Do you have strong views? Does any local issue raise your blood pressure? Do you think you have what it takes to run for political office?
Maybe you should consider running for mayor or city council in one of Idaho’s 200 incorporated cities. Hundreds of offices will be on the ballot this November 3rd. Many will be open seats. Others will feature unpopular or beatable incumbents. These offices can lead to higher political office or be a chance for impactful public service.
To qualify, you merely need to be a potential city voter 30 days before you file your candidacy. In other words, you need to be a resident for 30 days before you throw your hat officially in the ring. But, it helps to have a bit deeper roots in the community.
The first issue is determining which office to run for. Often, making that determination is where races are won or loss. Talk to local opinion leaders. Consider past election returns (by visiting with your city clerk or county election office). Spend some time making the decision. But, don’t dither too long.
You will also need to come up to speed on local issues. Attend city council meetings. Read the local newspaper religiously. Develop relationships with current or past office holders. Take them to lunch and ask questions. Time spent learning this spring will pay big dividends in the fall.
The key step to victory is developing a great campaign plan. What will be your campaign theme? What are your key points? What will you do to win over voters? How will you communicate with voters? And, how much money will you need? Take the time to develop a well-thought out, written campaign plan including specific tasks to occur on specific dates. Your campaign should build to a crescendo in the last two weeks.
If you are in a city of at least 5,000 residents, before you begin raising money, you’ll need to form a campaign committee and designate a campaign treasurer. You’ll register both with your city clerk. Make the clerk your friend. They tend to be very knowledgeable and oversee local elections.
You will also be required to disclose your contributions and expenditures on October 10th, seven days before the election and 30 days after November 3rd. Any contribution in the last 16 days before the election will need to be disclosed within 48 hours.
If you are in a smaller community (under 5,000 residents), check with your city clerk to see if there are any applicable city ordinances that govern contributions and expenditures.
Develop a great campaign team. This is your brainstorming group and key volunteers to do get things done. You will want your spouse or significant other involved. Pull in at least a couple experienced political folks. Ask key friends to participate. Try to create a group of around 6-12 people. Plan on meeting every week or two throughout the campaign. Meetings should consist of three items: 1) A sharing of recent developments, 2) A review of completed activities and, 3) Planning of forthcoming tasks.
When do you file your candidacy? That window does not open until August 24th. You do so in Idaho by completing a registration form (available from your city clerk) and submitting it to the clerk with five signatures or a $45 filing fee.
The last day to file for office is September 3 at 5 pm. If you want to launch a write-in campaign, September 18 is the cut-off date. Write-ins, though, are tough. It is much better to be on the ballot. September 18 is the last day to withdraw if things are going poorly to keep your name off the ballot.
After you file, implement your campaign plan. Communicate repeatedly and persuasively with voters. Get your signs up in a timely fashion. Continue to raise funds. Build a strong online presence. Pursue local media. Attend local events. Roll out your mass media (direct mail, newspaper, electronic media, etc.). Above all, reach out to voters who are likely to vote.
One key task is absentee voters. Absentee ballots are first available on October 2. Have someone go to your county clerk every few days to gather the latest requests for your city. Send a piece of mail to those who’ve requested ballots, hopefully getting to them before they vote. To do so requires quick follow up every time names are gathered.
Also, focus on early voters. Each county sets a date to begin early voting (no later than October 19) but such can only occur throughOctober 30. Ballots are usually cast at the county election office. You need to make sure your campaign is visible in the two to three weeks before the election to reach those voters.
By picking the right office, developing a good campaign plan, complying with the legal requirements and running a solid campaign, you can increase the chance of winning on November 3.
Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com). He has an extensive background in politics and public policy.