In towns and counties all over Colorado, we’re seeing candidates emerge for local posts: city councils, county commissions, school boards and all the other offices that represent our most direct form of democracy. In these days of complicated issues and stark budgets, we need the best possible minds solving our collective problems.
While it’s always important to take the time to make the best choices in elections, an individual can have much more influence on local government before voting starts by working to ensure that the very best candidates get on the ballot. Put another way, it’s equally important to nip the careers of bad candidates in the political bud.
Here are some things you can do with either time or money:
• Urge good people to run. When you see individuals whom you know could do a good job in office, plant the seed in their minds. Arrange for them to meet people who can answer their questions, alleviate their concerns and overcome their objections. Offer to be their campaign treasurer. Put together a strong team of advisers and people who have experience running campaigns.
• Help good people who are already in office. To do a good job and advance through the ranks, officeholders need to demonstrate their ability to make good decisions and — equally important — to communicate effectively to their constituents.
These tasks present enormous challenges for people holding offices that are not full-time jobs, ones whose duties they have to fulfill on nights and weekends, taking time away from their families.
You can help by volunteering to research complicated issues, preparing position papers and other materials. There’s never a shortage of lobbyists or interested parties offering advice, even on the local level, and giving your man or woman an unbiased analysis or report on an issue will help that person make good decisions and convince others to offer support. Knowledge really is power.
• Support good officeholders in public. Good decisions are often tough decisions, and officeholders need to hear the voices of people who support them — not just the angry ones.
Make your voice heard during the public comment part of meetings. Write letters and op-eds for local newspapers in support of your person. Make posts to local blogs — or start one of your own. Post comments on newspaper Web sites.
Help your individual start or maintain a Web site. These provide an increasingly valuable means of
communicating with constituents and voters.
• Provide financial support. One of the hardest and most distasteful parts of political life is raising money for campaigns. If you have more money than time, make sure you support good candidates early in their races. Dial for dollars — your friends will be much more likely to give if they hear from you. If you have like-minded friends, bundle contributions so you can give a worthwhile candidate some real firepower, even before the candidacy is announced. A big war chest can sometimes be enough to persuade possible opponents to stay out of a race, especially at the local level.
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Whether an officeholder is a Democrat or Republican, it’s wonderfully satisfying to see a smart and thoughtful person doing a good job in a local office. By taking an active role in getting the best people into public service, you may succeed beyond the bounds of your city or country. Sometimes, fledgling local victories become the first steps to national service: in the House, in the Senate or even the White House.
Boulder attorney Jim Martin, a former Republican, served as an at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents from 1993 to 2005.