5 Things You'll Never Know Unless You Run For Office
Unbelievable as it sounds, five years have passed since I started the series of BlogHer.com posts I wrote about running for City Council in a small Northeast Ohio suburb. I ran, I won, I got more votes than two of three incumbents and I survived a six-month home renovation during the campaign, including three weeks of not living at home and five months of living with four other people (three kids and a husband) based out of one room.
That was 2009, and since then? The mayor who was in office when I came on board has retired, and we brought the average age of the council members down from 69 to about 59, in a city whose average age was 49 in 2010 according to the census. As of last month, seven of the eight elected seats have turned over -- including mine. You read that right: I didn't run to retain my seat... because I'm now running to be the State Representative for Ohio House District 12.
What state of being would a person have to be in to run for the legislature in a state that can't stay out of the news when it comes to the economy, or abortion, or voting rights, or labor issues? And run as a Democrat at a time when that party is outnumbered by a veto-proof majority in the statehouse?
A state of wanting to give voice to a community birthed by redistricting and to apply lessons and successes of being in a municipal government -- including shaking it up a good amount -- to a process woefully in need of some good ole checks and balances.
And so, in early July 2013, with the blessing of my husband of 22 years and my kids, aged 14, 17 and 20, I started to campaign for the State Representative seat for nine suburbs and a well-settled, well-established, very active portion of Cleveland - Ward 1.
Now, the Internet is replete with articles about women and electoral politics - good, bad and ugly. And they're very helpful in sketching out the myriad contexts women encounter when it comes to being in elected, political decision-making roles. But there are more than a few things no boot camp can prepare you for. These are my top five discoveries so far:
1. The need for discipline.
This extends to everything: food intake and getting rest. Door-knocking and call-time for fundraising. Spending time with your kids when you don't have to simultaneously check email, write a thank-you note, or fill out a candidate questionnaire. Sitting with your spouse and talking about something other than your campaign, or the kids (like, maybe, talking about him -- or her).
And beyond that, we are talking mental discipline: the mental discipline to run a great campaign and win -- in the face of insiders telling you how challenging your race is and wishing you luck, but not providing financial support or a filled-out volunteer sign-up card. This is far beyond staying on message or ignoring any and all manners of distraction. This is way past making sure you listen to the people you've put in charge of your operations.
I'm talking about walking into a room of party loyalists who've known your opponent and his family for literally decades -- as in 40 years or more -- and not pulling punches, and not throwing up. I'm talking about concentrating all your brain cells so tightly on getting over each and every hurdle that once you do, you also know that you can barely stop to relax and instead, must and will regroup those brain cells and move on to and conquer the next hurdle.
Over and over and over again until election day. The only two times I recall applying the kind of discipline I'm applying now was when I studied for the bar exam (which I passed on the first go-round), and when I was giving birth to my kids. So far - it's been equally worth it.
2. Being obsessed.
This, too, is about so many things. The words you choose, when you speak and when you write. Determining what information to believe, and what not to believe. Reviewing the budget repeatedly to see where you will have to cut back, and projecting how many more high school friends you might have left who will make $5 donations -- or $500 donations. Determining which precincts to walk first, and which events to go to when you have overlapping engagements. And numbers -- so much of campaigning and winning campaigns are about numbers. Voters to garner, dollars to raise, endorsements to earn, volunteers to sign up, households to hit with lit.