Last month, candidates trekked down to the state Capitol, stood in line, got their picture taken by reporters, filed all the necessary paperwork and suddenly, they were a name on a ballot. Money spent, signs made and commercials bought. Campaign season is upon us, but by the attention the elections are getting, you might not have noticed.
We have all heard it before: “Why don’t more good people run for office?” I will tell you why, and there is a simple reason and a deeper cause, as well.
First, the simple reason: People we would consider as leaders of industry are just too busy to think about running for office. They are busy starting, running or making a business from nothing. They have employees, shareholders and vendors ” thousands of details most politicians or candidates have no clue how to deal with.
The same qualities that make someone successful in business are not the qualities we want from our candidates. People of business start from nothing, have a “pull yourself up with your bootstraps” type of mentality.
Candidates have to beg and ask big contributors for help: “If you believe in me or my policies, then you will give up a nice check.” The best candidates are the best fundraisers, and the reason they are the best fundraisers is because they are excellent at making the donor feel as if they don’t give their hard-earned money to the candidate, the fate of the Republic is at stake.
Being a candidate is not like it is in television or the movies. Very rarely are there big speeches that rouse thousands or change the outcome of the election. There are never real debates anymore; just forums and two-minute speeches. We have all seen old debates where there is interaction between the candidates and the media actually got follow-up questions.
Being a candidate is difficult to explain. You go door-to-door in the Oklahoma heat, and more than likely, the voter is not home. You can call the voter, but they don’t want to talk, or they just want to get the caller off their phone line. As a candidate, you are expected to have answers for just about any question, but in reality, people won’t pay attention past 30 seconds.
What is the deeper reason more good people don’t run for office? They don’t feel they can make a difference. Great candidates usually turn out to be terrible elected officials. Their campaign story may be exactly what we want. However, once they are elected, they’re in the middle of a collaborative body, where they are a freshman with little to no influence on leadership.
So the ultimate question is, how do we get good people to decide to run for office? We need to take a step back and re-establish some trust from our elected officials. It is the classic chicken and egg: Once we have established trust again in our officials, that will breed good candidates in the future. It is something that can’t be fixed quickly, but we need to address it, or we will lose voters’ confidence forever.
Loveless, a former state Senate candidate, is editor-in-chief of OKPolitico.com.