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Mark Belden
07/31/2014 11:19 AM

Being a candidate for any elective office can be overwhelming, confusing and many times not worth the effort. From your locally elective offices to our state and federal offices, the process can be daunting and unthinkable to the faint of heart. Candidates, especially at the state and federal level, require nerves of steel, the patience of a saint, the omniscience of Oz and skin as thick as an elephant.

County election officials, like most county employees, come in a wide range of good to bad. In my case, the 5th Assembly District included nine different counties and nine different county election officials. Whether you’re a candidate for the state legislature or running for U.S. President, the election official most important to you is the one in your own county of residence. You probably will pull your first nomination papers in that office, and you are required by law to declare your candidacy right there. Make sure the elections official is knowledgeable about the California Elections Code and is willing to help.

As we all know, money is the mother’s milk of politics — more specifically, getting elected. If you are not self-financing your campaign, you are using someone else’s money — and it all comes with strings attached. If you are like me, and find yourself lacking rich friends, a political party you adhere to or a special interest that is particularly enamored of your platform, you will have the challenge and opportunity to develop creative, ingenious and unique ways to sway voters and get your message out. After all, isn’t that what we need — independent, money-saving problem-solvers?

Be prepared to travel. I would stop in every business whose doors would open. A lesson for every candidate: if you really want to find the pulse of your constituents, barber shops and beauty salons are the absolute gold standard. But, do not expect a warm welcome. I have been thrown out of numerous places as if I were the carrier of a medieval plague. Meeting potential voters was by far the most enjoyable part of being a candidate for the state legislature.

The paperwork (other than candidate filing documents) you must file with the Fair Political Practice Commission FPPC itself can scare off the most qualified candidates. Failure to file these forms will result in hefty fines (the media usually report on the worst of these candidate offenders. As a result of the numerous filing requirements, campaign work that used to be performed by volunteers, friends, family or the candidate him/herself has exploded into a multi-million-dollar, professional industry.

If you haven’t run screaming from the room yet, here’s more sound advice. Be prepared to speak in public before audiences both large and small. Be ready to debate and answer just about any question that could come out of the human mouth. If you have limited experience in such areas, look for venues and situations where you can hone your skills. If you are party-affiliated (I was not), use each and every county central committee to practice your public speaking and interactions with groups in this supportive setting. Usually, all candidates for a particular contest will be invited to a forum or debate. Be careful. They may be skewed toward one candidate or political party ideology. A good indicator of this is if all the questions seem to be fashioned for one candidate or the audiences are all supporters or friends of your opposition. You will sway no votes there. I walked into a couple of those. Spend your time elsewhere.

Answer questions or debate issues pertaining to the elective office and job for which you are running, Don’t get sucked into issues over which, even if elected, you will have no influence. Gracefully avoid questions pertaining to what is happening in faraway countries or laws that were passed back in the Jurassic period. Do not walk into a debate or forum without a fair understanding of these two crucial elements - the theme of the debate and the questions you can likely expect.

Candidates for elective office should be good communicators, have better-than-average problem-solving skills, and be responsible fiscal managers. You must have a super measure of integrity and be ever willing to take personal responsibility when mistakes are made and ensure prompt corrective action. If you fit this type, I encourage you, regardless of political ideology, to throw that hat into the ring. It may not be fun at times, and it will test each and every ability and emotion you possess (and you might still lose), but the experience and feeling you get is like no other. And, if you are like me, and someone asks you, “Are going to run again?” “Heck, yea!” will probably be your response.

Past opinion commentaries are available by contacting mark@mcbelden.com.

Mark Belden was a candidate for the 15th Congressional District seat in the California Assembly during the 2012 campaign season.

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