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Watters writes: "If you don't think you are better than everyone around you and you don't think you have what it takes to save the world, this series about running for office is for you."

'Photos from my campaign.' (image: Angela Watters/RSN)
'Photos from my campaign.' (image: Angela Watters/RSN)

ALSO SEE: Part Two: WTF Is That Red Scare Loyalty Oath
in My Candidate Packet?

ALSO SEE: Part Three: How to Not Go Nuts When
Running for Public Office

How to Run for Public Office - for Those Who Score Low on the Narcissism Scale

By Angela Watters, Reader Supported News

06 November 19

If you don’t think you are better than everyone around you and you don’t think you have what it takes to save the world, this series about running for office is for you.

little narcissism goes a long way in politics. Believing you can save the world may be narcissistic, but charismatic people with good hearts and the confidence to make positive societal change make wonderful leaders. The flip side of the coin is the ruthless or malignant narcissism Donald Trump displays daily on Twitter and in public. In the lexicon of popular psychology, Trump’s Republican cronies are what’re referred to as “flying monkeys,” like those the Wicked Witch sends after Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Politicians in the GOP do Trump’s evil bidding and echo his lies, while we are continually assured by in-the-know pundits and journalists that these politicians only pretend to publicly support the guy because they want to stay elected. Like that’s not reprehensible behavior on its own. 

After six months as a school board member in my town and nearly six years at RSN, I’ve become convinced that a little narcissism coupled with a solid base of extroversion is necessary for anyone to be successful at running for higher-level office. This is not so with local offices. Pretty much anyone over eighteen can pull this off (requirements vary). If you look at politicians speaking publicly with greasy ease and effortless confidence and think, “No way I can do this,” then this series, friend, is the blueprint for you. You can and should run for public office, because our country needs more self-doubting introverts running things. 

Part 1 – The Whys of Running for Office, or No Trumpian Dick Moves, Please

There are plenty of offices to choose from on the local level – choose the work that tugs at your heartstrings. Passion for the work will end up sustaining you, once you are elected. In smaller communities, you may end up running unopposed. That’s ideal. When I ran in April, four people ran for three seats – that’s a 75% chance. After all, most local positions are unpaid, like school board member in Illinois, or are compensated at a very low level. The mayor in “Coaltown,” Illinois, for instance, is paid only about 9K a year, while council members make about half that amount. Essentially, holding local office is a really heavy, labor-intensive volunteer gig. 

Usually, you already know what spurred you on to run for a particular office. As a former teacher who recognized as early as my son’s pre-Kindergarten experience that my local district was off the charts with dysfunction, I wanted to be a part of making things better for kids, teachers, and families in our district. Among other unsavory incidents the first year, I sat through a PTO meeting in which new district parents were accused of stealing from the school by a gang of veteran first grade teachers, who then told us they had never wanted the crap our children gave them at Christmas anyway. After that inanity, I wasn’t about to put my kid in this district for the next eight years without at least attempting to be on the school board. When I decided to run, a year after the PTO meeting, a new superintendent had been hired, and the air was full of excitement about the new focus on loving kids and getting them to read. But what the hell had been going on in that district anyway? I was determined to know.

While wanting to be on the inside and know what’s going on may be what incites you to run, you aren't going to get elected just by criticizing the local government. You should be running because you have a passion for the work and you want to make a difference for constituents. 

I ran for school board because, based on experiences I had with the district, I felt the district needed more respect for families and two-way parent and community involvement. After my work in the community setting up a community-wide PTSA and serving as president, I felt like I could be a good advocate for families, children, and the taxpayers we serve.

A friend of mine ran for park district commissioner because the board was filled with elderly commissioners and programs for children were always first on the chopping block. She ran to be a voice for parents. People told her she was wrong to say she was running for families, but authentic representation is not a special interest. Departments serving young children should have parent representation. 

Authentic representation, like wanting to represent parents as a parent, is a completely reasonable rationale to run for office, and my inclusion of “authentic” before representation is intentional. If you are a white person, even if you believe you are the most sensitive and “woke” ally to the African American community in town, you will never be a voice for a community of which you are not a member. You can be an advocate and an ally in “The Struggle,” but not a voice. An alternative idea is to offer to be a campaign manager or to help fundraise for someone you think would be a good fit for the position. Throughout the country, our elected officials are overwhelmingly white and male. This is especially true locally. 

Are you the person who shows up at every board or council meeting and regularly gives impassioned speeches about what the elected officials could be doing better and how? If you run for that office and win, you will be on the other side and will be subjected to people like you. (Ahem! This was me a couple of times.) This can be a good thing. You will ask the tough questions of the directors, superintendents, or city managers, who really run the show. You will get both sides of the story when you hear about something from a community member. Communities want elected officials to ask tough questions. However, if you get elected, your role will certainly change. Fighting the figurative “man” doesn’t work or make much sense, once you become “the man.” 

Do you have a conflict of interest? Have you sued the city multiple times? Did the Parks Department fire you as a lifeguard as a teenager? Does your business have a food services contract with the school district? These are all possible conflicts of interest. If you have any of these, especially a financial interest, you should really consider not running, unless you are coming on to make a positive difference for the community. If City Council is your sworn enemy for all time because the city wasn’t timely with a sidewalk repair, please don’t run for City Council. It can have a very destructive and counter-productive effect when someone elected to a governance position views the entity as their bête noir. 

Finally, all elected officials are sworn to uphold fiduciary duties. This means that you are required to always put the interest of the city, department, or district ahead of your own personal or financial interests. Insisting that a school district start an after-school yoga class taught in Mandarin, because your kid is begging for it, may be in violation of your fiduciary duty as a school board member. So may be voting against a union contract because there wasn’t enough in it for your history-teacher husband. 

As a local official, you can and should strive to represent a certain demographic in a public body, but you are still sworn to advocate for all constituents. We see a dereliction of this duty daily in Donald Trump, a man who has never felt like he needed to represent the interests of all Americans. This really shouldn’t need to be said, but with Donald Trump and his lackeys upending ethical norms daily, it bears repeating. 

Next: Part Two – The Ins and Outs of Filing for Office, or WTF Is that Red Scare Loyalty Oath in My Packet?

Angela Watters is the Managing Editor for Reader Supported News. She was elected to the school board in her town in April of this year.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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