Posts tagged legicamp 2011
On Sunday, nearly 100 of Florida’s top progressive activists from around the state gathered in Orlando to discuss and prepare for the upcoming State Legislative session. The event was the brain child of the very bright Mr. Edwin Enciso, and organized beautifully by Susan Smith, Kenneth Quinnell, Ray Seaman and a few other wonderful people. The event had some wonderful sponsors, The Orange County CTA and Progress Florida.
We started with an introduction to the un-conference concept, manymoon.com and the objectives of LegiCamp 2011, led by Edwin. From there we filled in much of the day’s sessions with participant driven content, including the session I promoted in advance, during the first time slot, Candidate Development.
My session was held in “area 3″ which was the center of a cubical office area, open to the outside world, but cozily confined. Roughly 25 activists joined me and participated in a lively discussion about where candidates come from, how to evaluate their capacity to run, and what we can do to ensure they run better campaigns than history tells us to expect.
Among our actions items coming out of the session we got commitments from activists from 4 or 5 counties to recruit one new progressive candidate for 2012. Those actions will be tracked with manymoon and hopefully result in progressive seat pickups.
Counter programming my session was what I am told was a wonderful session on Reproductive Rights, led by Susan Smith and Staci Fox. These women, and all the women of Florida, need our help fighting back the oppressive measures being put forward by Governor Rick Scott and the State Legislature.
During the second time slot, I bounced between the session in the main room on redistricting led by Scott Randolph, Susannah Randolph, Josh Giese, and Edwin, and the session on using Facebook as an Organizing Tool (for legislation) led by Ray Seaman, with assistance from Kenneth Quinnell. Both sessions were fantastic, discussions were vibrant and it appeared (from all the smoke streaming from peoples ears) that people were learning and thinking on levels unheard of at that hour on a Sunday. You can learn more about redistricting with this post from the Florida Progressive Coalition or via FairDistrictsFlorida.org, and at FloridaRedistricting.org. The most important thing learned in the “using Facebook” session? CLICK THE DAMN “LIKE BUTTON” and remember that online action is a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional organizing.
We broke for lunch, where I again split my time, between a table with several former (and hopefully future) progressive candidates from around the state, and another with one of Florida’s brightest women’s rights activists (Staci Fox of PPNF) and a bright young future leader and/or journalist (Jason Henry). Good discussions and pizza occurred.
The third time slot I joined Ray Seaman’s session on Twitter, where we learned and discussed basic usage, hashtags, the 140 character environment, use of RT’s (re-tweets), and how to combine all of those things to effect change with regard to legislation, campaigns and issues. Some great questions were asked and some ideas for providing better resources to the activist community were put forth. Ray and Kenneth have agreed to deliver some of those resources, and we will hold them to it.
In the final session, Susannah Randolph and Ray Seaman talked about DirtyHari.org and other ongoing and upcoming ideas, and presented Ray’s “Awake the State” idea. (Follow the link and CLICK THE LIKE BUTTON…NOW!)
Edwin closed out the day by moderating a summarizing of the day’s sessions, thanking all those that helped organize and execute the event and directing us to head out to a local watering hole to continue discussions.
Kenneth Quinnell posted his Monday “Word of the Day”, LegiCamp, you can watch here:
OK, you are considering a run for public office, now what do you do?
At this point, many first time candidates expect support and knowledge to come to them. It rarely happens, like anything else, you must seek it out and work for it. The first step should always be an unbiased and realistic evaluation of the potential candidate and their capacity to fulfill the requirements of a campaign for the district. This involves basic questions about time commitment and financial situations. Dishonesty at this point is common, that is, candidates lying to themselves about what they can and cannot put in to a proposed race. Common factors to look at:
* Why does the potential candidate want to run?
* Why is the potential candidate a Democrat (and progressive/liberal)?
* How many hours per week will this campaign require now, next month, three months from now and for the remainder of the campaign?
* Financially can the candidate and their family survive the costs of the campaign, including any loss of pay, time and energy?
* What will the average day look like for the candidate at various points during the campaign, is the candidate prepared to commit to that? Are there health concerns that might impede such a commitment?
* How will the geography of the district, weather and transportation impact the candidate in this campaign?
Once we have all those physical/logistical (and additional related questions) answered and written down, we move on to the campaign finance aspects:
* What is a realistic cost of a minimally competitive campaign for this race? A strong campaign?
