Today I’d like to speak about one of my favorite subjects, how Millennials are progressing into positions of elected office across the country and the setbacks this largest of American generations is facing in this area. As a former California mayor, city councilman and current library board trustee, I can offer some insight for aspiring office holders.
It seems odd that many of middle-aged and older folks are still getting used to the idea of Millennials being elected to Congress and now the post-Millennial generation, Generation Z, has already begun to show up in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time after the 2020 elections.
With the current generational change in politics at all levels it would make sense for Millennials to continue their move into leadership by running for local elective office where their political engagement can yield the most immediate impact.
Keep in mind that every government level requires a significant personal investment and sacrifice and that one’s age or generation identity fade next to other important considerations. However, many of these electoral challenges are amplified for Millennials because campaigning is a full-time job and many Millennials have other early adulthood responsibilities, whether it’s maintaining a job or starting and supporting families.
Many Millennial are finding out that aspiring to public office brings more time conflicts than they imagine at first. Also, running for office is an expensive process and Millennials don’t have the extra levels of disposable income that they can invest in their campaigns. As the legendary California politician Jess Unruh once said, money is the mother’s milk of politics. Rightly or wrongly, that is still the case.
So what is an aspiring Millennial public official to do to get started? For one, begin to talk to successful candidates at the local level on a friendly basis and ask them questions about their journey. Local public officials tend to be very approachable at public functions and my experience is that they love to talk about themselves! But it makes sense to do talk to people that have successfully run for local office and have them give you a lot of details about the amount of time the financial resources you’ll need to participate.
At that point, you go from there. You really need to just understand the fundamentals of your local community issues and also you need to have a timeline. You need to understand how many signatures you need, and that varies depending on what district you’re running in to what city you’re running in, to what office you’re running in and understanding the fundamentals when you need to turn in those signatures and how to file a campaign finance report. These are just the basics that lead to the other fundamental building blocks to a campaign- keep in mind that you need to get those nailed down first.
To be sure, this advice applies to people of all ages, not just Millennials, and it is also important to keep in mind that even if you don’t have a long track record of extensive experience in business or the public sector, you can be sure your background will come under intense scrutiny once you declare yourself a candidate for political office.
This scrutiny will come from the press and also from other opposing candidates and local groups who may oppose your views. For the aspiring office holder, this means keeping your public comments on social media civil and free from careless or flippant blabber that can give offense or be exaggerated by political opponents.
Equally as important, aspiring office holders would do well not to exaggerate or lie about their education, credentials or past achievements. This would seem to be common sense but too many smart people running for political office still continue to make the boneheaded mistake of lying about the degrees they’ve earned or their military experience or their business accomplishments.
It may be tempting to embellish one’s record when running for office but I would advise Millennial office seekers not to do it. Such dishonesty will usually be exposed sooner rathter than later and then you will have reputation issues that haunt you long after the election is over.
And finally I would caution Millennials about paying attention to another important aspect that will become a factor in running for office- the candidate’s personal life and family relationships. Running for local office will require sacrifices from a candidate’s family who will be most affected by the public scrutiny. A prospective office seeker should always make sure that their family are supportive and on board with running for public office and family member’s should be advised that running for office will leave any candidate with much less time for family matters.
For Millennials, family matters often will include young children at home who may not understand why mommy or daddy or not around very much during this time. If at all possible, I would recommend involving your spouse and children in campaign events. This would allow them to understand and appreciate what seeking political office is all about.
There is a continuing shift in political leadership in America toward the Millennial generation (and those who are even younger) and the obligation of people of my generation is to encourage these young people to pursue their dreams while being realistic about pursuing an honorable path in public service. Whether one is a Millennial or not, one should always remember that seeking political office is about trying to become a pubic servant. As you Millennials like to say, “let that sink in”. Good luck to you!