A few days ago, I recorded the next interview for The Campaign Coach podcast – a fantastic conversation with New York State Senator Tim Kennedy, who I actually saw take his first oath of office as an Erie County Legislator back in 2004, when I was a member of the Legislature staff. As legislator, and now as state senator, Tim has been an effective representative for Western New York, and has become a good friend. It was a pleasure talking with him (as it always is).
One of the key points that Senator Kennedy brought up in the interview, which will go live next week, was how he got himself involved in the political process long before he was thinking about running for office himself. At The Campaign Coach, we spend a lot of time talking to people who are getting ready to run or have just kicked off their campaigns. While our tools are appropriate for someone who wants to run sometime in the future, as well, we don’t dig too far into what people can be doing when their run for office may be some years away. I appreciated Tim emphasizing the issue.
One of our free resources for potential candidates is our Pros & Cons Questionnaire, which asks a number of potentially uncomfortable questions to help you determine if you’re ready to run for office. We know that some people read our questionnaire, and it only confirms for them that their head is in the right place. We know that some go through the questions, and decide it’s not for them. And we also know, because of the way we’ve written the questions, that for some, the response is, “Not now.”
So, what can you be doing if you are intent upon running for local office at some point, but it just isn’t the right time yet? Turns out there’s quite a bit:
The best way to learn about the political process is to hurl yourself into it. Spending time working on a campaign will give you insights you couldn’t get otherwise – gaining knowledge of your community and what makes voters tick, understanding tactics needed to win and building relationships that will be there for you when you’re ready. Nothing beats time in the trenches. Find your local party HQ, and ask where you can fit in.
Learn What Local Government Does
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. Guest after guest on The Campaign Coach podcast tell us that one of the things that surprised them most while campaigning is how little voters understand about their government. If running for local office is in the future for you, learn how your local government works, so when the time comes you’re ready to answer all of the questions that come your way.
Get Involved in the Community
At the local level in politics, name-recognition is an enormous asset. Who do you know that will help your campaign? Who do you know that will send friends and family get-out-the-vote cards? Who do you know that will invite you into their living room with ten of their friends for a coffee chat? Make yourself known to your community, and show through volunteerism that you’re a person who provides value.
If 2017 isn’t your year, but you know at some point in the future you’re going to be filing that paperwork to kick off your campaign, start laying the foundation for your run now.