Henry Bouchot, graduate of LLA 2016, recently successfully ran for office in the City of Whitter, and he wrote about book about it – A Millennial’s Guide to Running for Office. You can purchase his book here, which will be discounted to just $2.99 through May 14th. Given his experience, we asked Henry to tell us why you should (or shouldn’t) run for office, and here’s what he had to say…
Friends don’t let friends run for office. Why, you ask? Well, becoming an elected official can sometimes bring more harm to your life than good. Being a local politician, in particular, is mostly unglamorous and poorly paid. Being a public figure, in general, opens you up to criticism of your family, your business, your past, and pretty much everything else about you – from people you have never even met. Now, this is not to say that no one should run for office. My advice is simple: only run if you really know what you’re getting into and are fully prepared for what lies ahead.
So, how do you decide if you’re ready to run? I’ve laid out the reasons why you shouldn’t run for office, as well as the reasons why you should below. You can use this information as a checklist, to assess whether you have what it takes before launching a campaign.
Why You Should Not Run for Office
1. You are an idealist. There's nothing wrong with being a dreamer. I myself have a penchant for BHAGs: Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Idealists, however, have bigger eyes than stomachs so to speak. They want what they want when they want it but they aren't always willing to engage in the rough-and-tumble or the give-and-take of compromise. The problem is that politics, and especially local politics, is for pragmatists. For every major reform, there is an interest group with a vested interest in seeing it fail. To make a change, you will need to constantly refine and redefine what success looks like. If good enough is not good enough for you then politics is not the right place for you. Compromise is not a bug in the system, it is a feature.
2. You're an egotist. Remember, it's not about you. Local politics is not merely a holding place for future Senators. It's the form of government that has perhaps the heaviest impact on our quality of life. The more you grandstand, the less time staff has to devote to making sure the lights get turned on, the trash gets picked up, and the buses keep running.
3. You are looking for an escape. It's hard to go through life without experiencing some form of trauma. The best place to deal with that trauma is in therapy, not on the dais.
Why You Should Run for Office
1. You care about local issues. Entitlements, immigration, healthcare are all important issues. Municipal governments, however, have only a tangential impact on these wedge issues. Your constituents want and need you to focus on the issues that will make a tangible impact on their lives. These can be ambitious and controversial like homelessness, climate change, or police reform but they need to be local, otherwise, you're in the wrong business.
2. You have specific policy changes you want to make. Remember in Alice in Wonderland when Alice is asked where she wants to go, and she responds that she's not sure? Well, then it doesn't matter which way she goes is the response. It's similar in local government. If you don't know what you want to accomplish, you will never accomplish it. Generalized social justice recriminations typically do not lead to meaningful policy changes. Change requires action. That means being able to formulate SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) and coming up with a plan to accomplish them.
3. You are a good fit. Being on a city council is not all that different in some ways from any other job. A job is created where there is a problem that needs solving. The best person for the job is the person who has the most relevant experience. Traditionally, this meant you ran after you served on a local nonprofit board or a city commission. Increasingly, voters are interested in candidates with a more diverse array of qualifications. Whatever yours are, if they prepare you to solve the unsolvable, then you are just the right person we need in office.
As you can see, there are plenty of solid reasons both for running and not running for office. It all depends on you, and what your true intentions are in becoming an elected official. If you’re an idealist, egotist, or simply looking for an escape, you should probably hold off on starting that campaign you’ve been thinking about. However, if you really care about local issues and making specific policy changes, and are a good fit for the task at hand, then you ought to pick up my book, A Millennial's Guide to Running for Office: How to Get Elected Without Kissing the Ring and get started.
You can learn more about my own experience running for office in the City of Whittier at henrybouchot.com.