By Melita Easters
WIN List Executive Director and Founding Chair
When others encourage you to run for office, they do so for good reasons: they have been impressed by your leadership ability in a professional or non-profit situation, they like your innovative ideas, or you have inspired confidence by the way you work with others or handle difficult decisions.
The rewards of public service are many and the sense of accomplishment for making your community or state a better place is highly fulfilling. Public servants DESERVE the praise and admiration they receive.
What follows is not intended to persuade anyone AGAINST running for office, but rather to give you a set of considerations to review and reflect upon before you pay a qualifying fee and sign on the dotted line to put your name on the ballot.
The first consideration when thinking about running for office is to make sure you find the right fit for your talents, interests and personal situation. For most, it is best to think of public service as a trajectory. Most, and our current POTUS is an rare exception, craft a path of public service for themselves by serving in gradually higher positions as they gain experience, connections and the confidence of voters and power brokers.
Perhaps you were an education major and ended up in a corporate setting or you decided to stay at home with school age children rather than a full time classroom job. A spot on the local school board would put your talents to great use and make the school system a better place for your own children. If you are fascinated by architecture and the growth patterns for metro areas or you have a particular “bee in your bonnet” about unfilled potholes, you might enjoy a spot on the city council or county commission. When you are fascinated by public policies for healthcare, criminal justice reform or environmental protection, then the state house or senate may be your best place to serve.
While in the “thinking about it phase,” try to familiarize yourself with the workings of the body you are considering running for by attending meetings, public hearings and committee work sessions to be sure you have the appetite for the form of public service you seek. Not all meetings are as interesting as the one or two minutes your see on a nightly newscast or hear on the radio. Sometimes hours of tedious deliberations precede the dramatic vote or speech which ends up on the news or quoted in an article. Talk to those who hold office at the level you are thinking about running for to get an idea of the time commitment required for meetings you must attend and responding to constituent inquiries and requests.
When you are considering a run for office, make sure you are ready for the loss of privacy serving as a public official entails. Days of anonymity are over once mailboxes in your neighborhood and all the neighborhoods around you have been stuffed with two to four or more pieces of mail with your face in a prominent position. And the loss of privacy is not just for you, it is also for those in your family who are featured in campaign literature.
More than one first time candidate has been surprised when out knocking on doors to find the citizens answer in a cheery fashion as they begin to introduce themselves, “Welcome. Of course I know who YOU are!”
Elected officials are approached by constituents in the movie line, as they shop for groceries, in restaurants, at the dog park, at school events and even when on vacation at a spot where others for the district travel – think Highlands or St Simons for example. If you do not have the capacity to greet your constituents with a smile on your face as though you are thrilled to see them and happy to hear what they have to say, elected public service may not be your highest calling.
Once you have a good idea of what the job entails and believe the office you might seek is a good fit for your skill set, interests and time available, the first conversation should be with your spouse or partner and other close family members who would be affected by your decision. Public service can be difficult for relationships, particularly when the relationship was rocky to begin with. And, if your family has a health crisis requiring caregiver services for parents or children, then public service may need to be pushed to the back burner. Is your partner willing to pick up the slack on the home front when public duties require you to be elsewhere? Many potential candidates decide to find other paths for service rather than elected office after objections from a spouse or children.
An important consideration with your spouse or partner is the household financial burden which running for office and serving in office brings. Candidates are expected to contribute to their own campaigns before they begin asking others for money. Determining the range of contribution your household can afford in support of the campaign is an important conversation.
Even after a candidate wins, the professional and financial sacrifices continue. While most elected offices pay a “salary,” often quite small, those stipends rarely make up for the lost work hours (and salary) or the expenses families incur for babysitters, dog walkers and household maintenance needed when the public servant is not at home because they are at yet another meeting or community forum. While some employers are happy to have employees serve in elected office, others are not and some elected women in the past have lost jobs due to the demands of their legislative career. Discussions with an employer are an essential part of the decision tree.
Once you and your partner give your candidacy the green light, the next step is to talk with children when you have them. For many candidates, it is their children who first encourage them to seek office. For others, children have objections which must be respected, particularly when it comes to what family photographs or “stories” will be shared on the campaign trail. Setting parameters for which family details will be shared on the campaign trail is important, particularly for teenage children. They may choose not to follow your campaign on social media but could still be “mortified” to learn from friends about something you have shared in a campaign appearance.
Other family members such as siblings and parents deserve the courtesy of a frank conversation, particularly if your campaign narrative will talk about your childhood or a narrative involving extended family. Neighbors and close friends deserve to know about your plans. Even when a campaign utilizes rented office space, the home of a candidate is often a hub of activity which can be a nuisance to neighbors. Your close friends will want to be supportive of your plans and will want to hear of them from you before public announcements are made.
