It was a seemingly normal Thursday morning in November of 2018 when I first made the decision I would run for political office. I was 31 years old and attending a Next Rockford General Membership Meeting and the Next Rockford Facilitator closed the meeting by making a comment about how there are four Rock Valley College Board seats up for grabs in the following spring election and made a plea we consider running. Rock Valley College has a non-partisan seven person Board of Trustees and was facing several crucial decisions, most critical of which was a bold and transformational advanced training center at the derelict Barber-Coleman factory campus. I had no idea where to start but I knew this was of utmost importance to our community and was prepared to put in the hard work to run a dedicated race.
After a whirlwind campaign that seemed to go by in the blink of an eye, I ultimately fell 1,494 votes short of being elected, but the lessons I learned along the campaign trail was invaluable. Refreshed, refocused, and invigorated from the knowledge obtained from my first campaign, I am putting that experience to use in my run for Winnebago County Board.
How did my first unsuccessful bid help prepare me for my second campaign and why I am running again? Here are my three top takeaways from experience as a candidate and what you should consider if you are thinking about running for an elected position.
Have A Compelling Why
What is your reason for running? Small or large, it is essential to give voters the full transparency of your motivations. Digging deeper, establish early on the answer of why you are the clearly superior alternative than your opponent. The answer to these questions will be the foundation of your campaign platform and messaging to voters.
Do Your Homework
You need to ask the tough questions internally and externally. Do you have the time and resources to do this? Are you knowledgeable of the issues? Who are your potential supporters? Identifying an inner circle of trusted friends and advisors and a base of supporters and potential donors is paramount. Reach out to those who have traveled this path before and seek their advice. If they are kind, they will meet with you and give you perspective you may not have considered. Your local Democratic Party can make these connections and is there to support you.
The barriers and challenges along the way of running for political office can seem daunting and overwhelming. But don’t be intimidated by the enormity of the task, break things down into simple steps that are achievable and celebrate your accomplishments. Stepping up and becoming a candidate is the ultimate expression of our democracy and an experience that will change your life. Every day on the campaign trail you will learn something new and exciting and feel a deeper connection to your neighbors and your community.
If you can’t answer all of those questions and aren’t sure where to start, a great way to begin is get involved with the Winnebago County Democrats. Attend the monthly meetings, research local races and issues and volunteer for a candidate you believe in. For every successful campaign, there are dozens if not hundreds of dedicated volunteers whose work was instrumental in their victory. Unity through our shared values and collaboration is the pathway to progress and it cannot be achieved alone. Our movement is for all and we find our strength in the collective power of the people!
Robert Young, candidate for the 17th District of the Winnebago County Board