Monday, September 10, 2007

A Column

On August 19, a column I wrote appeared on the Sunday commentary page of the Observer-Reporter. I was remiss in posting it here. Better late than never:

Legislative hopefuls need to get busy
By Paul Snatchko

For months, the news has been full of reports about the 2008 race for the White House. Even though the presidential election is 15 months away, even the casual observer likely knows the names of some of the major contenders.

Just as Hillary, Rudy and crew are stumping and fund raising, it also is time for local politicos to begin preparations for 2008. In the cycle ahead, local citizens again will have the opportunity to elect representatives to Congress, the Pennsylvania Senate and the Pennsylvania House.

With the 2007 county government and municipal races now underway, it's unfortunate attention has to be diverted to the legislative races coming up in 2008. Lord knows, it's confusing enough when you have something called "prothonotary" on the ballot. But, the demands of fund raising and mass voter outreach - even on the local level - mean that candidates for the legislative seats need to begin preparing now.

I was a candidate for one of the local State House seats in 2002, 2004 and 2006. I guess you could call me "Mr. 46 Percent" - that was my approximate take each time. As much as I hated losing, I know that the campaigns were beneficial - both for democracy in the 46th Legislative District and for my own personal development.

A recent move out of Pennsylvania for a new job ensures that I'm done running for office - at least for now. So, gentle reader, it's your turn.

Yeah - you. If you're reading the commentary page of the O-R, you likely have an interest in the region and where it's headed. Chances are you care about the quality of our towns and schools. You're probably worried that so many of our young people can't find good jobs here after they get out of high school or college.

It's pathetic that each election cycle so few people put forward themselves and their ideas on how our area could be a better place to live, work and raise a family. This isn't even necessarily about the incumbent holders of these legislative seats - they may be doing fine jobs. But they should be vigorously challenged in each primary election and general election - always pushed to work harder and smarter for reelection.

Technically speaking, to run for these positions, you simply have to be a Pennsylvania citizen over the age of 21 or 25 (depending on the office) and have lived here for one year prior to the Election Day in which your name will appear on the ballot.

As a three-time legislative loser, I recognize that I may not be the best person to be giving advice on how to "Plan a Winning Campaign." But, since you're still reading, here is my take on the four most important things you need to do to get started:

1. Make certain your significant other is on board. The most successful public officials and candidates have the enthusiastic backing of their wives, husbands, fianc├ęs, significant others, etc. Your main squeeze doesn't just need to support the idea of you running for office - she or he needs to want to campaign alongside you on a frequent basis. He or she doesn't just need to give you permission to leave the family picnic to campaign at the firemen's parade - they have to want to drive the car. Don't run for office if your partner is not on board. After all, it's their future lifestyle at stake, too. I've seen more than one instance in which a politician with an apolitical spouse ends up confronting alcoholism, depression and/or infidelity.

2. Round up the troops. You can't run a local legislative race without lots of strong supporters - a campaign committee made up of your family members, personal friends, neighbors, fellow church members, municipal officials and members of the county political committees. You can't do this alone! Start having meetings now. Engage your supporters in various outreach tasks and find out who will really be there for you when the going gets tough. By the end, you will need a small army to reach those thousands of voters. If you don't have family support, a decent number of personal friends or others on whom you can rely - don't run for office. It won't work - especially in small towns and rural areas.

3. Figure out the money, because this is going to be expensive. Running for office costs thousands upon thousands of dollars. The mailings, the commercials, the yard signs, the promotional items and maybe even some paid staff and a headquarters - all of these can break the bank and/or ruin your credit rating. My number one weakness as a candidate was my inability to raise large sums of campaign dollars - largely because I just didn't like asking strangers for money. But unless you're independently wealthy and willing to fund your own campaign, it's something you have to do. Start early. Ask often.

4. Do a personal assessment. What do you look like? Are there things you may need to change about your personal appearance before launching your campaign? Are you a confident public speaker? Do you have any annoying habits? Any skeletons in the closet? Get ready because they'll all be coming out. Unfortunately, when you run for office, you become public property. You don't need to be perfect to run for office - but you do need to know your strengths and weaknesses.

Here's hoping the local campaign trail is a crowded one in 2008.

Paul Snatchko, a former resident of McDonald, now lives in New York, where he is manager of marketing and communications for a Catholic liturgical publishing house.

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