Advice on running for office

It has been a very busy few weeks. Helping a friend recover from surgery, the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival (thanks for the plug, Tom!), and the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers candidate interviews.

It is interesting to me how Porcupines are doers. The New Hampshire Sports & Social Club is one of the highlights of the Portsmouth social scene—started by Free Stater Keith Murphy in Manchester. The Manchester Brewing Co. products recently showed up in my local corner shop (Imperial Blonde is not really my style, but Koncord Kombat is excellent). And I ended up organizing and running the candidate interviews for APT, after only being involved with them for less than a year—because I wanted them to get done and was willing to do the work. I’ll post about the results after the press release goes out later today.

What I want to write about today is the reality of some frequently-repeated advice to would-be candidates: Get involved in your community. This is usually followed with assertions that people vote for candidates they know (and like) personally, more than they vote for political opinions, at least at the local level. And that may be true.

But one thing I saw during this interview process was several new candidates who espoused positions compatible with the taxpayers, but who did not get endorsements—mostly, because the committee members had never heard of them before. If these folks really cared about controlling City government spending, why hadn’t they been at City Council meetings before? Why hadn’t they been involved with the APT (at least for more than a month or two before the election)? Why hadn’t they served on local boards or commissions? Several of the candidates had good answers to these questions, I think; starting families, running businesses, etc. But given limited advertising space and an unwillingness to trust the promises of politicians (and yes, once you file to run for office, you are a politician), it was hard to endorse an unknown candidate based on their say-so.

And that leads me to my real point—getting involved gives you a track record. Someone who has been speaking at City Council meetings, writing letters to the editor, doing community charity work, coaching a Little League team, or attending weekly peace vigils is putting their views on record. They are demonstrating a willingness to work to change their community, and demonstrating the values and methods that they prefer, or at least are comfortable with.

We libertarians are suspicious of those who seek power over us, and most Americans share that suspicion at some level. So when someone’s first foray into the public arena is seeking power—even if they claim to be a libertarian who wants to use that power to reduce government power—the electorate doesn’t quite believe it. So put your time where your mouth is. Demonstrate your commitment to non-government approaches to changing your community and to reducing government power before you seek government office.

One Response

  1. Spot-on, Chris.

    Whatever one’s vision for “liberty in our lifetime” may be, Step #1 is to volunteer in the community.

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