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OPINION: Running from Office


OPINION: Running from Office

By James Gore 

As we prepare for this fall’s Presidential Election Showdown – or what I’m starting to call “The Presidential Jerry Springer Show,” I think of all the people who say to me, “I would never want your job,” or, “I could never run for office,” or even, “I just hate politics and politicians.” 

Such statements, heard almost daily, encapsulate not just all of negative stereotypes about being an elected official, but also the most striking contradiction of our political ecosystem: while all of us want good, honest, inspiring people to run for office, we discourage these very same people from entering the fray. Because even if they were to win, they would only become a dreaded “politician.” In effect, even if they started off as good people, they would surely become infected by the disease of politics and turn out bad.

What we fail to realize is that the disease starts with us. It starts with our acceptance and our belief in all of the negative frames and stereotypes that surround the political system. This disease spreads when we continue to assume that anyone who runs for office is either certifiably naïve a self-serving schmuck.

Sure, examples of horrible politics and politicians abound; however, I know so many good people who run for office because they’re inspired about being a part of the positive, forward-looking progress that our communities need. They inspire me every day to do the same. 

And far too often, especially at the local level, I see good people being lumped into the negative frames that have been cast by our National political system. Every day, I see good people in County and City government accused of having deleterious motives. Of only running for one position to scale the ladder to higher office. Of being compared to the scourge of our political society just because they had the gall to get involved to help lead their community into the future.

We as a society cast anything political within a negative frame. And then, we take that frame and we put anyone who runs for office into the it. In so doing, I fear that we are encouraging a whole generation of potentially good public servant leaders not to run for office, but rather run from office.

As we move towards November and election day, let’s remember that our local races for County Supervisor and City Council don’t deserve to be lumped into the same formula. Rather than assuming that a local candidate is a political operative, take the time to get to know them. After all, they don’t live off in the crystal palaces or dreary bureaucratic buildings in Washington DC or Sacramento. They’re our neighbors. We can email and call them. We can have coffee with them and ask tough questions. We can look into their eyes when they knock on our doors. And we can decide that our disdain for the national political games will not jade our view of local people who have good intentions and are willing to step into the fire to represent us. 

We operate at the local level, where life and community and politics is beautifully imperfect and relentlessly moving forward, with or without our assumed control. At the local level, politics is personal and visceral.  

I often tell people, “I didn’t run for office to become a politician. That’s a four letter word. I ran to be a public servant leader. 

Earlier this year I had the chance to represent Sonoma County at the California Economic Summit. While there, I met a dynamic woman who had served for decades locally and statewide. After a good talk, she leaned over and said, “When people talk about this job and how we manage all the negativity we confront…remember…it’s not thick skin that gets you through it. It’s scar tissue.”

When my wife and I decided to run for office, we did so with the absolute understanding that it could, and probably would, get negative. But that general assumption of “negative,” doesn’t prepare a candidate for seeing their own mailbox full of ugly pictures of him or her along with nasty headlines. (Sometimes, I remember holding onto this mail as if the paper itself was dirty, not just the messages…as if there was veritable political mud dripping off of the edges). Almost always, these hit pieces try to frame you as a candidate into a spiteful vision that makes voters recoil more at the attakee than the attacker. 

But that’s just politics, right? Isn’t that what we say as we throw the mail into the trash?

Let me be clear. My intention in writing this is not to complain, or whine, or lament, or act like I don’t get my hands dirty either. Rather, as we move into the general election season, I want to beg a question: “what is it about politics that makes us expect the best in people, while assuming the worst?” 

We have such lofty ideals about who our public servants should be and how they should act. I marvel at the divergence between these idealistic expectations and the reality that we are all flawed. Whether voter or candidate. We are flawed. Yet we still assume that everyone must be prepared to be bullied & be a  bully 

I for one want good people to be in positions of power so that they can do good. I hope you do as well. If that’s the case, give the candidates a chance to be real people. Treat them as neighbors and potential partners in community building rather than framing them all as dirty politicians. 

And whatever you do…Vote!