century. No one younger than 90 will have any sympathy. If you mess this up, expect one of the “watchdogs” that salivate over campaign finance mistakes to report you. When that happens, see Rule 1.

3. Have something to say, and be ready to back it up. Don’t have a campaign speech with nothing but bumper-sticker platitudes like, “Children are our future,” or, “Government needs to listen to the people more.” If you want new or expanded programs, have an idea about what they will cost and where the money will come from. If you want to cut spending, come up with some things to cut, know how much they will save and be ready to defend them against people who need them. Don’t try to get by with a line like, “Cut government waste,” because novice politicians have been saying that for decades, and when they get elected they find out here’s no budget line item for “Waste, Fraud & Abuse.” If you try to fake your way through this, the news media and the voters will call you on it. See Rule 1.

4. Know what the job entails. A state legislator can’t change Social Security or stop the war in Afghanistan and a member of Congress can’t repeal the state business and occupation tax. If your biggest passion is an issue controlled by another office, run for that office. And don’t say, “I’m not a politician.” 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.

5. Politics, by its nature, ain’t always fair. Every candidate will not get equal coverage every day. If your opponent does something newsworthy that gets his or her picture in the paper or quoted on the evening news, there’s no law or rule that says we must call you for a counter quote or use a photo of you of equal size. If there were such a rule, every time Sen. Maria Cantwell was mentioned in a story about action in Congress, we’d have to call GoodSpaceGuy and her 28 other challengers to ask what they thought. That ain’t gonna happen.

6. NFUOASND. The G-rated version of this journalism abbreviation is: “Never Foul Up on a Slow News Day.” It acknowledges when you do something stupid on a day when President Trump gets Kim Jung Un to give up his nukes, your boo-boo might wind up back near the classifieds. Do it on a day when the president is off Twitter, the Mueller investigation has no leaks and the City Council is on vacation, it could 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 mistakes. If you admit yours and take the lumps, you 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’re essentially daring reporters to prove you wrong and prolonging the story. And you’ll have violated Rule 1.

8. It’s called public office because there isn’t much privacy.Just remember you’re applying for a job where the public is your potential boss, and the campaign is the hiring process. Bosses need 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 or social media posts combed through by an opponent, that’s not a crime. But it’s part of running for office, so if it bothers you and you run into problems – which you will – see Rule 1.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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