Rotation control: Here are 10 simple rules for new candidates to survive the campaign. Tip: don’t moan
Friday marked the end of candidate filing week for the 2021 electoral cycle, which primarily affects city offices like city councils, school boards and fire districts.
These are important positions and often places where people considering elective careers begin their careers. They’re injecting new blood into the body politic which, to be bluntly honest, can use massive transfusion right now.
New candidates and their new campaign staff sometimes call with questions they think someone who has covered politics since the Stone Age will answer. Beginner’s mistake. Journalists are not paid to give advice except in the pages of the newspaper.
But every now and then Spin Control comes up with its 10 simple rules for surviving your first campaign. This is one of those times.
1. No whining. The public generally like a winner and sympathize with a loser, but – with the possible exception of staunch supporters of the former president – they generally have no patience for whiners. This is doubly the case when a candidate or a campaign complains about something he was supposed to know or do but didn’t do it, or if he gets caught lying about his education, their employment history or criminal record.
2. Keep track of the money people give you. File your reports with the Public Disclosure Commission on time and online if necessary. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, hire someone who can. If you don’t, we might not notice it right away, but it’s a sure bet that your opponents will and talk about it when it’s best for them and worst for you. When this happens, refer to rule # 1.
3. Have something to say. Don’t try to skate through interviews and debates with trite phrases like “children are our future”. If you can’t explain how you would secure that future, what it will cost and how you will pay for it, voters are going to think you are a head in the air. When this happens, remember rule # 1.
4. Know what the job involves. If you run for city council, voters probably don’t care about your take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you are going to a school board, you might have an opinion about downtown or the state capital gains tax, but there is nothing you can do about it. Study the issues and talk about them.
5. Don’t think of the media as a single entity. This is neither grammatically correct – media is a plural noun – nor structurally accurate, as the various media in Spokane have a mixture of local and national ownership. They don’t have a Zoom meeting every morning to decide what to cover. If you get caught doing something really stupid, however, it might seem like this when we all have a story that says you did something really stupid. Blaming “the media” at this point breaks rule # 1.
6. Don’t say “I’m not a politician”, followed by a version of “I just want to do the right things for the right people in our great community.” If you are a candidate, you are de facto a politician. Accept it and stop acting like it’s worse than saying you’re a serial killer or a heroin salesman.
7. Time your problems. If you make a big mistake on the same day the Governor closes all schools or the Zags play in the Final Four, your problem could be covered in two paragraphs on page C6 of the local newspaper. Make a little mistake in the middle of the summer slump when editors are hungry for news and it could be deleted on the front page with a 2 inch headline. Since there’s no way to know for sure when it’s a slow news day, the best rule of thumb is to never mess up. But all the candidates end up doing it …
8. When you get it wrong, “confess. Smart politicians admit their mistake, explain what they are going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again and move on. Stupid politicians go into hiding, refuse to take phone calls or do interviews, then blame the “news media” for not telling their side of the story and the public for not understanding their situation. This means more stories about the mistake and breaks rule # 1.
9. Yard panels are consumable during a campaign and post-election horrors.. Almost all candidates lose road signs during a campaign. Do not call to tell us that your opponent’s campaign is stealing them unless you have proof, as they are more likely to have been taken by apolitical vandals. And if you’ve got any evidence, you should probably call the police, not the newspaper. After the campaign, win or lose, go get your signs. To bury the ax with your opponent, offer to pick up his signs in one half of the neighborhood if he picks up yours in the other, then go for a coffee and swap signs.
10. It’s called “public service” for a reason. You are applying for a job where the voters are the recruiting committee and the public will be your boss. If you don’t like dealing with curious, pushy, or disgruntled people – not just while attending a board or council meeting, but maybe at the cashier in Rosauers, grabbing a burger and fries from McDonald’s or waiting around the corner until the crosswalk light changes – that’s okay. Do not run for office. If you run into and experience any issues, which you most likely will, remember rule 1.
With these rules in mind, Spin Control wishes the 2021 Candidate Crop good luck. You all deserve it, and some will really need it.