Eileen Kiely

Eileen Kiely

The filing deadline has passed, and we now know who will be on Oregon’s primary ballots in May. Let's give a moment of respect to all who entered the arena. And you may wonder, just what is it like to run for office?

If you watch a lot of TV or movies, you’d think running for office is about making stirring speeches, and cleverly defeating your opponent in a televised debate.

Listening to some of our most outspoken activists, the purity of your righteous ideals alone will carry you to victory.

Reading newspaper accounts of targeted campaigns, it looks like you spend all your time raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from big donors, and you run TV ads and glossy mailers that make your case (and consultants like this story).

Potential candidates often contact me for advice, and I never tell anyone not to run. I do tell them the facts as I am about to tell you, and I let them decide.

I have run two legislative campaigns myself, and worked on dozens of campaigns, and here is what I know:

Running for office is hard work.

First, and most important, you need to talk to voters – your potential constituents. And you need to listen more than you talk. You do not need to talk to your friends and allies – you already know they are with you. You need to talk to people who don’t know you, who have a different experience from you. And it can be devastatingly humbling. I’ve listened to a voter’s 6-year-old son explain an active shooter drill, and I’ve felt helpless on the doorstep of the man who knew he would be homeless when his lease was terminated in sixty days. I’ve been threatened by people, and I’ve been inspired. I will never forget talking with a Redmond man while he was fixing up an old RV to donate to a homeless family, and teaching his grandson as he went. He didn’t belong to a party – he belonged to our community.

Second, you have to raise money. It’s awful and it’s hard, but a campaign is a small business. You need to make payroll and you need to pay the campaign expenses. Hopefully you raise enough money to reimburse your personal expenses, but you don’t get paid for all of the hours that you spend raising money and talking to voters.

And the third, and most surprising thing, is that ... it isn’t about you. Check your ego at the door. It is about the people that you hope to serve - what they need. Most people have a variety of issues, and you are not going to agree on all of them. They will form an opinion of you, and sometimes it is wildly false. But they decide whether they trust you to make their life better, based on what is important to them - not you.

You will be tired, physically and mentally. You have to constantly ask for help. It is a full-time job on top of the rest of your life. So why do it, when there is no guarantee of winning?

The goal of our democracy is in the preamble to the US Constitution – a more perfect union. To advance that union, we need to discuss our disagreements, and decide on a course of action. Our elections are that discourse. Even if you lose the election, you can still change the conversation.

After I tell prospective candidates these hard truths, I also tell them what I won in my two losing races. Running for office will make you a better person or a worse one, depending on your choices, and your allies. In my campaigns, I have been surrounded by empathetic, hardworking and committed people, I believe it has made me a better human

It is an honor and a privilege to carry the hopes and dreams of our neighbors, to earn their trust, and make their voices heard. Win or lose, you will never regret it.

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