I’ve loved government since I was 10. The first time my Roane County high school class traveled to the state capitol, I remember sitting down in the Senate’s chambers, reveling at its grandness and the big decisions that happen there.
Ever since then, I’ve followed state government closely. My friends make fun of me because even now the first day of session feels like Christmas. I spent almost two decades working in state government. From the Public Service Commission to the Dept. of Agriculture to the DHHR, every position I’ve held has offered me greater insight into what it takes to lead, what it means to run for office and what the campaign life requires.
And even though I have no plans to run for public office any time soon, I know that it is vitally important that I encourage the hard working, community-minded leaders in my life – especially women – to run for office. I’ve heard it takes an average of eight or nine times for a woman to be told she should run for office before she even considers it.
Consider this UpThink one of those reminders. You can do it, ladies. We need you in government now more than ever. And remember, you’re not alone. If you take the lead, people will come out to help. From party executive committees to nonprofits to individuals (like myself), there are many people and organizations out there to help you navigate this landscape. And besides, you’re not working without a guide. Here are some first steps to help:
1. Be honest with yourself
Whenever someone tells me they want to run for office, my first response is always, “I don’t want to deter you, but are you sure?” That’s because running for office, whether it’s on the local or state level, will ask a lot of you. Being a candidate has to take your top priority. It means filling up your calendar with evening events week after week. It means missing your friend’s birthday party because you have to canvas a neighborhood.
You have to honestly ask yourself how much time do I have to give to this, like walking neighborhoods and traveling across counties. And if filling your calendar with events almost every night sounds like torture, you might want to take a step back and reassess.
2. Find your treasurer
Okay, so now that you’ve done some self talk and feel confident that your priorities align with running for office, the next step is to find your treasurer. I know that this might feel like jumping the gun, but hear me out. The minute that you enter the Secretary of State’s office to file your candidacy is the minute that you’ll need a treasurer. You need someone who understands finances and government paperwork, someone who will be on the details and will make sure you’re taking every precaution because filing on the state or federal level can be a lot of work, and you’re going to need help.
I recommend finding a close friend – someone who is involved in the community and someone you trust – and asking her, “If I were to run for office, would you help me? Would you be my treasurer?”
3. Get out there (if you aren’t already)
The only way to gauge the viability of your win is by surveying the number of people that know you, the number of people you’ve interacted with. Your name recognition is going to mean a lot. Do you volunteer? Have you done anything outside of your block? If you’re running statewide campaign, how many statewide things have you done? Do you have support outside of your family and friends?
If your answer to most of those questions is “No,” then I recommend getting out there as soon as possible. No matter which office you’re running for – on the local, county or state level – getting yourself involved in the community is going to take a lot of work. So, don’t wait. Get started now.
4. Bang out a strategy with a team you trust
People often run for office because they see something wrong in their district or neighborhood. But running a successful campaign not only requires that you accurately identify a problem, it requires you to propose viable solutions as well. In coming up with solutions, look at the skills and experience you bring and consider how those lend to finding new approaches to the challenges you see. How does your experience inform a new idea that could be a solution? In answering that, you’re well on your way to creating a platform. I would advise against any candidate going in saying that it is all wrong and having no proposal on how to fix it.
Think of campaigning like a job interview. As you head into your interview, you have your resume filled out and in hand so that when you sit down with your interviewers (the constituents), you have something concrete to point to and say: “Here are the issues I see. Here are the reasons I’m qualified to address them, and here’s how we’re going to do it.”
5. Finally, you file
Once you’ve agreed to move “campaign life” to the top of your priority list, you’ve found your treasurer, you’ve gotten your name out there, you’ve crafted a vision with a strong team behind you, now you’re ready to file your candidacy. Where you file will depend on the office you seek. But no matter where it is, whether it’s your county courthouse or the secretary of state’s office, you can feel confident knowing that you’ve already taken some very critical steps to help you succeed.
And don’t forget! Be sure to file all of your paperwork before raising any money. And make sure your treasurer contacts the Secretary of State’s office even before pre-candidacy paperwork is filed.
Tara Martinez works with a Charleston based think tank as their Policy Outreach Coordinator. Her role is strategic outreach, partnership, and coalition building. In a previous life, Tara worked as a public servant for the state of West Virginia for more than 16 years, collaborating with a variety of nonprofits, businesses, and state organizations on legislation, program planning and implementation. She is currently the chair for the State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and has been selected to serve as a board member for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Tara holds degrees from Marshall University including her R.B.A. and M.B.A. Outside of work, Tara spends her time traveling the Mountain State with her loving partner, amazing daughter, and beloved mother, along with spending as much time with friends as possible. She loves West Virginia and hopes to make it better every day.
Like party favors, but for your brain. Enjoy these weekly goodies including viral videos, interesting articles, curated playlists, and more!
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