* How much money will the candidate themselves put in to the race, and in what form? (I personally restrict candidates to less than $50k in “loans” to the campaign, as startup cash only, anything else should be contributed with no expectation of repayment from donors.)
* What is the contribution limit and any related fundraising rules (like public financing, matching funds, etc)?
* What is the strength of the candidates social networks, is 300 donors in the first month possible? 500 in the first quarter? Refer to this exercise: Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising and further detailed here: Tools for a Better Organized Campaign
* Reinforce the reality that 80% of the candidates time will be fund raising, phone to face, in a closed room. It isn’t all fairs and pig roasts.
If the candidate has the desire to run and the answers to all of the above questions indicate the candidate has the capacity to run, the next question to assess is whether or not they have the temperament and traits to be a good candidate. Some weaknesses can be overcome with training, others cannot. If the candidate isn’t interest in improving/changing, it isn’t going to get any better later in the campaign. Creating an honest assessment at this point in the process allows periodic review throughout the campaign, charting progress and allowing for adjustments to correct or compensate. Too often, heavily “recruited” candidates are led in to the race under the impression they are perfect as they are, they hold on to that belief to the bitter end and everything invested in them throughout the campaign (money, time and sweat) is thrown away. Weeks later someone tells them, “By the way John, you probably lost 5,000 votes to your halitosis, didn’t anyone ever offer you a breath mint?” (Yes, this is a simplified issue, they are rarely this easy on a campaign.)
For (potential) candidates, one of the biggest struggles is finding people to serve as their campaign advisors and staff. They often fall in to traps of paying large sums for minimal returns, consultants and advisors that are more hype and reputation than experience and performance. There are a few good email lists and websites that are of some use, such as Jobs That Are Left, but the best place to start is right here at MPA Political by contacting us and reading Conventional Un-Wisdom: Hiring Staff. Really, any potential candidates should read everything on our How To’s and Training page. Lower tier and long time elected officials running for higher office often stick with the people who have worked on their previous campaigns and worked in their government offices, this often creates a closed campaign, where no new thoughts or talents are brought in and the campaign is unable to compete on the larger playing field of higher office. Campaigns should include new thoughts, differing experiences and ideas. If your campaign strategy meetings result in everyone agreeing 100% with everyone else, you need to find some thought-diversity for your team.
Somewhere in these early stages, there needs to be a compliance check with all applicable laws, rules and authorities. Is the potential candidate legally qualified to run for the office they are planning to seek? Do they understand the finance rules and regulations and have a plan to comply with all required reporting procedures? If elected, what actions are they required or recommended to take, for legal, ethical or public relations reasons? This might include turning control of a business over to a blind trust or resigning from Boards or similar positions. Are they restricting from fundraising or campaigning due to the Hatch Act (or any similar state/local law)? In Florida there is a “resign to run” law that impacts state level elected officials, it is important to know how and when that impacts your campaign. You can and will be thrown off the ballot for failure to comply with related laws and procedures. If you are seeking Federal Office, filing with the FEC is mandatory.
The last of these first steps is to build a timeline for the campaign including goals and benchmarks. To do this, one must have a complete understanding of the candidate and landscape, including vote goals and turnout expectations. If you haven’t figured this out, and haven’t already brought in a professional for all of the processes listed above, you absolutely need a professional for this, for smaller races it might be a one time fee for a week or two of work, or it might be the first payment beginning a monthly relationship with a general consultant.
This is a discussion of the first steps, which doesn’t include all of the steps of learning to sit up and crawl…the process can begin as early as middle school and as late as however old you are today. This would be a good time to look over What Inspires Candidate to Run? if you haven’t done so already.
This weekend I will lead a session on Candidate Development at LegiCamp 2011, a gathering of activists from around the state in Orlando discussing the upcoming Legislative session and election cycle. With this post, I will discuss some of the main sources of where candidates come from in terms of motivation to step forward and put their names on a ballot. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’ve clearly left out a few of the most corrupt/evil pathways to candidacy.
The traditional path is to run for lower tier offices and expand upward thereafter, on the strength of achievements, growing social networks and influence gained. The traditional routes provide significantly better odds at victory in higher tier elections, for both the benefits of having built infrastructure and having learned the lessons when the mistakes weren’t so painful to the campaign.
