Clayton in Oregon sends us this question:
“Hi, I am going to be a first-time political candidate for local office and everyone tells me that I should attend all of the meetings of the office I am running for, they say that if I sit in the audience that I will learn the duties better. Personally I think I am better off using that time to campaign, what do you think? If someone is running for city council, county commissioner or some other local race, should they spend any time going to the meetings and taking notes?”
Clayton, thanks for the question. This is actually a similar situation that I had when I ran my first campaign for city council: a lot of armchair campaign managers told me that I should attend every single city council and committee meeting with a pen in hand, taking notes and learning how the job works.
Personally, I disagree. As a former campaign manager, I knew that most candidates who never miss a meeting of the office they were seek come up losers on election day. I would much rather spend ever spare minute on the campaign trail, knocking on doors or making phone calls or writing personal letters to voters.
In the end, I ended up taking a slightly modified approach: I simply attended three or four council and committee meetings early in the year before the weather was nice enough to do any effective grassroots work. It helped me brush up on how things operated (I was already familiar with ins-and-outs, after all), but attending any more meetings would have, in my opinion, made it less likely for me to win the election.
That’s my advice for anyone else running for local office, as well. While you definitely need to understand the office you are seeking, attending any more than a few city council or county commissioner meetings will only lose you votes in the long run.
I’ve said this before: the harder it is to do, the more effective it is in a political campaign. The reason why a lot of candidates like to attend meetings and take notes is simply because it’s easy to do. Sitting on your behind and scribbling on a piece of paper might be easier than going door-to-door in the heat or cold, but it doesn’t win votes.
Instead, after you’ve attended a couple of meetings, promise yourself that the next meeting you attend will be the one where you get sworn into office.
During election season, a good political candidate spends every spare moment campaigning. Spending too much time sitting in the audience at meetings of the office you’re seeking could ensure that you’ll stay in the audience even after election day.