Are you looking to make a positive impact on your community? Are you ready to take your activism to the next level? Running for office could be a path worth exploring.
Political campaigns can be challenging, whether at the federal, state, or local level. And when you live with a disability, those challenges can be amplified and greater in number. But that doesn’t mean that your dream of being an inspiring, problem-solving community leader can’t become a reality.
Look no further than Jennifer Longdon, who was paralyzed in 2004 in a random drive-by shooting. In a wheelchair since then, she began serving as a member of the Arizona House (D-Phoenix) in January 2019.
Famously, Tammy Duckworth has been a US Senator since 2016 after serving in the US House of Representatives for two terms. She was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq when in 2004, an RPG hit her helicopter, and she lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.
Below, you’ll find some practical tips for running a successful campaign when you have a disability.
Rally the Troops
It helps if you are already a precinct committeeperson or have served on any of the 48 boards and commissions in Pima County (see the list at tiny.cc/LD9-2022). Start by consulting with the leadership in your local legislative district. (Use the state’s District Locator.)
For example, prior to her service in the Arizona legislature, Jen Longdon served on a variety of boards and commissions including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Phoenix Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Council, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s Public Impact Panel and the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council. She has also worked for the Maricopa County Elections Board, participated in the Phoenix Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy and is immediate past president of Arizonans for Gun Safety.
In LD9, Wally Marcus is working to recruit candidates and get Democrats elected by providing resources, information, and training. You can find Wally’s contact information and more about the training at https://bit.ly/3ulYhaD.
Running for office is not a job for a single person. Any new candidate who hopes for success will have a strong team providing support along the way. It’s going to be a wild ride, and you will need qualified and dedicated staff and volunteers at every turn.
Start by finding a campaign manager. This person will oversee and direct virtually every aspect of your campaign (by your side, of course). Your campaign manager should be someone you can trust wholeheartedly, and they should possess exceptional organizational, strategic, interpersonal, and leadership skills.
Raising funds to win
A vital person to employ is a fundraising consultant who will guide you through the ins and outs of fundraising. Raising funds for political office is a complex affair and will take up 90 percent of your campaign efforts. A qualified consultant will help keep your campaign compliant with campaign finance laws, which vary at the state and federal levels.
To run for the Arizona state legislature will cost $150,000 to $175,000, according to Cheryl Cage, a two-time candidate for the State Senator and current campaign manager for Randy Friese for Congress in CD2. Cage, who was Pima Democratic Chair in 2015, trains Democratic candidates to run for office.
Running as a Clean Elections candidate will not provide sufficient funding, Cage said. Clean candidates can take no money from PACs, labor unions, businesses, political parties, and corporations. The state provides public financing for election campaigns for candidates for statewide and legislative offices. A candidate for state legislature will get $18,121 for the primary and $27,182 for the general campaign, totaling only $45,303.
There are several other types of team members to consider for your campaign, and the size of your team will depend on the particular office you are pursuing. For example, if you’re running a local campaign, you will need to hire a social media manager and a communications specialist.
You’ll also need to consider finding content writers, marketing professionals, and personal assistants. To help you conquer menial administrative tasks and leave you more time to focus on your overall mission, hire a freelance administrative assistant. Plan to budget for an administrative assistant hourly pay of $10 to $20 an hour.
Create a Platform
Every political candidate has a platform on which they run. Your official platform will tell voters what you stand for in detail. It will, in many ways, serve the same purposes that a business plan helps entrepreneurs.
Write down all of your most strongly held values and how your campaign will demonstrate those values. Then, create a document that highlights the issues you will focus on once you’re in office. This is your best opportunity to meet community members where they are and outline a detailed plan of action for addressing the community’s most pressing problems.
Some candidates find their disability to be a relevant issue in their campaign — that it boosts their influence and emphasizes their resilience and commitment to overcoming obstacles. However, others find that it’s best to focus on other topics. Use your best judgment on whether or not to showcase your disability when running for office.
Social media is crucial to political campaigns these days. Don’t ignore the power of connecting with voters online through social media because it’s the most practical way to get your message across. It also allows you to learn about the issues that are most pressing to your potential voters.
In a video describing her nightmare after being shot and paralyzed, she said, “People ask me why I do this work and I always answer with a question of my own, “how can I not?” For Rep. Longdon, the issues are:
- Preventing gun violence
- Protecting vulnerable adults in group homes
- Promoting equal pay
- Promoting accessibility
- Expanding access to health care
- Increasing student access to social services
Plan for Accessibility
While advertising your campaign and engaging with voters online is vital, in-person events are still where you will have the best opportunity to connect with your constituents. Early in the process, begin looking for accessible venues to hold your political events, such as:
- Democratic legislative district meetings.
- Piggy-backing canvassing with other Democratic candidates.
- House parties hosted by donors for fundraising.
Allow your team additional time to find space that will accommodate people with disabilities. Wide doorways and ramps are ideal for wheelchair users, and you may want to look for vendors that can provide temporary mobility aids.
Our communities need vibrant, sound leadership more than ever. If you feel called to effect change in your community, don’t let your disability keep you from pursuing your dream. Consider the tips above, and keep researching other methods of launching a successful campaign that puts you in the position to make a difference.
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