Family / Raised to Serve: This is the pathway many Americans think of first when the subject is discussed, thoughts turn to the Kennedy’s, Bush’s and regional and local “power families.” In addition to those austere families, there are many (thought not nearly enough for my tastes), that raise their children with a commitment to public service. Some of these families are primarily military or first responders, some are school teachers or work for charitable organizations. In larger families of this style, you can find the children grow to find different ways to serve. Once this value is instilled, it can make one more likely to be motivated along one of the other pathways at some point in life. Among the more political/powerful of such families, the traditional routes can be shortcut a bit due to built in power, name recognition, financial clout and influence/credibility built-in to the family name.
Aspiration / Pursuit of Power: Nearly all children are raised to value success, some become enamored with power and aspire to positions of power in public service. Sometimes this occurs as a direct path, sometimes as a “plan b” option. These folks are more likely to follow the most traditional path, starting with lower tier local offices and building power and influence piece by piece, creating and waiting for opportunities to reach for the next rung on the ladder. They often attend law school and/or seek out jobs working for elected officials.
Community Issue / Activist: There is great truth to the axiom that there is more power at the local level of government than the higher levels, and thus great power to inspire those impacted. Whether it is an intersection lacking a stop sign or a traffic signal that incurs numerous accidents or a school board member that says something ridiculous and drastically alters the life of a precious snowflake, these inspirations can lead to a very passionate campaign for local/lower tier office. If victorious, these candidates can become community champions, catapulting them up the ladder. There are a few members of the US House and Senate that got their start as a result of an unsafe intersection in their community. They got stop signs, traffic lights and a one-way ticket to the electoral fast track.
Candidates that run for the first time for a higher tier office; State Senate, Big City Mayor, Governor, US Congress, US Senate or the White House. This is often backed by personal financial investment and victories the first time out are few and far between.
Incumbent Inspired: This is the classic story of the incumbent doing something that inspires vehement angst. Be it a statement, a vote or an entire legislative agenda, whether it is a straw or an entire bale of hay, the camel is finally inspired to kick back. A few years ago, a Utah businessman named Pete Ashdown was so appalled at the idiocy of Senator Orrin Hatch’s legislative agenda and statements related to Intellectual Property and Technology, he penned a letter to Senator Hatch saying he would do anything in his power to see him defeated in 2006. After looking around and talking to various authorities in the Democratic Party, it became clear there was no one interested in running against the five term incumbent. He stepped up and ran, challenging Senator Hatch in what was then the most conservative state in the nation. These candidate more often follow very non-traditional paths, jumping from the private sector to a race for higher level office, such as Congress or the US Senate.
Opportunity: Candidates of opportunity may have had the desire to follow a more traditional pathway to office but due to life circumstances went a different direction. Years down the road, a golden opportunity manifests in the form of an open seat or a special election, an incumbent ravaged by scandal, or their own 15 minutes of celebrity due to luck or heroic actions. Sometimes it just spawns out of massive personal wealth and a political climate conducive to victory. These candidates have less traditional resumes and rarely run for lower tier offices, these guys and gals are going for Federal Office or Governor. Examples include Arnold Schwarzenegger entering the recall election for Governor of California, Jeff Greene for US Senate in Florida in 2010, Rick Scott and Meg Whitman for Governor (FL and CA respectively), and if you pick a random Congressional Special Election from the last 20 years, you will typically find at least one millionaire who decided to jump in and give it a go, the 2006 CA-50 adventure had 4 or 5 of them.
Major Event / Movement: Candidates inspired by a major event, local or national, that dramatically impacted the community. From civil rights issues to tragic events like 9/11, people’s lives can be dramatically impacted, causing them to give up their life direction and instead seek elected office. Opposition to a war, to discrimination, or to an incumbent President’s policies can trigger these candidates to come forward. President Obama’s meteoric rise in 2007/2008 inspired scores of people to run on the ballot under him in 2008, some inspired to join the cause, and some just hoping to ride the coat tails (that didn’t really manifest in most communities).
If you are thinking about running, or know of someone you think should run, which category best fits? If the candidate is from one of the non-traditional pathways, what can they do to offset the weaknesses most common to that pathway? One of the keys to a successful campaign is identifying your own strengths and weaknesses and find ways to accurate the strengths while mitigating and reducing the weaknesses. Of course, one common weakness among non-traditional candidates is not knowing how to campaign and not being willing to listen/learn.
Not all people inspired in the means described above actually step up and run, some are deterred by personal/family obligations, some by the daunting financial challenges, and some are never reached out to and encouraged to run. That is one piece each of us must take to heart, when you meet someone who should (consider a ) run for office, we must tell them so. Then direct them to a professional that can asses their capacity and advise them of the realities of running. MPA Political can do that.