Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to seek elected office, beginning with which office is the best fit for your particular interests and skill set.
Many Offices to Choose From
While legislative seats and statewide office elections are on even years, municipal elections are on odd years. Georgia is geographically the largest state east of the Mississippi River and the eighth most populous state in the nation with 10.6 million people. Elected offices in Georgia include:
- The Georgia General Assembly has 180 House members and 56 Senate members, making it amongst the largest in the nation. Terms are for two years. Following the 2020 census, House members will each represent about 59,000 citizens and Senate members will represent about 189,000 citizens.
- More than 3,050 municipal offices are elected to govern 535 incorporated municipalities in Georgia which range in size from the city of Atlanta and its 507,000 residents down to Edge Hill with 24 residents.
- 830 County Commission seats in 159 counties
- More than 1050 School Board Seats at either the county or municipal level.
- Each of our 159 counties elects a sheriff and tax commissioner.
- There are more than 850 positions in the court system at the county or judicial circuit level.
Roughly half of the Municipal contests are on the November 2021 ballot with qualifying in August. Half of the county level contests will be on the 2022 November ballot. Georgia House and Senate elections are always in even numbered years and statewide positions are every four years, with the exception of Public Service Commission members who serve six-year terms. A Special Session of the General Assembly will reapportion legislative district lines later this year. Qualifying for legislative seats and statewide office is currently set for March 2022.
Service at the local level prior to seeking a legislative seat is a path chosen by Rep. Teri Anulewicz, who served as a Smyrna city council person and mayor pro-tem before seeking a House seat and Senator Valencia Seay served on the local school board prior to serving first in the House and later, the Senate. Senator Tonya Anderson was on the Lithonia City Council and also served as mayor before running for the House and later the Senate.
An important part of the discernment process is to determine whether the office you seek is a position where you would enjoy serving. The best way to make this determination is to attend both public meetings and committee work sessions for the governmental entity you are thinking about running for whether it is school board, city council, county commission or General Assembly. Sometimes, “kicking the tires” of several different types of office will lead you to the best fit for your particular interests and skills.
- Do you meet age and residency requirements for the office you seek?
- Do the meetings of this governmental body cover topics you find interesting?
- Does your skill set allow you to bring a valuable perspective to the matters being discussed?
- Would you enjoy serving alongside the officials your election would place you at the same table with?
- Will the meeting schedule and requirements for a particular office fit within your lifestyle? For example, sometimes mothers of young children find it more manageable to serve at the local level where meetings are conveniently located than the three-month a year time commitment to commute to the Capitol which is required for serving in the General Assembly.
- Does your current job allow you to serve in an elected political office? Some employers prohibit such activities and potential candidates SHOULD have a conversation with their employer prior to qualifying. Candidates have lost jobs in the past for a failure to talk to their employer prior to seeking office or a failure to properly anticipate the demands of elected office and how they might impact job performance.
- Will you be able to build an effective campaign support team? Who in your circle of friends will be supportive of your bid for office? Certainly, pre-qualifying conversations should be held with close family members and friends.
- In looking at your personal, family and professional trajectory, is this the right time to seek elected office? There are those who say women can “have it all.” But, more recent studies indicate the truth of scriptural admonitions across several major religions which suggest “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose.” Will the duties required of the office you seek fit into the overall picture of your life and still give you a balanced approach to friends, family and career?
- Do you have the skills needed to serve effectively now or should you wait before running and spend time between now and then to work on public speaking and empathetic listening skills and learning more about local government? Perhaps you are thinking of the city council because you have “HAD IT” with rising crime rates and dangerously large potholes. However, after attending a few meetings, you may determine you should give yourself more time to learn more about the overall operations of city government before you seek office.
- Do you have an effective message? Your period of discernment should include a look at who currently holds the seat you plan to run for – this is often determined simply by the geography of where you live. Make sure you can successfully explain how the person you want to run against is “part” of the problem and why electing you is a better option for your fellow citizens.
If you determine this year is not the best one to run for office, then consider non-elected ways to serve your community and make a difference. Many of these become a stepping-stone to later stepping up for elected office. Appointed boards and commissions such as Zoning, Airport or Hospital Authority, Library Board and even the Industrial Authority or County Board of Health offer the opportunity to make a difference in your community.
The non-profit sector also offers many board and volunteer opportunities far beyond the typical “work in your child’s classroom” or PTA or team mom and church related volunteer work many women choose. There are community foundations and other organizations for almost every interest. Heaven knows many progressive groups – including Georgia WIN List — 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.
Whatever you choose, remember President Barak Obama’s admonition:
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”