Minimum threshold every serious candidate must achieve

About eight months from now, on Wednesday, June 27, ballots will be put in the mail for the 2018 Primary Election. Over 50 percent of the total votes cast will be cast by mail, rather than at the polls. On Aug. 11, the actual day of the 2018 primary, the vast majority of the state House and Senate races will have already been decided. Such is the nature of what is essentially a one-party state: THE PRIMARY IS EVERYTHING.

The Republican Party in Hawaii, especially in the time of Trump, with very few exceptions, simply cannot win. Incumbent state legislators may survive, but new challengers will have a very, very tough time.

While I am not currently a candidate for any office, I have in the past ran in 10 different political campaigns, winning six and losing four.

Today, my focus is on helping others run for political office. I believe our system of democracy is the best and only option available to us, and the reason for its present dysfunction is the lack of participation by the general community. In short, if regular people decided to take back ownership of their own government, by getting involved in everyday policy-making, running for office, and/or helping others run – our community could be a model for citizen-based democracy.

Given the rapid approach of the Primary Election, those thinking about running for public office need to start getting serious, soon.

To be taken seriously by the broader community, serious candidates must prove their viability in three key ways, as early in their campaigns as possible.

Serious candidates will have roots in the community, and/or they will have others with roots who are willing to publicly stand up for them. Serious candidates will assemble a team of individuals that is representative of the community in which they are running. And, of course, serious candidates will demonstrate some capacity to raise the funds needed to run a credible race.

Newer residents, and those not originally from the district, can win, but they must clearly demonstrate they understand the needs of the district, and respected residents who have those deep roots must publicly support them. The support offered by key members of the community can simply be statements expressing faith and confidence in the candidate’s ability to lead, and does not require the person to be on the actual campaign team. But there MUST be clear and public support from at least some long-term residents known in the community.

Political campaigns at the district level are often lonely affairs with most of the work done by the candidate. Good-hearted and well-meaning friends will offer to help, but more often than not, when the crunch comes, it is just the candidate and perhaps one or two other people out pounding the street, knocking on doors and holding signs.

The candidate must learn to ask people to help, and must assemble a team that is willing to commit to the campaign through to the end. There must be a treasurer to file the campaign spending reports accurately and on time. There must be a campaign manager or co-manager willing to help plan and anchor the campaign.

And, at least a handful of people are needed that can be counted on to help knock on doors and hold signs along with the candidate. Larger groups can be assembled for specific events, but this core group must be there to support the campaign through until the end.

Raising money for the campaign is the candidate’s responsibility, and they alone can make this happen. The candidate must be willing to ask. If a candidate is not willing to ask others for help and financial support, they cannot win. This is an unfortunate, universal truth.

While money does not determine the outcome, a certain amount of money is needed to run a credible campaign. There must be signs and banners and, while the luxury of T-shirts can be avoided, at the very minimum the candidate must have a “walking piece” that informs people about their candidacy.

While a lot more is required to actually win an election, accomplish these three elements and you will be considered a serious and viable candidate. In turn, this will add more momentum, which will normally translate into more volunteers, more media attention and stronger fundraising. All of which increases the chance for victory on Aug. 11, 2018.

Now go for it.

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Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

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