This past Monday, we celebrated Presidents Day, acknowledging the men (so far) who have achieved the highest political position in our country. What is interesting about the mix of our presidents, other than gender, is the variety. Some were rich, others of modest means. Some went to Ivy League schools, and others didn’t even attend college (Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore). Some came from gilded backgrounds of opulence and privilege…while others got their fingernails dirty.
They make a case that there is no perfect background for becoming president, nor, would I add, is there a perfect background for running for office. And, as an ardent believer in our democracy, I am convinced that our country can only succeed when/if the people who lead it blend a variety of personalities, skills and worldviews to help guide it. Unfortunately, we have veered away from this concept and in turn our body politic has become increasingly more a homogenous entity of thought, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class.
I started this blog with writing about our presidents. However, most if not all of our presidents started at a more modest position. This brings me to my topic this week and why I need YOU to consider running for political office. By urging you to run for office, I’m suggesting that you are best suited to understand your areas of interest, your enthusiasm and drive for a specific cause (or causes) and your willingness to volunteer your time for the greater good. All these will help guide you toward the type of office you might consider.
I believe that every person who runs for office, whether they win or lose, has made a personal effort to strengthen our American democracy, because they represent the people who voted for them, and if they win, they will also represent those who voted against them.
Some people think of politics as a dirty business. It isn’t, even if some politicians don’t adhere to a code of sterling conduct that we feel they should exemplify. Most elected officials strive to be honest, fair and diligent, something I would expect from everyone in an honorable profession. However, I believe the real value of being an elected official is that you serve your constituency. The importance of the title doesn’t rest over the individual but rather on the office the person represents.
Too many people tend to wait for the “perfect candidate” to come in and save the day with regards to politics. We oftentimes look around for that someone else to step into the political arena and carry our message forward. What these folks don’t realize is that in all but the rarest of circumstances there is no “perfect candidate” that come along to champion every one of our issues, get all the legislation we care about passed, clean up our communities, and so on and so on. But fear not….because YOU can be that “perfect candidate” you have been waiting for.
The wonderful part of politics and running for office is that anyone can. Usually the only requirements are citizenship and residency. Oddly, it’s a completely open-door path to impacting your community, to doing something important, and to doing something that in the end will matter and have results.
Why don’t many people run for office? Joe Garecht, writing in his blog, Local Victory, addresses this fear factor. He writes: “What’s Holding You Back? Running for office for the first time can be (and usually is) scary. You’re confused, you’re not sure what to do, you’re worried you will make mistakes. Guess what? That’s OK. You’ll make wrong turns and wrong decisions. You’ll make mistakes. You may even (gasp!) lose. But in the process, you WILL BE the hero of the story, if you’re running for the right reasons.”
The first campaign (2000) I ran in I lost. I was 27 years old and wanting to make a change and providing a voice for my community. While it was scary being a first-time candidate as Mr. Garecht wrote about, what was scarier was the thought of me not trying to do something to change my community for the better. I urge you to consider running for elected office in your community, county or state. The only way our democracy remains strong is if we have divergent voices represented within it. I encourage you to be one such voice, and never forget who you will be privileged to serve. That’s my take, what’s yours?