When someone chooses to run for office, they have tools to access. They can build a solid campaign, or a weak one. On the trail education is inevitable, but you can and should show up prepared.
I recently got to moderate a candidate forum for the local Democratic Club. I’m as passionate about politics as I am about having everyone’s voice heard, and for candidates who don’t have major backing from mentors or party organizations, a candidate forum can be a chance to shine and attract voters. It really is the moment when you can break away from the pack and stand out.
For the Democratic candidates for special election for the 54th Assembly District, what I got was some folks who didn’t even have a very clear understanding of the issues at stake, or who their voters were.
No one is compelled to run for office; this is something you do because you want to. There is also an assumption that you are running because you want to do some good for people in the (city, district, county, state) that you are looking to represent.
Not understanding what the voters are looking for on issues as essential as health care or social justice reform means either you did not do your homework, or you should not be in this race.
“Defund the Police” should have been something they had studied up on and had some clear concepts to put out. That more than one candidate thought that this was an idea to abolish police departments showed that they were unfamiliar with one of the most pressing issues in the public conversation. It also made me wonder why they thought this seat was one they could win; you don’t run in the 54th by being more conservative than the proverbial next guy.
But the reactionary response that thinks this means doing away with police departments in their entirety is not what is being advocated for. That would be “Abolish the Police,” and that’s a different point of view. The concept of taking funding away from patrol cars and officers and putting it towards social workers and clinics is not that difficult.
When asked about AB 1400, California’s bill to guarantee health care for all, one candidate simply did not know what it was, and another held that they were not going to give up their private health care. (See above; Did you do your homework? Who are you thinking is voting in this race?)
The candidate that impressed the most – and unsurprisingly won the club’s endorsement – was one who had a deep track record of working on the issues, and could talk about not just defunding, but planning precisely how to use that funding to offer better public service. Addressing health care and education, he had done the homework.
When candidates don’t think they need to check all the boxes, that’s a mistake. You need more than an interest in running for office. You need to understand the audience you are talking to, and be able to give clear answers on how you are going to meet their needs.
Our (national, state, local) political focus is one that is gaining more clarity on many levels. Keeping within that focus is how candidates become office holders.