This is part four of a seven-part series about running for public office.
Oops, we missed the first day to pick up petitions for the 2014 election year; qualifying began Friday, Nov. 22 for county offices that have a primary.
But not to worry. The deadline to get your papers certified isn’t until noon Feb. 20; and if you are running for state or federal office or if your county office doesn’t do primaries (e.g., school board), the qualifying period doesn’t begin until after New Year’s Day and ends in April.
So what does it mean to “qualify” to run for office? If you meet the eligibility criteria, can’t you just run? Well, no, not without a few dozen or so people to vouch for you. We Tennesseans are relatively lenient with our threshold, as compared with other states, but even we require a modicum of demonstrable support.
And it’s a most modest modicum: A mere 25 valid signatures from registered voters in the district will get you a place on the ballot. You get the petition form at the county election commission office. Be sure to read and follow the instructions.
A good practice is to collect about double the number of signatures you officially need because a number of people won’t realize either that they don’t live in your district or that their voter registration is not current. You’d be surprised.
If you are not a partisan activist who can just show up at a party meeting and get all your signatures during the hors d’oeuvres, I suggest knocking on doors in your district and asking people to sign. It will be good practice for all the personal outreach you’ll need to do. And you will meet amazing people. Trust me on this.
Carry a stack of voter registration forms with you, too. You can hand these to those you’ll meet who aren’t registered to vote. They can’t sign your petition, but you can help them get set for participating in the election. It’s possible they’ll remember your thoughtfulness, even.
A question I’ve encountered before is, “How much does it cost to run for office?” Although a serious effort to get introduced to a winning number of voters does take money-and we’ll cover that-there is no entry fee. Some states assess a qualifying fee typically based on the salary of the office you seek, but running for office in Tennessee is technically free.
That said, the very first step you should take after you’ve decided you’re ready, chosen an office and determined your political affiliation is to name a campaign treasurer. The election commission has a form for that, too. You are not allowed to accept nor spend a dime until you have filed this important paperwork.
A candidate is allowed to be his or her own treasurer, but I don’t recommend that. If you are running late and need to name yourself at first, then change it later, that’s a fallback option; but part of being ready to run is the timely assembly of your core team.
I’m sure whole books have been written about choosing this inner circle of advisers, but the short version is that these need to be people whose motives can be trusted. They need to share your passion for positive change, but they shouldn’t be sycophants. Politics is to narcissists as nectar is to bees, so avoid getting stung by those who would merely see you as a convenience.
In addition to your treasurer, whose primary responsibilities are making sure that your bills are paid and that you have a revenue strategy, at minimum you need the following roles: a campaign manager, a communications expert, a field organizer and an adviser who will dispense ruthless honesty at all times.
Depending on the size and scope of your campaign, multiple roles can be played by one person; or a single role could be implemented by a team leader with several surrogates. Whatever the case, someone needs to be responsible for ensuring the execution of all the activities. As the candidate, the accountability ultimately lies with you, but you should trust others to carry out the supporting missions.
Again, your candidacy essentially is a product, so plan your launch in much the same way. Meet regularly with your team to keep everyone in sync on immediate, near-term and big-picture goals. Your phone will start ringing right after you file your initial paperwork. Make sure you keep a clear head while you keep callers at arm’s length.
To keep up with the paperwork and deadlines, visit your local election commission headquarters early and often. The staff is there to assist you, and my experience has been that they are delighted to do so. They can’t help you with building the right core team, though. That part is up to you, but you already have the instincts to discern a good crew. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing this.
Filing the treasurer form and picking up the qualifying petition moves us from the theoretical part of this series into the “it just got real” phase. This is a big step, but your eventual service to the community depends on your taking it and not looking back.
Joe Lance shares his opinions on civic matters and politics from an impassioned but nonpartisan perspective. You are invited to follow both of his Twitter accounts (@tnticket or @joelance) or email him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this editorial belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.