Once you have made the decision to run and are in the “quiet phase” of a campaign, do whatever you must to be sure all social media settings are where you want them to be for privacy of personal accounts. Take down any photos you would not want to see you opponents use on a mailer. Political opponents have a particular knack for finding the most unflattering photos ever taken of any candidate. Make your opponent work very hard to find such photos of you.
In the search of your public record, also check for past comments and public statements which could be twisted and used against you. Get a close and trusted friend to help you review those parts of your public profile which you can control before you make any announcements. If you once wrote for the college newspaper or sent letters to the editor you now regret, keep copies of this public record and be prepared to explain why you have changed your mind and how your current positions on the issue differ.
Speaking of opponents. Are you prepared to lose? In every political contest, somebody loses. Before you put your name in the hat, be sure you can handle the disappointment of losing a hard fought campaign. Some candidates go into a tailspin after losing. Others know sometimes it takes more than one contest to defeat an incumbent or FLIP a district. While you will go all “In it to WIN it,” be prepared for a loss in difficult districts. Consider writing yourself a letter to be opened in case you lose to remind yourself of all the great things friends told you in encouraging you to run for office. Those great things will still be true about you even if you lose.
As you begin to move closer to a public announcement of your campaign, begin to collect lists of those who might be helpful to the campaign and willing to donate to your efforts. Clean up your database and collect lists from neighborhood groups, schools, churches and organizations you have been a part of. Think about those in your circle of “friends, good friends and such good friends” who might be willing to support your campaign. Some will be willing to pledge financial support even before a campaign announcement is made.
But, before you begin to fundraise and actually collect checks, be sure you have checked all the regulatory boxes for establishment of a campaign committee and these vary by the level of office you are running for. Make sure you have a separate campaign account set up at the bank and be sure you have a trusted friend who will serve as treasurer of the campaign to take care of and properly report all contributions.
There are many on-line resources for operating your campaign and training sessions offered by WIN List and other groups. Check these out and remember to ask for help – especially from those who encouraged you to run in the first place.
Finally, if you decide running for elected office is not for you at this moment, there are plenty of other ways to serve which do not require a campaign and still offer opportunities to improve your community.
These paths to service include: appointed boards and Commissions such as zoning, airport or hospital authority, library board, industrial authority and even the county board of health.
There are also plenty of ways to be of service in the non-profit sector beyond the typical work in your child’s school. There are community foundations and every kind of organization for almost every interest. Heaven knows many progressive groups have board member burnout and could use strong responsible board members to shoulder the managerial role and raise the money to keep the progressive highway of interlocking groups and causes headed in the right direction and running smoothly.
Running for local office is a great way to begin a public service career. Senator Valencia Seay first ran for school board and then the House before moving up to the Senate. And Rep. Teri Anulewicz served on the Smyrna city council for ten years before running unopposed for the Georgia House.
In the end, public service is well worth it and the job never ends according to Mayor Franklin: “I’m the sewer mayor. I’m proud of it. I mean, infrastructure is really important. You can’t live without clean, accessible water… We all want our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to live good lives. That means they have to have clean air, clean water, fair treatment, access to education, jobs, fair pay. We’ll only get there if we keep working… The lesson I’ve learned in my life is that even when you have accomplishments, you have to keep up the struggle. Someone is still left out, and it’s our responsibility to erase that gap for them.”
Jill Prouty and her family first moved to the Peachtree City area during her middle and high school years when her father, who worked for 30 years with the Federal Aviation Administration, was assigned to the Southern Regional Office adjacent to Hartsfield Airport.
She attended Booth Jr. High School and McIntosh High School before moving with the family to North Carolina, where she graduated from high school. Her undergraduate degree in English with minors in History and Business is from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her first job after college, which she calls a “happy accident,” lead to her career path. A just above minimum wage job cataloging for a library vendor, inspired her to obtain a master’s degree in Library Science from Clairon University of Pennsylvania. A visit to her older brother who had remained in Peachtree City lead to the romance which brought her back south and to a library job in Peachtree CIty.
She celebrated a 20 year anniversary with the Peachtree City library last year where she is a self-proclaimed “unconventional” Library Administrator, supervising a staff of 17 and operating a facility of more than 30,000 square feet. Her husband Scott has been the stay-at-home father for their 16 and
Jill was raised in a Republican family and carried many of those traditional values with her well into her early adulthood. However, recent Republican leadership and policies prompted her shift to the Democratic party. “The GOP is going backwards in a lot of ways,” she said. “They want to hold the line and send us back to the
Jill believes her public service experience at the library desk will translate well to
Once elected, Jill hopes to use her legislative platform as an advocate on the following issues:
MENTAL HEALTH – Jill is a determined advocate for mental health issues, particularly
ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE – As
EDUCATION – Given her role as a mother to two teenage boys and her career as a librarian, it is no surprise to hear Jill values lifetime learning. She believes a focus on high stakes standardized testing,
INFRASTRUCTURE – Jill commutes to work each day via Fischer Road and Hwy 34 into Peachtree City. She says better traffic flow along the major corridors in Coweta County is needed. While she is excited by the current economic growth in east Coweta County, she hopes this growth will be balanced with the need to preserve the rural character which people in the district dearly love. “The air we breathe and the water we drink are affected by development,” she says. “It is possible to strike this delicate balance and I am committed to working collaboratively with local government and the Georgia DOT to identify and implement solutions.”
REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM – Jill is dedicated to defending a woman’s right to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. She opposes HB 481, the state’s six-week abortion ban passed earlier in the year. According to the CDC, abortion rates in the U.S. are at historic lows across all age groups. Jill believes outlawing abortions will not stop abortions, but will make the procedure more dangerous for women. Jill trusts women to make their own decisions, in consultation with their doctors, about their own bodies.
Campaign website: JillforGeorgia.com
Campaign e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you are inspired to help Jill’s campaign. To work with Jill’s campaign from your own home or in the district alongside other Georgia WIN List volunteers, complete a form to express your volunteer preferences.
Help us spread the good news about Jill’s campaign and expand our network by sharing this page with friends.
By Olivia Ewing and Ke’Aira McDowell
While many people are motivated to make a difference, getting started on a path to public service can be overwhelming. Senator Valencia Seay and Representative Teri Anulewicz both started “local” before running for the Georgia General Assembly.
Rep. Teri Anulewicz “always” knew she wanted to be in public service, even dressing
in “Presidential Attire” for her second grade career day. After moving to Smyrna in 2005 and leaving full time employment to care for her young children, she found herself frequently pushing a stroller past city hall. With a professional background in government relations, public relations, and advocacy, she realized her skill set might be a perfect fit for helping her rapidly growing community. After the man who had held her local council post for 19 years did not respond to phone calls or e-mails, she decided to run against him. She won!
“I realized Smyrna was booming. A lot of young families like mine chose to make their homes in Smyrna. There was no representative for these young families on the city council,” she said, noting there was one woman on the council at the time but nobody under the age of 40 with school age children or babies.
She served 10 years on the city council, rising to mayor pro-tem before deciding to run in a special election in 2017. Surprisingly, and this is an extremely rare occurrence, she faced no opposition in either 2017 or when she ran for re-election in 2018. “I had not presented myself in a partisan way, but rather as a local representative there to listen to everybody and to serve everybody. I think people respected that approach,” she said.
“I have always believed municipal government is the primal form of government – you’re talking about the police department and whether the water is safe, the sewer system is working efficiently and the potholes in roads are getting filled quickly,” she said.
“The council person is concerned with whether you are spending tax dollars wisely. The Smyrna annual budget is about $97 million and so serving on the council is like being on the board of directors for a $90 million company with 350 employees. That’s a big deal,” Rep. Anulewicz said. “As a council person you represent 50,000 people who have a wide variety of incomes and cultures. You have to be sure you represent all of them.”
By contrast, Sen. Seay did not anticipate a future on the Clayton County School Board. She felt compelled to run for office when her eldest son had a challenging transition between middle school and high school. “I went to speak to the school board about my concerns and they looked at me as if I was a ghost. It just stirred something in me,” said Sen. Seay, who soon became an empathetic ear for citizens on the board which had ignored her. “I challenged the sitting board member and he chose not to run,” she said. “I felt selected even before I was elected.”
“Education is the key to freedom,” Senator Seay said. “We demonstrate how much we value our children by the education we provide them.”
Both women have found their local service helpful as a framework for crafting policy while serving under the Gold Dome.
For Rep. Anulewicz, serving on the city council and as mayor pro tem of Smyrna gave her credibility and connections for legislative success. “A lot of the older folks in the legislature knew me and had known me for years due to my city council service. They knew I knew my stuff, and when I arrived as a freshman minority party legislator, it was a lot harder for them to dismiss me,” she said. She fels this gave her a tremendous advantage for serving in the House.
Sen. Seay, who served one term in the House and is now serving her ninth term as a Senator, believes local level office is great preparation for legislative service and understanding the political process. “Whether it’s school board or commission, the ground level is really where everything comes from,” she said. “If you can do local, you can definitely do the state level. Serving on the school board gave me a stronger foundation for becoming a state legislator and understanding the political process.”
Senator Seay is a strong advocate for electing more women and Georgia WIN List. “In Georgia, when women WIN, all of Georgia WINs. Women are the backbone of families and households and we vote in higher numbers. We must continue to support organizations like Georgia WIN List so we can continue to move Georgia forward,” she said.
There are 3,050 elected municipal offices in the 535 Georgia cities and towns and half of them are on the ballot in November 2020. For decades, incumbents for municipal office in Georgia have run unopposed. Georgia WIN List will soon be offering “Ignite Your Inner WINner” training sessions which will help women considering a run for office make the best decision.
