Five more tips for 2020 candidates, from a veteran political writer

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By Greg Markley

          G.W. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall in the early 20th century knew what worked in his era—retail politics and corruption run amuck. “Of all these reform movements I’ve seen started in New York during my forty years in politics, I can tell you how many have lasted more than a few years—none,” he said. “A reformer hasn’t been brought up in the difficult business of politics; he makes a mess of it every time.”

            Plunkitt’s time is distant from most of politics. A variety of reforms have been effective, although humans are fallible and illicit approaches to campaigns and government are not unheard-of. On July 22 I wrote about five tips that behoove candidates when done right. This week we address the final five tips and end with a positive thought.

            I often ask candidates whether he or she has attended a meeting of the legislative body where they hope to serve. If they say “Yes” I ask them what issues were discussed. Some insights can be gleaned from online Minutes and newspaper accounts. But you hang yourself out to dry by not witnessing the process first-hand.

            Further, by not keeping up with the council or commission’s events, you can embarrass yourself in a debate or in a conversation. For instance, as a person with a new interest in civic life, you offer an idea about handling high volumes of vehicle traffic. But you are told it was tried before and your suggestion was dropped because it was unsafe.

            Regular Meetings of the Opelika City Council are held the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 7 p.m. They are held at Opelika Municipal Court, meeting chambers, 300 MLK Boulevard. Work Session Meetings of the Council are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month from 6-6:45 p.m. at the same meeting chambers.

            Work sessions start times vary from 6-6:45 p.m. prior to the regular Council meeting depending on what must be covered. Times for each session are given in the agenda documents. Opelika’s official website is Opelika-al-gov.

             “Spotlighting your opponent’s weakness” is effective. For example, in 1998 Jay Jones, then Chief Investigator and head of the Investigations Division, decided to run for Lee County Sheriff. His 1998 foe had experience as well, but not as much. Still, when I heard Jones note his own “contemporary experience” I knew his opponent was being painted as out-of-touch. Jones easily won the election.

            In another common development, a realistic new candidate knows that a multi-year incumbent remains popular and is unlikely to be defeated just yet. But the challenger proceeds and embarrasses the incumbent by getting 40 percent of the vote.

            This makes several people who want that local executive or legislative seat to think again. Maybe this councilwoman is more vulnerable than thought? Or, maybe this commissioner will retire instead of risking a loss as an unhappy consequence of running again?

            In a 2014 Huffington Post article, former U.S. Congressman Mark Kennedy offered advice to others, who like himself lose an election. “Knowing what to say and how to act in your campaign’s lowest moment can be the spark that helps you kick-start your next successful run for office,” the North Dakotan said. “It’s an audition for the role you didn’t know you were up for. In short, people are watching. Make it good.”

            Often in first campaigns, candidates who lose blame themselves. They say, “I should have spent more money, or gone door-to-door, or hired a better campaign team, etc.” Don’t double-guess yourself too much; just enjoy the election process and your important role in it.

            In a situation I call “Winning despite losing” some candidates undertake a contest hoping to win but are philosophical about a benefit even defeat brings. That is, the contacts you make along the trail can boost your clientele in your business.

            A real estate agent (not in Lee County) told me a few months after losing his council race  that a bunch of individuals he met “when politicking” became his clients later. In another case, a councilman I knew in the 1970s was defeated for mayor; yet he was selected as a municipal judge due to the visibility his failed mayoral campaign provided.

            The late Texas political writer Molly Ivins told the story of a lawyer selected for a Lifetime Freedom Fighter award but who was ill. A friend accepting the award looks at the man lying there sick, and thinking about his life, all the struggles, trying to fight for social and racial justice. Asked what to say, the lawyer said: “Oh, tell them how much fun it was. Tell them how much fun it was (in politics).”

Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 20 of the last 24 years. An award-winning journalist, he has masters degrees in education and history. He taught political science as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.

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