By Michael D. Evans
How does a candidacy come to be? As progressives, we need to be continually trying to identify potential candidates for public office and provide them with the tools necessary to be competitive in elections for those offices. It often seems that the decision to run is made at the last minute and without the necessary preparation to be a viable candidate. And sometimes the essential resources just are not available.
Two prospective candidacies for 2012 that did not pan out could prove instructive to future efforts to identify, nurture and support good candidates.
First was the short-lived campaign by Patch for mayor of Fresno. Because of the city’s continuing efforts to make life increasingly difficult for the homeless, there was an effort by various community groups to have a homeless advocate run for mayor. Patch, who has been a spokesperson for the homeless and a participant in Occupy Fresno, agreed to run.
Simultaneously with that decision, an appeal was made via e-mail for support to cover the cost of Patch’s filing fee. Within 24 hours, there were pledges for well more than the amount of the fee. The interest was definitely there. Patch went to the Registrar’s Office to file to run for mayor, only to find that he was no longer registered to vote (under his full name, of course). As the filing period had already begun, it was too late to register to vote and still run for the position.
In a different race, for City Council District 2, one prospective candidate took a long look at running. Linda Traynor, a local activist, spent almost a month doing her due diligence on a possible candidacy. Indeed, her questions, outreach and persistence may have made her approach a model for future reference.
Traynor was asked by members of some local women’s organizations to consider running for the District 2 seat. She had not really thought previously of running for office, but she was intrigued by the prospect. So she immediately began to research the position and what it would take to become a candidate and to win the seat.
People kept giving her the same advice: You’ve got to start raising money immediately. Of course, that was incorrect advice for a City Council candidate, because the Fresno City Council has restrictive guidelines on the time frame for raising funds. Those guidelines protect incumbents and make it difficult for an outsider to raise sufficient funds in the time needed to put together a viable campaign.
Traynor connected with individuals from the various groups in which she is involved, she reached out to campaign consultants, she had that important talk with her family about buy-in and she assessed her potential for raising the kind of funding necessary to be competitive.
Looking at the field, it appeared weak and as a Democrat she would be one against a number of Republicans.
As the filing date neared, Traynor edged closer to making a decision. Then came a significant announcement 36 hours before the filing date. Randy Reed announced that he was filing to run for the seat. Well established with the Downtown Crowd and certain to have access to big dollar donors, his entrance changed the whole complexion of the race. Traynor opted not to run when she learned that, overnight, Reed’s entrance into the race meant she’d need to raise 210% more than her research had indicated in order to run an effective and competitive campaign against the well-funded Republican.
What can we learn from these two case studies?
One of the most striking things is how daunting the process is—even before you start the campaign, much less actually serving in office.
Planning ahead is critical. Had Patch evaluated a run for mayor a month earlier, he could have remedied his voter registration issue. Had Traynor gotten a campaign team in place 6–8 months earlier, by the filing date it would not have mattered who else entered the race.
Finally, it takes a lot of money to run for office. The citizenry needs to understand this and step up with donations to support those progressive candidates who come forward.
“We need progressive candidates running everywhere at all levels for every race, and they need to be supported financially and with committed volunteers in this post-Citizens United era if we want to ‘take our country back’ and place it in the hands of people that do believe in government and do believe that government has done and can do good for our nation,” says Traynor.
We must be thinking now about filling the seats on the education boards in November and, even more important, focusing on the races that will be on the ballot in 2014. The work and preparation that we do now will pay off in electoral success down the road. We need to focus on local races and be strategic.
Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at email@example.com.