While Georgia WIN List does not endorse in municipal or county races, we see these local offices as an important pipeline for future legislative leaders or statewide candidates. The same can be said for judicial races and contests for district attorney.
Former United States Speaker Tip O’Neill is most often credited with the saying, “All politics is local.”
Certainly it is local politics which most immediately impacts our day-to-day lives. We experience the action – or inaction – of local government each time we turn on a faucet or drive a car on a public street. We depend upon the local police department for protection and a responsive emergency medical team for transport to the hospital emergency room when disaster strikes. Public schools educate our children and the offerings of local libraries are a repository of knowledge for continuing education and enjoyment.
Gwinnett County Democratic Party Chair Bianca Keaton, who attended a WIN List Boot Camp in 2017, shared a story across social media platforms yesterday which should motivate more people to consider running for local office in Gwinnett County and elsewhere. In Gwinnett, like in many areas of the state, the roster of local government officials does not yet reflect the demographics of the population they serve. In fact, evidence of racial divides in the county are clearly evident in the $5 million lawsuit one Gwinnett County Commissioner, Tommy Hunter, has filed against fellow commissioners is because they reprimanded him for calling Congressman John Lewis a “racist pig” on social media.
Keaton is a thirty-something African American woman long active in political circles who cherishes her friendship with an energetic 70 year old white woman well known in Gwinnett’s progressive political circles. The activist had been grocery shopping in Lawrenceville Monday.
Edited highlights from Keaton’s post:
“My colleague happens to be one of the most thoughtful, wittiest and devoted members of our County Party. If you have a problem with her, then you have a problem with me. I. Love. This. Woman. She’s got political buttons older than me by a decade, and at this stage in life, she’s expressed grief that she’s having to pull those buttons out of retirement to fight the same fights she’d fought and thought were won long ago… She’s got a bumper sticker for E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.
She comes out of the store to find “I love Trump” stickers plastered all over the Democratic-leaning stickers on her car. They were still pliable enough to peel off, which she did. No sooner than she peels off the last sticker, a guy begins yelling ”traitor” at her from across the parking lot. ”You’re a traitor. You’re a F–ing traitor.”
She looked over and unsurprisingly discovered an older white man leaning out of his work truck. Unbothered, she got in her car and drove off. He FOLLOWED her. He followed her y’all?!
When it was clear he was following her, she worried he would follow her home. She drove past her turn for additional mile of the road. She turned. He turned. She made quick turn into a busy shopping center, he made a quick turn behind her almost slamming into her rear. Then he laid on his horn and zoomed around her. She called the business that was advertised on his truck and determined the driver of the truck was the owner of the business.
She reported it immediately to the police. They came to her home and said no crime had been committed. I disagree even if all they do is charge him with defacing her property. The officers summarily dismissed her concerns by explaining that this stuff happens because “both sides” are so heated.
This isn’t about BOTH SIDES. In this specific incident, there is only ONE SIDE which is committing harassment and intimidation.
Why do you think this white man called a 70-year-old white woman a traitor…? Why? I’ll make it plain –– his political views are based on his hatred for black and brown people and he views this white woman as a traitor for betraying their race… The police department failed to act so will take this to the court of public opinion.”
One place for the “court of public opinion” to strongly express a distaste for police departments who ignore the harassment of law abiding citizens is the ballot box this November. Police departments answer to the governing bodies who hire their police chiefs and fund their payroll accounts. The mayor of Lawrenceville is not running for re-election this fall and some city council seats are also on the ballot.
Qualifying begins in mid-August for the half the state’s municipal offices which are on the ballot in November. Dates and times for qualifying vary locally. County races are filled in even years. These municipal races are largely non-partisan and local officials in Georgia often run unopposed. Surely it is time for some local “competition.”
Serving on city councils, county commissions and local school boards are often an important stepping stone to legislative office. For example, WIN List endorsed Senator Valencia Seay, served on the local school board before running for the Georgia House and then the Senate. Rep. Teri Anulewicz served on the Smyrna city council for 10 years before running for the House without opposition.
Georgia is geographically the largest state East of the Mississippi River and the ninth most populous state in the nation with 10.6 million people. With 159 counties and 535 incorporated municipalities, there are many local offices to fill. Cities range in size from Atlanta with more than 400,000 residents down to Edge Hill which has 24 residents.
Statewide, voters elect more than 3050 municipal officials, more than 830 County Commissioners and more than 1050 School Board members for county or city school systems. Roughly half of the municipal offices are on the ballot in November.
Georgia WIN List does not endorse for local elected office, but we happily train those who are considering such campaigns. We plan several training sessions around the state in the coming weeks and will announce those soon. Watch this space for a blog post next week with more information for those who are considering a bid for local office.