Columns

Run for office. You may be surprised.

Like most Americans, I don’t always like my list of options on my ballot. Very rarely do I get excited about a political candidate.

Due to this frustration, I decided to become my own candidate this year, so I began the fool’s errand of running for city council.

After several months of campaigning, I have to say that it was not at all what I expected. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Raise your freak flag

I am a bit of political outcast in my community. I wouldn’t say that I exist on the polar opposite side of the spectrum (I’m not a communist if that’s what you are wondering), but I have some views that could be deemed as “unpopular.” Normally, it is tempting to think that if you are in the minority, you won’t get elected.

But it is important to keep in mind that elections in our country don’t attract a big turnout—especially those on the local level. If done correctly, your campaign can inspire folks who would normally sit out an election because they didn’t have anybody to get excited about.

The turnout for this election was unprecedented. There was a 68.5 percent increase in voter turnout for the 2018 municipal election in comparison to the 2016 municipal election. The issues being raised during this election inspired a large group of citizens to get to the ballot box—both for and against me.

In the end, I did not win, but I only lost by narrow margin of 22 votes. Not bad for a political outcast.

The lesson here: You won’t know how many people will rally around your freak flag unless you raise it for them to see it.

If we spent a few more minutes chatting with our neighbors on front porches instead of arguing behind keyboards, we may fool ourselves into seeing how civil we can be as a country.

We are not that divided

Considering the divisive nature of modern politics, it is easy to assume that you will eventually encounter and tumble down our country’s political divide when running for office. But I never really witnessed the divide.

I even got along with my opponent. In fact, this election arguably brought us closer together.

Sure, I had my fair share of muckrakers, including one individual who wrote some libelous things about me in a letter to the editor and also harassed me on my cell phone. But this individual was the exception that proves the rule.

By and large, the resounding majority of the people of whom I interacted with were warm, friendly, hospitable, and civil. I knocked on a lot of doors, never fully knowing what experience waited on the other side. But with each knock came a conversation that most likely debunked the popular notion that we can’t get along despite our differences.

I chatted with a number of people who disagreed with some of my stances. However, I still managed to have productive conversations. Sometimes I changed their minds, but most of the time I didn’t. More importantly, we never shouted at one another; at worst, we just agreed to disagree. And, every once in awhile, I managed to earn somebody’s vote simply because I took the time to chat with them.

If we spent a few more minutes chatting with our neighbors on front porches instead of arguing behind keyboards, we may fool ourselves into seeing how civil we can be as a country.

Voters are not interested in your outrage; they are interested in your problem-solving skills.

Emboldening, yet humbling

When you find yourself in the midst of a political race, you are forced to establish an identity. To do so, you have to ask yourself a lot of questions. Who are you? What do you stand for? Why are you running for office? Why should anybody trust you with their vote or dollars? It is a very introspective process.

But it can’t stop with just introspection. You need to ask yourself these questions, but you also need to articulate the answers to a larger audience. This means you have to get out and talk with folks. You have to show up for events—fundraisers, mixers, meet-and-greets, community forums, etc.  

To get elected, you have to put yourself “out there.” To put yourself out there is an exhaustive task for introverts like me. I’m not a naturally outgoing person, so running for office pushed me far outside of my comfort zone.

Moreover, running office challenges you to be less words, more action. It is easy to be an armchair citizen, shouting from the sidelines about what public officials need to be doing. But when you get into the nitty-gritty details, black-and-white solutions are not easily attainable. Voters are not interested in your outrage; they are interested in your problem-solving skills.

While I feel more confident in myself after running for office, I gained a deeper appreciation of the word “humility” as a result. I was overwhelmed, I didn’t get much sleep, I didn’t have all the answers, and—ultimately—I didn’t win! 

But, interestingly enough, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing that I did. I have no regrets about how I managed my campaign, which tells me that I did everything that I could do within reason. And, to me, is a pretty good feeling.

If you are on the fence about running for office, I encourage you to just do it. You may be surprised at the results. More importantly, you may surprise yourself.

 

About the author

Jay Stooksberry

Jay Stooksberry

Born and raised on the Front Range of Colorado, Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer living in Delta, Colorado with his wife and son. He has been published in Newsweek, Reason Magazine, 5280, Foundation for Economic Education, and many more prominent publications. Follow his journey at www.jaystooksberry.com.