Are You Qualified to Run for Local Public Office?
Have you ever considered running for public office in your local community? Often people feel very strongly about an issue but don’t think about running for office themselves. Sometimes potential candidates worry that they are not really “candidate material”, as if there is some secret board that determines who should and shouldn’t be allowed to run. If you have thoughts about running for office, ask yourself the following questions:
Seriously, Have You Seen Your Competition?
Often we tend to compare ourselves to some “ideal” candidate. That person exists only in your mind. You are not running against Robert Redford. You are running against other local candidates. And honestly, some of them are TERRIBLE, AWFUL office holders and candidates. Don’t believe me? Tune into your local access channel covering the city board meeting. Odds are there is at least one member who will challenge your faith in the American electorate.
Do you have common sense?
Most issues before a local elected body are not extremely difficult to understand. A good portion of common sense will serve you well. Unfortunately, people who don’t have common sense often don’t REALIZE they lack it. So it’s easy to fool yourself. Do you find people asking you for your advice or opinion? Or do they just smile politely when you express your views?
Do you have reasonable education and experience?
You don’t need to be a 4.0 Harvard PhD to be qualified for office (in fact, that would probably disqualify you). And you don’t need 15 years experience as a CPA to serve on the city budget committee. You just need enough education and experience that you can reasonable understand most issues that will come before you when in office.
What constitutes a reasonable level of education will vary from community to community. In a small rural community, a high school education plus good work experience and common sense may be sufficient. In a high-tech urban university environment, a college degree may be a must. If your education level is typical for your community then you should feel confident in your abilities.
Don’t forget that certain positions may have specific educational requirements. For example a legal position such as judge may require a law degree and a county clerk position may require experience in accounting. These requirements vary from state to state and city to city, so check with your local election office.
Are you willing to ask the obvious question?
The phenomenon of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” is very real. Often, a series of only two to three simple questions can complete change the debate about a local issue. But the questions are never asked because either you are afraid it will offend someone or that you will look foolish for not already knowing the answer to the question. Ask the question. You will be amazed how many other people have the same question, and will be grateful you asked it.
Are you able to remain calm when challenged?
As a candidate and as an officeholder you can expect to be challenged, sometimes in unpleasant ways. Can you remain calm? If not, you can be sure you will make a mistake and say something you regret. Furthermore, if political opponents discover this weakness in you they will exploit it, time and time again.
Are you willing to listen to all sides of an issue and render a decision?
As an elected official, issues will arise that you never considered when you ran for office and about which you have little knowledge. When this occurs you must be willing to listen to all sides, educate yourself and then make your best judgment.
Can you agree to disagree?
In America issues are decided by either taking a vote or by a decision of an empowered office holder. You will lose some of these decisions. On the next issue before you, it may be necessary to work with the person you just disagreed with yesterday.
Have a friend solicit feedback
If you are unsure whether others view you as qualified, have a trusted friend solicit feedback for you. Be careful of personally asking others their opinion of whether you are qualified. The temptation will be to tell you what you want to hear.
Remember that we live in a representative democracy. Your community needs regular people with good sense to serve in leadership positions.
What qualities do you like to see in a local candidate?