Hey – I just lost an election! It was not exactly a surprise – I was going up against a 10-year incumbent and I only put a couple of months and a relatively small amount of money into the battle – but it is disappointing just the same. Still, I am glad I gave it a shot.
I ran to be on Town Council in my medium sized town outside of Toronto, and I learned a ton in the process. One thing I did not realize is that no matter how strong your qualifications and how weak theirs, it is close to impossible to dislodge an incumbent politician.
One statistic I read is that in the U.S., 95 percent of the time, incumbents are elected, even when there is a supposed ‘anti-incumbent’ vibe in the air. People just go with familiarity, and when someone has had a decade or so to back-slap at barbecues, they are familiar. You might have a shot if there is an actual issue at stake or real anger over something, but otherwise your chances are slim. In my case, I live in a cozy, affluent suburb where the biggest issue is that the planes flying overhead are too noisy (I kid you not – that is what people want politicians to fix). It was a pretty uphill battle for me or the other challengers (there were four of us) to convince people that anything needed to change.
Second, I learned that campaigning is expensive.
Okay, I knew that campaigning is expensive, or at least I could have guessed it since candidates are forever asking for money. But the bills really do mount up. From signs (which can easily run into thousands of dollars) to the sweets you hand out when you visit retirement homes, it is not difficult to spend more than you bargained for. And note to future candidates: do not forget the treats when you go to the retirement homes. I inadvertently did not bring something to one (it was the first one I visited and was not sure it would be allowed) and heard the receptionist lamenting to someone that I had shown up without Timbits when she had nothing to eat with her coffee. I’m sure she ran a smear campaign against me thereafter.
I also learned about door to door canvassing (I met some nice people, and was constantly assured that their dogs were ‘friendly, really’), about how to put signs into the ground, about where to get election postcards printed. There are things I would do differently for sure, but again I am not sure it would have made a lot of difference. A friend who has worked on many campaigns warned me beforehand that I was probably going to end up second, which is exactly what happened. “If people get as far as checking out websites, you’ll win” she said, “But most are not going to do that”. Local campaigns just do not work that way unfortunately.
I may not have won, but running was not a wasted experience. I made some great contacts in my community, as well as some new friends. Most important, it was great to involve my tween daughter in the election process. She went to events, helped with the drudge work, and gave lavish advice on strategy. In the process, she learned a ton about government, got a nice resume item, and now takes it for granted that she can run for any office she wants (she is leaning towards Prime Minister).
I now return to my regularly scheduled life, which does afford me more of a chance to comment on the global issues that interest me. Still, I liked my foray into politics and into local issues more than I thought I would, so who knows what the future will bring.