Campus Progress is now Generation Progress! Find out more »

VOICES

So You Want to Run for Office?

One of the youngest office holders in America says you should run for office and tells you fifteen things to keep in mind when you do.

Countdown, Alisha Thomas Morgan, May 17, 2005

One of the youngest office holders in America says you should run for office and tells you fifteen things to keep in mind when you do.

By Alisha Thomas Morgan, Georgia State Representative

I never thought that at age 14, when I was an active member of the NAACP in Georgia learning about and meeting some well-known civil rights leaders, that now at 26, I would be standing at the crossroads of another civil rights movement. All across the country, from state legislature to state legislature and even in our nation’s Congress we witness the daily assault on every right that we can think of.

I recently sat in a strategy meeting about how to bring a progressive legislature back to Georgia. Much discussion focused on candidate recruitment – you know, finding retired teacher types, the lady that’s been involved in the community for many years. Then someone suggested that if a candidate is looking for volunteers, they should call on the Young Democrats or any group of young professionals. This really stoked my fire. As the youngest member of the state legislature, I stood up to point out that young people should not only be called to work on campaigns but to run for office as well. The room went quiet and my colleagues looked at me as if I was suggesting we recruit and groom circus animals for office.

The reason my colleagues see finding young candidates as such a foreign concept is, well, because it is. We don’t see enough serious young people who are willing to take a stand and, instead of providing energy for someone else’s campaign, running our own.

So, if you are a passionate young activist, not afraid to go against the grain who understands that being young is an asset, then my first bit of advice for you is don’t wait! Somehow we have convinced ourselves that running for office requires a dozen degrees nailed to the wall, a long established career, the spouse that makes you look more settled and maybe a kid or two to smile on your direct mail pieces. Not so!

Just think, if you waited for all of those pieces to fall into place, there could be millions more children with no access to healthcare, freedom of speech and freedom of choice will continue to be eroded and the right of citizens to know what their government is doing will continue to dwindle. Now is the time for young people to run and win. We cannot wait because, literally, our survival depends on it. Young people have always been on the front lines in any and every social movement. In fact, if your state is anything like mine, almost half of the people that serve with you came in young, and 30 years later, they are still there. They need to make room for you.

Ready? Here are a few tips:

1. If you know and care about the issues – Don’t Wait!

2. Determine what office you want to run for. It really depends on what issues you want to work on. If you want to have a direct impact on growth and development, sidewalks and real quality of life issues, you should run for county or city commission. If you want to focus strictly on local education issues, you should run for school board. If you want to focus on healthcare, education or other issues that have a statewide impact (and don’t mind being a part of a slower process in passing legislation) you should run for state legislative seats or Congress. In my opinion, you should not run for school board if you really want to be a county commissioner or a state legislator. I think people that run for several different offices tend to look like they just want to hold any office. It does not send a positive message to voters. Go where your heart is and where you truly want to make the difference.

3. See your youth as an asset and utilize it. You are young, energetic, you can work hard, and you have new ideas and fresh insight. Let people see you as someone who is a breath of fresh air and unwilling to go along with business as usual.

4. Have a record of substantive involvement in the community you run in. That doesn’t mean you have to have 20 years of community service, but you should be able to point to some tangible achievements.

5. Begin identifying sources to raise money from. This could include family, friends, interest groups, etc. This can be a huge challenge for young people in particular. You need to convince people that you are smart enough and capable of holding office. Having a track record of work in the community is the best way to do that. Show potential contributors that you can win your race. Get rid of the fear or discomfort of asking for money. Ask Ask Ask!

6. Find people who believe in you as a candidate and keep them close. (They make great volunteers and supporters.)

7. Don’t assume your team has to consist only of long time experts.

8. Find good, local consultants who understand your prospective district.

9. Begin making contacts with your party operatives. Find out when and where your local party meets, attend the meetings, meet with the leadership and other active members. Also, get to know Political Action Committees and other organizations that are likely to support the same issues as you.

10. Don’t feel that you have to represent all young people in everything that you do.

11. Begin creating a plan for how you will sustain yourself financially. In terms of your personal finances, try to find a job or career where you can have some flexibility. It is important to make sure you can support yourself financially if you do obtain an office with low pay – which is a lot of them.

12. Do your homework. Understand the demographics in your districts, voting participation, pressing issues, key players, and what it would take to win.

13. Talk to your loved ones. (Campaigns and public office affect the people around you, make sure they are ok with your decision to run.)

14. Constantly research and track current bills and pressing issues. Depending on which level of office you run for, stay abreast of the issues that particular body has been dealing with. Decide both how you would vote on the issue and how you would talk about it.

15. Run, Run, Run, we need you!

Alisha Thomas Morgan was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002. At 26, she is the youngest serving member of the entire Georgia General Assembly and is the first African American to represent Cobb County. She has earned a reputation for being an outspoken legislator whose agenda includes issues in Education, Health Care, and Juvenile Justice. When she is not serving in the legislature, she is a motivational speaker and trainer. To contact Rep. Morgan, you can e-mail her at alisha@alishamorgan.com.

Like this article?

Share this Tweet this Email icon Email this
By clicking and submitting a comment I acknowledge the Privacy Policy and agree to the Terms of Use. I understand that my comments are also being governed by Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies as applicable, which can be found here.