So you are thinking about running for election to public office?
Why? This is the most important question a candidate must answer, and it will be asked over and over again throughout the campaign. Hint – The answer is not to fix the roads, repair the schools, nor even to stop crime or homelessness. The answer must be far deeper than a list of policy changes or community problems and challenges. Successful candidates must reach down deep and explain what really drives them to public service, and then and only then can or should they attempt to talk about the tangibles. Second hint – The tangibles must be those most important to the district resident (crime, schools, traffic, housing), regardless of any personal policy priorities the candidate may have.
How long have you lived here? Unless the answer is obvious, this will be the first question even if not spoken openly. A rule of thumb: successful candidates have typically either been born in the district, gone to school in the district, and/or lived in the district for a number of years. Preferably, they have been involved in the district in some leadership capacity (a teacher in the schools, coach on a youth sports team, neighborhood board or community association involvement, PTA etc). There are, of course, exceptions, but you will almost certainly have to work much harder if you are not “from” the district.
Why are you qualified to run and serve? Hint – Your answer as a candidate must open with passion and commitment, and close with competence. A successful candidate must demonstrate both. Competence is best demonstrated through past achievement which could be personal, academic, professional or community based. What have you done with your life so far? Second hint: You cannot win with simply charisma and a nice smile. When placed on stage next to other candidates, you must be able to demonstrate a basic understanding as to how government works. It is also helpful to know the difference between a cesspool and a septic system, etc. You certainly don’t need to be an expert on the mechanics of public works or public administration, but you must make the time to learn the basics.
Who is on your campaign team? A successful candidate must have a team that starts with at least two or three core individuals. #1) Treasurer – Keeps the books, files the campaign spending commission reports and makes sure the campaign’s fundraising and spending practices follow the law. #2) Campaign Manager – Essentially joined at the hip with the candidate for the duration of the campaign, accompanies the candidate to events, strategizes with the candidate, recruits other volunteers and may be asked occasionally to fall on a sword for the candidate. 3) Field Organizer – Recruits and organizes volunteers and supports door-to-door canvassing, sign waving, telephone banking and other events.
Notes: #1) These positions should not be filled with a spouse or significant other. #2) Except for statewide and other “big races” (Governor, LG, Congress, Mayor), for the vast majority of local campaigns these are volunteer positions. #3) The candidate’s team should ideally be representative of the district’s demographics.
How many votes do you need to win? The short answer is one vote more than the other guy. The longer answer: Visit elections.hawaii.gov, click “Results”, then scroll down to “Primary Election 2018”, then go to your County “Summary”, then go to the race you intend to run in, add up all of the votes cast in that particular race, divide by two and add one = equals your win number. There are different variables, the turnout is greater in “Presidential election years” so you will want to look into the past few elections, and the turnout in primary and general elections differ. But in Hawaii, the Primary is everything. Note: On this same page you can also view “Statewide Precinct Detail” to see how your district voted “precinct by precinct.”
How much money do you need? To run any credible campaign for any public office in Hawaii, and have any chance whatsoever of winning – will cost at least $30,000 to $40,000. Yes, some candidates will do it for less, but many will spend more. A candidate can and should find out exactly what the incumbent spent (and what they spent it on) in the most recent election by going to csc.hawaii.gov and search “Candidate Contribution and Expenditure Reports and Organizational Reports”. View the 12/18 filing to see a lump sum number spent during the 2018 campaign – look on the line that says “5. Total Expenditures” and then all the way to the right hand column under “election period total to date”.
Where will you get the money? It will not fall from trees and people do not come rushing to you with fistfuls of cash.
Basically you will ask for it. If you are not willing to ask, then you will not get and you will lose. If a candidate is “deemed credible” by friends, family and residents in the district – it is reasonable to assume that those individuals will, if asked, provide the first round of say $10,000 in funding. 10 people at $100 plus 20 others at $50 gets you to $2,000 which allows you to purchase access to a voter data base so you can begin setting up you campaign and identifying your votes. Perhaps then 4 additional affluent supporters chip in $250 each, one additional “angel” donates $1,000 and you have almost enough to print your initial “walking piece”. Now you can begin walking door to door.
Hint: Ask for a specific amount, for a specific purpose, by a specific date – Can you help with a $100 contribution before September 15th to go toward the printing of my initial walking piece so that I can start going door-to-door by October 1st?” Once you begin walking, you prove yourself to others who “like your politics and values” but are not sure if you are electable and/or if you are willing to do the work needed to win. Successful candidates will start their campaigns early and run hard the entire way through until election day. When candidates do this, people in the community notice, they spread the word to others and they will often contribute more when asked. Notes: Do not spend your own money. If you cannot garner financial support from the community and people around you, you are not going to win. However, If you do have to “front” the campaign initial funding to print your first piece or whatever, candidates should make this a “loan to the campaign” so they can eventually be repaid these funds.
What is the next step? Assuming the candidate has done the research needed to analyze the district, determined the “win number” and assembled a team – the next step is to file an organizational report with the campaign spending commission, open a bank account and begin raising campaign “seed money” to support the printing of the initial walking piece. Hint1: There is no need to do a fancy “campaign announcement party or event”, this can come later. Suffice to let the world know via Twitter and Facebook for now – and host a larger event at a later time. Hint 2: The longer you avoid walking the district, the greater your chances of losing.
Now, go get ‘em! If you have roots in your community, and your politics are based on putting people and the planet first we need you – to run, and to win.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii 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.