I’ve run for office a couple times. I lost. Bad. Really bad. I have publicly attributed these loses to the fact that I ran under the banner of a Third Party, but privately I know that I am simply unelectable.
Despite my inability to gather many votes, in each case the election process had very positive effects on me. I got to air my opinions in public forums and genuinely felt that my concerns were now part of the public debate.
I learned a lot on subjects with which I was not familiar. In more than one instance I was convinced to change my opinion based on new information. I also learned to better understand the opinions of others. No matter what I thought I knew going into it, I clearly had a richer understanding of our community when the process was over.
One thing that was reinforced is the number of ways that you can affect your town and region outside the realm of politics and government. Many of the people I met were among the most committed. They were the volunteers, organizers and philanthropists who dedicated themselves to urban renewal, domestic violence, worker’s rights and free enterprise.
Even as a “loser,” I gained many friends and my network of contacts in the region multiplied. I’ve had opportunities that may never have come about without the decision to run for office. Without entering that race, I wouldn’t have ever had the chance to do election analysis with (now) Genesee County Republican Chairman Michael Moon or with radio talk show host Tom Sumner. Mike and I agree on pretty much nothing but sports, but he is a fantastic guy and it sure seemed like great radio.
I have gotten a lot of solid opportunities to volunteer at fundraising events, a blast if you have never tried it. In fact, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to pour red wine at the Bay Area Women’s Center’s Wild Game Dinner and Wine Tasting (Feb 7, Bay City Scottish Rite Temple).
The other thing I have to say before I moving into the main point of this column: Running for office made me feel good. I know I tried to make a difference. I made a good effort and got a lot of positive feedback (and, admittedly, a few personal attacks). I feel like I am able to offer better-informed opinions and I am better at getting them across. These are feelings I would love for other people to also experience.
Baby We Were Born to Run
This is going to have a bit of a Bay County slant, because that is basically my “beat.” The issues at hand, however, are basically the same in every region.
Before last November’s election, I wrote a piece called “Where Have All the Candidates Gone?” (Review 799, Oct. 30, 2014). The article pointed out that 21 races on the Bay County ballot were decided before the election was held, as many candidates ran unopposed or in multiple seat races with an insufficient number of candidates to actually require a vote.
Basically, no one runs for office anymore. We have more critics of government than ever – all the way from every newscaster in America to every idiot with a screen name and a comment account on their local news website. Everyone has an opinion on how we should do things, but no one seems to volunteer and work toward their vision.
I really don’t want to spend a lot of time complaining about this phenomena or trying to figure out why people don’t run for office anymore – I want to tell you about an opportunity.
While most Federal, State and County offices were part of the 2014 election cycle; the Bay City Commission uses off-year elections. Voters will have the chance to choose from candidates for Mayor and the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th Wards. But they need “candidates” to vote for, unless we are going to continue to settle for “candidate.”
None of this is offered as a critique of any officer holder or as support of anyone who has expressed interest in running. I’m simply trying to publicize the fact that you, too, can run for office. You have the opportunity to experience what I did: be part of the process, which is very close to being part of the solution. Heck, you might even win.
So what do you have to do to run for a Bay City Commission? Unlike elections at the County level and above, the City Commission is a non-partisan race. While some Commissioners and Commission candidates have personal political affiliations or leanings, the political parties are not an active part of the process and they do not have the right to place candidates on the ballot.
For Mayor, you have to be a resident of Bay City. For Commission seats, you must live in the Ward you are seeking to represent. In each case you must have established that residency at least one year before the election.
The next thing you need to do is contact City Clerk Dana Muscott. She is your main point of contact for City elections and will be able to instruct you in the details of the requirements you will have to fulfill to be included on the final ballot. This will also give you a chance to see the renovation of City Hall, which is actually pretty stunning.
Filing petitions are available now and must be returned to the Clerk’s Office by April 21. Prospective candidates need the signatures of 50 registered voters from the jurisdiction they are seeking to represent.
The Home of the Brave
The first time I met Dale Kildee, I told him that I was thinking of seeking a nomination from the Green Party in the 2008 election. His response was “You have to respect a man who will offer himself up for public service.” We all know women run for office, too, but the basic sentiment is a good one. Even if you don’t agree with a candidate’s views, I hope you will consider respecting their decision to put themselves out there and the effort it takes to be a serious candidate.
The “whole reason” behind the formation behind of the United States was the concept of “representation.” Fundamentally, this requires someone to volunteer to do the representing. We should be glad when people run. It gives us choices, which is sort of the point of an election.
It is worth noticing some things that are NOT a requirement to run for the Bay City Commission. Age, experience, education level, name recognition nor financial standing are part of the process of becoming a candidate.
While we have ample evidence that it is not a requirement for any Commission seat, it would be nice if you were skilled in working with others. It’s harder than you think and your learning curve will be on display to the general public if you can’t.
We like to brag about our democracy. We even try to take our “brand of government” around the world.
As a Bay City Commissioner you won’t get to make decisions like whether or not to invade Saginaw, but you will be involved in issues that affect our local community. The only way you get that opportunity is to get a petition and get on the ballot. What do you have to lose? Well … potentially the election. I am here to tell you though: win or lose, you will feel like a better citizen for it.