So, you decided to run for office. Lawyers and businesspeople do it every day. Your union is asking working people to step up and so you are.
Some people planned to run for office from the day they were born. They volunteered for campaigns in high school, went to a fancy college and then law school and have wealth or connections to wealthy people.
This article isn’t for them.
The first and most important step is to have an answer for the question “Why are you seeking to make a difference?” Your answer only needs to be short, memorable and true.
For some people, it will be the idea that people who work for a living should have a voice in the decisions that get made here. As a union member, you speak for a community that needs to be spoken for and often isn’t. In your reason why, you will find your message, and then you will repeat it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Make sure you like it.
That said, running for office isn’t about the words; it’s all about relationships. The best message won’t win against strong relationships. Unfortunately, the best time to build connections is a lot like the best time to plant a tree: 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
“The best candidates are often the ones who are asked to run because of the work they’ve already been doing,” said Ninth District International Representative Gretchen Newsom. An example in San Diego is a mom who sought to have a stop sign installed at a busy intersection — she cut through years of red tape, got it done, and was asked to run for City Council. Tasha Boerner is now a California Assembly member and continues to be a close ally of the IBEW.
This is especially important if you were not born rich or haven’t been deeply involved in politics.
“You might not have those relationships, but the business manager or president of your local probably will,” said Fourth District International Representative Steve Crum.
The business manager will also help you understand how to get support from the local, in people and money, and when you can speak to the membership.
“Your local is your base,” Crum said.
You need to identify a position you can realistically win where you can you do the most good for the most people.
“There are so many positions that have a direct impact on union jobs that are overlooked,” Newsom said. “School boards, community planning boards, community councils, business development councils, chambers of commerce, citizens bond oversight boards, township trustees and county commissioners. And don’t forget your local.”
Many of these positions handle bids and zoning. Each is a part of the often hidden but hugely important machinery that decides whether your local tax money stays local or goes out of town to nonunion contractors.
The next step is to learn some basic numbers and never lose sight of them.
When is Election Day? How many registered voters are there? What was the turnout and vote breakdown of your race for the last two election cycles? How many votes do you need to win?
Then, Crum said, find the key organizations and the key community events.
Talk to your Central Labor Council and the Building Trades to find opportunities to speak to members of other unions and get endorsements. Listen at least as much as you talk.
You have your deadlines. You know how many votes you need. You know how many doors are waiting to be knocked on.
The best teacher may be experience, but it doesn’t have to be just your own experience.
Across the country, the AFL-CIO runs Labor Candidate Schools. The one in New Jersey has been running classes for nearly three decades, and more than 75% of the 1,000 people who have graduated from the program won their races.
But you don’t have to live in New Jersey to go to candidate school. There are highly effective programs in Oregon and Ohio, and the AFL-CIO is expanding them nationwide. Call your state AFL-CIO to find out what is on offer.
Now there is nothing to do but do it.
Knock on those doors.
Make those phone calls.
Then do it again. And again.
We’re working people. Work.